Capitol Zoning District Commission
The Capitol Zoning District Commission (CZDC) is a state government agency created by the Arkansas General Assembly in Act 267 of 1975 to be a proponent of the historic preservation and development around the Arkansas State Capitol Building and Governor’s Mansion in Little Rock (Pulaski County). Several historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places are located within the CZDC, including the Governor’s Mansion Historic District, the South Main Street Historic District, and several blocks of the MacArthur Park Historic District.
The agency issues permits to those who want to alter the exterior of historic structures and regulates land use in those areas. The CZDC was created to address a transitioning neighborhood with declining residential use around the Arkansas State Capitol, deterioration of historic resources, and incompatible development around the Governor’s Mansion. Notably, the Fred W. Parris Towers, high-rise public housing units, were constructed in 1972 just blocks from the Governor’s Mansion; the structure made an odd neighbor to single-family homes dating back to the nineteenth century.
Either the staff or the commission, the final governing body, can issue permits depending on the scope of work or proposed use of a property. Staff can approve an application requesting only a minor, exterior modification or a use typical in the immediate area. Anything further, including demolishing or drastically altering a structure, requires consent from the commission.
The commission consists of seven gubernatorial appointees, one from the Secretary of State’s Office, and another member chosen by from the City of Little Rock’s Director of Planning and Development. While staff issues most permits, items heard before the commission require a review process including the following steps: 1) neighborhood advisory committees, typically property owners in the CZDC, allow stakeholders to provide feedback, 2) a design review committee made up of design professionals considers architectural details, such as if proposed features are appropriate in the area’s period of significance, and 3) staff offers recommendations. An appeal process was included in 2016, allowing applicants to challenge the commission’s ruling to the director of the Department of Arkansas Heritage.
The CZDC regulates two districts in Little Rock: the Capitol Area and the Governor’s Mansion Area. The Capitol Area’s boundaries consist of the Union Pacific Railroad to the north and west, Interstate 630 to the south, and Cross Street to the east. While state-owned property, including the State Capitol Building, is exempt from Capitol Zoning’s rules and regulations, the district hosts a proud history. Working-class housing and neighborhood commercial stores once dominated the neighborhood to accommodate railroad laborers who worked at the nearby Union Station. With vehicle transportation replacing rail use in the postwar era, the neighborhood gradually declined and residents flocked to other parts of the city.
The Governor’s Mansion Area’s boundaries include 13th Street to the north, Chester Street and sections of Gaines Street to the west, East Roosevelt Road to the south, and Cumberland and sections of Scott Street to the east. Many of Little Rock’s most prominent, historical properties are situated in the neighborhood, designed by renowned architects such as Charles Thompson and Frank Joseph Ginocchio.
In 1976, the CZDC selected CPS Planning of Little Rock to design the agency’s first master plan. During the plan’s design phase, there was substantial optimism about the potential impact of special zoning districts, as CPS consulted with planning firms in major metropolitan areas with experience in urban redevelopment projects. Among proposals in the plan’s early stages, the CPS director recommended a new public park spanning from Broadway to Main streets to inspire housing redevelopment. After several public hearings and several drafts of a master plan, the commission adopted its zoning regulations and a master plan in 1977.
In the 1980s, the commission issued rules on home occupation, which allows the operation of a business out of a residence, and began allowing bed and breakfast establishments in the district. The commission also issued a rule to remove billboards in the district to preserve the residential integrity of the neighborhood.
In 1999, a devastating tornado destroyed or damaged hundreds of properties in Little Rock, including in the Capitol Zoning District, with the agency issuing a surge of permits to restore historic properties.
In the twenty-first century, the CZDC continues to support historic preservation and economic development. Substantial energy moved into the South Main Street neighborhood, commonly called SoMa, with the construction or rehabilitation of apartments and commercial spaces.
For additional information:
“Act Creates Zoning Panel for Capitol and Mansion,” Quapaw Quarter Association, Vol. 2, No.1 (March/April 1975).
Caillouet, Linda S. “Battered Historic Districts Keep Grip on National Status.” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, January 31, 1999, pp. 1A, 18A.
Capitol Zoning District 1977 Master Plan. On file at the Capitol Zoning District Commission, Little Rock, Arkansas. Online at http://arr.blr.arkansas.gov/Portals/0/Rules/ARR/Entities/85/Rules/9573/Final/1977%20Master%20Plan.pdf (accessed October 16, 2020).
“Governor’s Mansion Historic District.” National Register of Historic Places nomination form. Online at http://www.arkansaspreservation.com/National-Register-Listings/PDF/PU9770_2018_nr.pdf (accessed October 16, 2020).
Liberto, Jennifer. “Zoning Panel Oks Plan to Rebuild Harvest Store,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, March 26, 1999, p. 11B.
“Lofts Ready for First Residents,” Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, September 24, 2008. pp. 1D, 6D.
“Planner Picked for Capitol,” Arkansas Democrat, April 8, 1976, p. 8A.
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