The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas
Quorum Court Approves Curtis
By Scarlet Sims
THE MORNING NEWS
BENTONVILLE -- The Benton County Quorum Court appointed environmentalist Mark Curtis to the Planning Board on Thursday night over the objection of property-rights advocates.
Curtis, 57, of Rogers will begin serving next month.
"I'm very happy," said Planning Board member Bill Kneebone. "He's going to be a good addition."
The Quorum Court rejected County Judge Gary Black's recommendation last month 6-5. Black decided to ask the Quorum Court to reconsider Curtis after receiving calls from supporters.
Several residents spoke for and against appointing Curtis on Thursday.
Black picked Curtis from about 19 applicants who submitted resumes last year after a board member resigned. Curtis works in public and private finance, according to his resume. He has a degree from University of Minnesota in urban geography. He studied city and regional planning at Memphis State University from 1977 to 1979, according to his resume.
Curtis is the Association for Beaver Lake Environment treasurer. The group is dedicated to preserving the lake's quality.
Curtis supported a watershed ordinance about two years ago opponents say would have greatly restricted property owners' ability to use their land. He also sued Benton County after the county approved 15-story condominiums to be built on the lake.
Curtis said Thursday the watershed ordinance is a tool to protect the lake. As the county grows, the county must plan to protect agriculture, residents and resources, he said. Planning may mean more regulations or changing current regulations, Curtis said.
He said he had opinions but would change his mind if his opinion is proven wrong. Other planning board members have opinions, Curtis said. He said he stood by his past decisions.
Beaver Lake association members said wanting to protect Beaver Lake should be an asset, not a drawback, to the Planning Board.
"How is it that someone who is interested in protecting the environment should be disqualified when Planning Board regulations promote protecting Beaver Lake?" asked Doug Timmons, Beaver Lake association president.
Opponents worried Curtis has an agenda to increase regulations around the lake and push the association's issues.
"We do not need a man as polarized as Mr. Curtis on the Planning Board," said Bob Kossieck, a property-rights member.
Whether to appoint Curtis to a board that may influence land use ideas that go before the Quorum Court is at the heart of the issue. In the days leading up the Quorum Court meeting, property rights advocates pressured justices of the peace to vote against Curtis, while environmentalists pressed justices of the peace to vote for him.
Justice of the Peace Frank Winscott, R-southeastern Benton County, said whether to approve Curtis is a "lightning rod issue." The nuisance abatement ordinance is the only other issue that provoked so much response among constituents, he said.
Winscott voted against Curtis both times. He made a motion to table the vote early in the meeting but the motion failed.
"My concern was: Can he be objective on the board due to his past with land-use issues?" Winscott said. "I want him to be objective."
Justice of the Peace Debbie Hobbs, R-Rogers, voted against Curtis in July but changed her vote to support Curtis on Thursday. She said she is still concerned about potential bias on the board but pointed out developers can appeal the board's decision. Curtis is only one of seven on the planning board, Hobbs said.
Justice of the Peace Bobby Hubbard, R-northwestern Benton County, and Justice of the Peace James Wozniak, R-Bella Vista, left the meeting shortly after the Quorum Court approved Curtis. Hubbard said the Quorum Court made a mistake in approving Curtis.
Curtis supported the watershed ordinance that included fees for homeowners and would have hurt farming communities by not allowing farmers to move dirt on their property, Hubbard said. What a committee or board recommends to the Quorum Court is usually approved, which could mean more or increased building or planning fees, he said.
"This county is taking a step backward in helping agriculture in this county -- especially on the western side," Hubbard said. "(Curtis) is an extremist, I don't care what anybody says."
How They Voted
The Benton County Quorum Court voted Thursday to appoint Mark Curtis to the Planning Board. Justices of the peace Frank Harrison, R-Rogers, David Hill, R-Bentonville, Debbie Hobbs, R-Rogers, Kurt Moore, R-southwestern Benton County, Bob Stephenson, R-southwestern Benton County, Beverly Williams, D-Bella Vista, Tim Summers, R-Bentonville, and James Wozniak, R-Bella Vista, approved Curtis. Justices of the peace Bobby Hubbard, R-northwestern Benton County, Craig Brown, R-Rogers, Chris Glass, R-northeastern Benton County, and Frank Winscott, R-southeastern Benton County, voted against Curtis. Justice of the Peace Marge Wolf, R-Rogers, was absent.