Thursday, March 23, 2006

Bentonville General Planning Process

About a month ago, I got to take part in the opening meeting of the Bentonville General Planning Process at the new Community Development Building. (left) Of course, I make that sound like it was something special that I got invited to; I wasn't special at all. The public was welcome to be there and take part.

The General Planning process will run over the course of the next year, allowing the public to join city leaders in setting the course of development for the future of Bentonville to the year 2030. The Plan will be a comprehensive document that will address issues like zoning, land use, transportation, infrastructure, and other elements of growth.

The idea is to set a course for the city, with the public weighing in to let city leaders and the planning office know what is important to them between now and 2030. The plan will (hopefully) govern future decisions that are made by the planning commission in regards to rezonings, annexation, and development in the city. The document will be replacing a much shorter-term document that was created in the year 2000.

So let's just all agree that it's a big deal for us.

The turnout at the first meeting was meager, where we had two consultants from Planning Works on hand to provide direction to the charette (fancy word for getting public input on design and planning designs in a controlled environment.) They showed a slideshow which illustrated through photos how other cities had done things well, and screwed up royally. They come from a smart growth background, where value is placed on multiple transportation options, a city street grid, pedestrian viability, and avoidance of strip commerical development and cul-de-sacs.

Here's just a few notes I took away from the meeting, some of which weren't news to me, but I could certainly see the wheels turning on the faces of some people there:

• Balance. Part of navigating intense growth is figuring out how to balance highest and best use with highest and best community.

• Re: Economic Development. Find ways to reward developers of desired projects, so that developers get the message about what form of development is most rewarded and easily processed through the planning office. The flip side is that you make it harder for developers of crappy projects to build things in Bentonville. Economic vitality is the end product of good planning. You won't have long-term economic vitality without having long-term sound planning.

• Design and use both matter. Architecture and aesthetics are important, but the land use is just as important. Downtown Bentonville is a unique place, not just because of the design of the buildings, but because of the form that they take. (close to street, multi-story, sidewalks...)

• Neighborhood quality is not about density. However, if you have a city full of dead-end streets or dendritic street structure (arterials, collectors, cul-de-sacs), then density is important, because less density creates less traffic, (if the number of CARS is the sole measure of quality.) But in a true neighborhood (like where the Bride and I live), more density does NOT equal less quality. Just like any other form of development, high density can be done well, or poorly (see: Lindsay)

And lastly,

• Transportation and land use are interconnected. This is the probably one of the most important lessons that I hope eveyrone who participates in the General Planning process could learn. I keep hearing people talking about how we need to widen 102; because it would take care of all of the Centerton traffic. But bad land use decisions were made to allow thousands and thousands of residential units be built in an area with poor infrastructure; an area with barely any retail to support the burgeoning population. And because of bad land use decisions, transportation is affected. I would say that this is the single most important lesson for the average NWA resident to learn and arm themselves with in the face of the growth that is happening.

We can't continue to make transportation and infrastructure decisions without addressing the past land use decisions that led to today's transportation decisions. And we can't make land use decisions (like along the Highway 12 corridor) without taking into consideration the effects that it will have on transportation for the future of the city.

So that's about it. I haven't heard when the next General Plan meeting is, but I'll be sure to post it here for those of you who live in Bentonville so you all can join in the process of charting the future of our fair city.

The more the merrier.

read more: bentonville, roads, development, urbanism, downtown bentonville, bentonville general plan, smart growth