Housing Design Freedom Bill Passes Senate, Stirs Debate

A bill that would provide more freedom for individual property owners and homebuilders passed out of the full senate body this week. SB170 by Sen. Bart Hester (R – Cave Springs) would prohibit cities and counties from imposing onerous design standards on property owners. Local governments could still implement safety standards.

Some examples of what the city could not impose are standards on the number of bedrooms, square footage of the house, placement of windows, roof pitch, and other aesthetic design standards.

Sen. Hester disclosed that he was working on amendments with the Municipal League which would be added later. Hester was promised language for the amendments but had not received it by Wednesday afternoon when the bill ran on the senate floor.

Sen. Stephanie Flowers (D – Pine Bluff) spoke against the bill because “people need to be protected from themselves” advocating for allowing local governments to implement standards instead of letting developers do want they want when building houses.

Senate Democrats Keith Ingram (D – West Memphis) and Joyce Elliot (D – Little Rock) spoke against the bill and claimed it was usurping the rights of local government. This was countered later by Sen. Mark Johnson (R – Little Rock) by citing the Arkansas constitution’s strong protection afforded individual property owners and the importance of protecting a person’s property against government overreach.

Hester stated that there is no problem yet with cities or counties passing these standards, but proposals have been brought forward in Northwest Arkansas. After about a half hour of debate on the bill, several disclosures were made among Senators who might have a tie to the home building and real estate industry.

The bill passed with 23 yes votes, 11 no votes, and one senator not voting. It will now go the Arkansas House of Representatives to be heard.

Full Roll Call Vote:

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