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Community Weighs In at Monday’s Open House; Revised Proposals to be Presented Thursday, 5-7pm

Updated: Feb 29

Input from residents adds value to work-in-progress.

Over 100 Bentonville area residents turned out Monday, February 26, for the first of Plan Bentonville’s two Design Week Open House events. Awaiting them were city staffers and a consultant project team presenting a series of display boards covering everything from demographics and housing types to potential growth scenarios and the economic realities that come with them.

It was a lot to digest, but the people of Bentonville proved up to the task. Now, come this Thursday, February 29 from 5-7pm at the Bentonville Public Library, it'll happen once again with updated drafts.

An Exercise in Community Problem Solving

The current ‘Design Week’ is the culmination of an aggressive community engagement campaign dating back to October of last year. In fact, Plan Bentonville is the largest, most ambitious, most participatory planning process in the city's history, as evidenced by the considerable media coverage it's received from outlets like KSFM Channel 5, KHBS News, KNWA Fayetteville, the Arkansas Democrat Gazette, BNN and others.

Design Week is so named to reflect the city’s prevailing challenge: Unmanaged growth isn’t getting it done. Accommodating the increases in population anticipated over the next several decades will require a vision to guide us and a plan to make it real. It will need to be purposeful. Intentional. It will need to happen by design.

Consider this: We can chart Bentonville’s past growth curve and then project it forward to predict future population growth. When doing so, we chart a conservative possibility (4.0% annual growth), a moderate one (4.7% annual growth), and an aggressive one (5.4% annual growth). Whichever scenario proves accurate, it’s a safe bet that in the next 30 years the city will grow to somewhere between 161,000 and 236,000 residents.

How can our projected growth — a phenomenon outside the direct control of the city — serve as a resource to be leveraged rather than a liability to be overcome?

For a variety of reasons — quality of life, opportunity, lifestyle, and corporate recruitment and relocation among them — people are coming. Where are they all going to live?

What to Expect Thursday Evening

Conventional zoning, like that that’s governed growth in Bentonville for more than half a century, looks at the world mostly in terms of use and density — residential vs. commercial or industrial, high density vs. low density, etc. — and separates each into its own respective zone. But Bentonville, the historic city we all know and love, wasn’t originally built like that.

It was built to serve the way people lived, and increasingly want to live again. Where neighbors of diverse ages, incomes, and circumstances have the option to share the same neighborhood, and their basic daily needs — like drug and convenience stores, grocery, coffee and barber shops, doctor’s offices, schools, and parks — are routinely found within a safe ten minute walk or bike ride.

Currently on the table among the Plan Bentonville recommendations is a rethinking of how we regulate land use — organizing things in terms of ‘place types’ rather than just uses and densities. For example, traditional neighborhoods of yesteryear routinely featured multiple housing types. Everything was compatibly sized at a neighborly human scale but while some of the buildings were single family homes, others might be a similar building housing a duplex or triplex. Or perhaps a small apartment building or townhouse. And maybe down the street was a corner store.

Among the goals of the Plan Bentonville Pop-Ups was gauging the types of places people are drawn to or feel comfortable in. One activity showed five environments of differing character — vibrant downtown, neighborhood center, mixed neighborhood, suburban neighborhood, and rural — and asked participants to indicate by age where they feel the most at home.

If you didn't get a chance to participate in the Pop-Ups or Open House, you can still take our Design Week Online Survey to share your opinions on comparable topics.

While not something of scientific precision, a few generalized conclusions can be drawn from the results. First, Bentonville is a diverse place and different people have different preferences for how and where they want to live. Young people (aged 18-29), for example, are disproportionately drawn to where the action is — particularly downtowns and neighborhood centers.

Another thing of particular interest is the number of middle aged (30-59) and senior (60+) residents interested in walkable environments — particularly downtowns and neighborhood centers. Further study could reveal an insufficient supply of these place types in Bentonville to satisfy the growing demand. Or, they could demonstrate how current zoning disallows or disincentivizes the development community from building them.

That's one thing you'll see addressed at Thursday night's Open House.

Another is the ever imposing reality that different models of growth come with different price tags. Some models cost more in infrastructure and the provision of city services than they produce in tax revenue. Others generate enough revenue to cover their own costs, as well as the costs of lower performing areas.

So also expect to see estimated financial assessments associated with the proposals being made.

Finally, participants Thursday evening will be able to review the team's preferred growth scenario map which consolidates all the input received thus far, subjects it to economic analysis, and details the recommended placement of different place types across the community to serve the coming decades.

When evaluating the recommendations, keep in mind that growth exists ultimately as a transaction between willing sellers and buyers. Not all land is available for development. Should it remain undeveloped, for example, there becomes a need to consolidate its growth potential in other areas.

As our population continues to grow, the land we have to work with remains finite. It's incumbent on us to be good stewards of its use, ensuring an endearing, environmentally-conscious, opportunity-abundant community for years to come.

See you Thursday, between 5 and 7pm, at the Bentonville Public Library.



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