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Design Week Transforms Community Priorities into Future Growth Plans

Updated: Mar 8

Amazing week of community participation moves Plan Bentonville forward.

Plan Bentonville's recent Design Week six days of growth-related community input, February 24-29, with an on-site design team making real-time revisions to their work-in-progress was an illuminating exercise in what's possible when the community takes an active role in determining its future.

Guiding the project team's work as the week began were roughly 2,000 survey responses and 18 hours of 1-on-1 interviews completed in advance, reflecting a wide diversity of Bentonville residents sharing all manner of viewpoints: lifelong residents, new residents, elected officials, Planning Commission, State Representatives, County Judge, Board of Adjustments, affordable housing advocates and providers, schools administration, Walmart Active Mobility, small entrepreneurs, builders/developers, banks, grassroots conservatives, social services, the local Indian community, accessibility advocates, and downtown area neighbors.

By week's end, that input had been augmented by a thousand personal interactions taking place in 10 pop-up input sessions that set up in well-trafficked spots around the city and two large open house events where work-in-progress was shared in extensive detail.

“The turnout has been incredible," said Planning Director Tyler Overstreet in the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. "One thing that's impressed me is not just the number of people who have turned out at the pop-up events and open houses you can just feel a real love from our citizens about the community in which they live, which I think speaks a lot about Bentonville and the passion that people have for their city and its future."

The feedback received during Design Week highlighted the uniqueness of the proceedings, where input previously provided by residents fueled a first round of proposals which were then subjected to public review and comment in advance of the second round presented last Thursday evening.

“If you look at the proposals that came in Monday just based off of survey results and interviews and then where we landed by Thursday, they are radically different," noted Overstreet. "That’s this live feedback loop we’ve had going over the course of the week that we hope to continue as we get into the more formal draft land use plan."

Stopping Growth is Not an Option

Charting our past growth curve and then projecting it forward demonstrates persuasively that over the next 30 years the city will likely 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 — like quality of life, opportunity, lifestyle, and corporate recruitment and relocation — people are coming. How and where are they all going to live?

A Critical Choice

At the heart of the Plan Bentonville process is a choice: Should Bentonville continue to grow as we have for the past several decades or should we manage that growth more intentionally? And if the latter, how and where should growth occur?

The 2018 Community Plan, advance surveys, and 1-on-1 interviews settled the first question — better managed growth is necessary — while the community input provided during Design Week informed the second.

Participants provided input on two activities. The first — Where's your happy place? — considered the character of places where people feel the most at home, from downtown-like environments, the highest level of density, to rural, the lowest. Bentonville's diversity of opinions was evident in the responses but one thing was clear: residents ultimately preferred compact, connected, and walkable places over more dispersed or isolated ones.

That's not to say that everyone prefers more mixed-use, compact places or that everyone should live that way. Rather, the intent of the exercise is to demonstrate how the preferences of some residents can help support the preferences of other residents. Ideally, a fully realized community should offer all variations of the "happy place" so that everyone can find a home that serves both their life and lifestyle.

They were then asked where growth should be directed — into and between already developed areas, in both developed and new areas, or only in new, currently undeveloped areas?

The responses mirrored those in the Where's your happy place? activity favoring the prospect of growing up over growing out.

With the help of the Thaden School, a team of students was further able to secure youth input from 400 of their peers, along with their families. The results, while generally similar to the broader population, skew even more so in the direction of compact, connected, and walkable environments.

Review a summary of their findings here.

The significance of these results was not lost on the project team, as Bentonville youth are the very people most likely to experience the long-term results of growth decisions being made today.

Running the Numbers

Along the way, resident preferences were reality tested with a calculation of their annual costs on a per acre basis. These calculations, presented in Thursday's Open House, illustrated in stark detail the financial impacts of different growth patterns.

The more dispersed growth is, the less likely it is to cover the costs it incurs, like infrastructure, maintenance obligations over time, and the provision of city services.

On the other hand, more concentrated forms of development, like those preferred by residents participating in the week's activities, can often generate enough revenue to cover their own costs, as well as the costs of lower performing areas.

An example of a regional center, where growth in housing and jobs is accommodated on fewer acres, saving natural land and generating positive net revenue.

Preferred Growth Scenario

By Thursday's Open House, the various growth scenarios explored during the week had solidified into the one most closely reflecting the expressed will of the community. Consider the impacts, starting with our present conditions:

Next demonstrates the effects of business-as-usual, continuing with our current approach to development. Note the amount of greenfields consumed by suburban-style development, and the fact that it generates less than half the necessary tax revenue to cover its associated costs:

Finally, the preferred scenario. Note its revenue-positive contribution and its ability to accommodate an additional 10,000 residents over the business-as-usual scenario while still consuming far less open space. Note also that, in accordance with community input received during the week, it keeps all existing suburban areas as they are.

Tip of the Iceberg

This summary reflects just a small portion of the information presented over the course of the week. We encourage you to explore everything presented in far greater detail through the materials below, taken from the team's summary presentation to the Plan Bentonville steering and technical committees, Friday, March 1, 2024:

Or, watch this audio + visual presentation below, where project consultants present the full week's proceedings in detail:

Next Steps

The Preferred Scenario, which will ultimately evolve to become our city's Future Land Use Map, is currently undergoing review by the city and will then be brought forth again with additional opportunities for public input and refinement.

Stay tuned to this website for updates.  



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