Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Consistency and compatibility

Here's what I should have asked Santa for Christmas:

I'd really like to have a Bentonville Planning Commission that will actually stick to the General Plan that the planning department and the citizens of Bentonville worked hard to create. I'll explain that in a minute. As I've written here before, the city is in the process of creating a NEW long-term general plan, determining priorities for growth and how the city should grow over the next 25 years. This would replace the current land use plan, which is still very much in effect and applicable.

All of this came into focus over the last month when several controversial rezonings came before the Bentonville Planning Commission on SE J Street. Basically, the street is zoned mostly so that medium density residential can mix with very limited commercial; business that serve a daily purpose, like cleaners, markets, coffee shops, that sort of thing. It's zoned this way and described in the land use plan so that J Street won't turn into another Walton Boulevard, with car dealerships, tire shops, pawn shops, ugly signs, and crappy strip centers with curb cuts every 50 feet on either side. If the commercial uses are of a basic nature; that is, things that we all need on a daily basis, then people don't mind living next to them and you can get a healthy mix of residential and commercial development up and down J street, rather than just being another Walton Boulevard that NO ONE would ever want to live on.

The future of constant C-2 rezonings. Photograph from FHWA website.

So basically, there were three rezoning requests for the south end of J Street in the last few months, where people wanted their land rezoned to C-2, which is THE most permissive zoning for commercial land. It puts the fewest restrictions on the kinds of commercial use that can be on the land. (see highway 412 in springdale for a great example of a road zoned entirely C-2)

The planning staff recommended a denial of all three rezonings, because they are not consistent with the city's current land use plan. But the retarded planning commission turned right around approved two of them, inexplicably rejecting one of them. From the Daily Record:
The commission approved the other two requests, but denied the Mathews rezoning with a 3-3 tied vote. Mathews appealed the decision at City Council last week, where Community Development Director Troy Galloway requested the item be sent back to the commission. Mathews plans to build a tire shop on the site, and also submitted a final plat for the site.

The planning staff originally recommended denial on all three commercial rezonings because the use is not consistent with the city’s Land Use Plan. However, because the commission voted against the plan, the staff is now recommending approval in order to be consistent with the commission’s previous decisions. "Design, function and appearance of these parcels will have a lasting impact on the overall development of the J Street corridor," the staff report states.

Now, more rezoning requests have come before the Planning Commission, and the planning staff knows that their hands are tied. The rezoning requests are not in line with the land use plan, but the planning commission has already disregarded the plan and set a precedent by approving the other rezonings on J Street. From the Daily Record this week:
It seems Southeast J Street is destined for strip commercial development — which means more traffic and infrastructure costs.

When the Planning Commission approved three adjacent rezonings on Southeast J Street in February and March, they set a precedent for more commercial building in that area — even though it goes against the Land Use Plan. "This is not a desired pattern of development," said Community Development Director Troy Galloway on Friday. Strip commercial adds infrastructure costs and exacerbates the already severe traffic situation along that stretch, he said.

However, because of the precedent, the planning staff has "no option" other than to recommend approval, Galloway said with reservation. The rezoning in question regards 1.99 acres at 3111 S. E. J St. from R-O to C-2, owned by Kyong Yang and Suk Hee Yang. "Previous decisions of the Planning Commission have basically gotten us into this situation, and we’re basically looking at strip commercial up J Street," Galloway said. The Land Use Plan recommends moderate-density residential or mixed use for the transition area. "Once you’ve initiated this strip commercialization, it’s incredibly difficult to reverse, if not impossible," he said. Strip commercial is the basis of sprawl, in which all businesses are laid out on a linear pattern and only accessible by car. Strip development is not conducive to pedestrians or trails, because all businesses are spread out, Galloway said. "At some point we’ve got to recognize that not all property that fronts on a major traffic corridor can or should be zoned for commercial development," Galloway said.

So we've got this great land use plan and the planning commissioners promptly ignore it and set a precedent for Walton Boulevard strip-style development to creep all the way up J Street, which will not only increase traffic on the road, but will also turn it into the kind of street that people don't want to live on, and is hostile to residential development.

This quote from (good guy) Planning Commissioner Rick Rogers sums up the whole mess: "Now it’s hard not to vote for it because all that property (is now C-2),' referring to recent C-2 rezonings nearby."

I'm all about being involved in the ongoing general planning process. The ideas I've heard are mostly wonderful, with most residents at the meeting all about smart growth, mixing uses, and limiting single-use zoning and commercial strips all over our major thoroughfares.

But what good is a long-range land use plan, if our planning commissioners immediately disregard it?

Santa, come soon....

read more: development, bentonville, general plan, growth