Residents applaud as city planners nix zoning permit
Proposed Crystal Flats site covers about 28 acres east of downtown
BENTONVILLE — Residents whooped and hollered and many stood in applause of the Planning Commission’s decision to not permit Crystal Flats mixed-use development to be built just east of downtown.
Commissioners were tied 3-3. Scott Eccleston was absent, and four votes were needed for the planned unit development zoning request to be approved for the development to move forward.
Commissioners Tregg Brown, Jim Grider and Joe Haynie voted against the zoning. Richard Binns, Rod Sanders and Greg Matteri voted for it.
The proposed site is about 28 acres along Northeast John DeShields Boulevard between Legacy Village and Circle of Life Hospice
to the north and west, Orchards Park to the south and Memorial Park and a residential neighborhood to the east.
The development — called Crystal Flats —included apartment buildings, townhouses and a core building with a variety of space for services, such as a cafe, fitness center and childcare facility.
Cindy Springs LLC is the owner of the property. The company has the same post office box as Walton Enterprises.
Green Circle Projects, Safdie Rabines Architects, Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects, Ecological Design Group and CEI Engineering Associates are all working on the project.
About 150 nearby residents showed up in opposition to the project at the July 5 Planning Commission meeting. The most commented concerns related to height of the buildings and the development’s impact on traffic.
Developers created a Facebook page to collect feedback on the project as well as held a community meeting July 26 where more than 100 people attended, according to a letter Craig Curzon with Polk Stanley Wilcox Architects wrote to planning staff.
More than 100 attended Tuesday’s meeting.
Seven changes were made, including removing one story from the core building, lowering its height from 75 feet to 55 feet tall. An additional residential building was added to the property’s west side to move the units lost in the core building and keep the overall development at 650 units, according to documents.
That may seem like a lot, but it’s a “responsible number” given there are five people a day moving into Bentonville and another five people a day moving into Northwest Arkansas, Matt O’Reilly, with Green Circle Projects, told commissioners.
Good people and families are moving into Bentonville but they can’t afford a place to live, he said.
“If we can’t afford to put any of this workforce in downtown Bentonville, what you have is the slums on the outside and the privilege on the inside,” O’Reilly said. “That’s the classic formula for communities rotting from the inside out.”
Brad Kingsley, resident on Northeast Second Street, said it took his family a year to find a house near downtown they could afford to buy and renovate.
He said he bikes to work and his family bikes to downtown and Crystal Bridges often. They have reduced to one car.
“That’s the type of lifestyle that we moved here for,” he said, explaining why he was in favor of the development that would provide more housing options near the city’s core.
Kingsley was one of three who spoke in favor of the development. There were 12 others who spoke against it during the public hearing commissioners permitted after O’Reilly’s half hour presentation.
Commissioners were going to vote after the presentation, but residents said they expected to be able to speak at Tuesday’s meeting, especially since space was limited at the July 5 meeting. Tuesday’s meeting was moved to the public library to accommodate the large crowd. The July 5 meeting was held in the Community Development Center where residents spilled out of the meeting room, into the lobby and out the front doors.
The crowd grumbled Tuesday while commissioners mumbled about whether to permit comments.
Greg Matteri, commission chairman, said he would allow a public hearing for a half hour and asked those who spoke during the July 5 meeting not speak again in respect for those who haven’t voiced their thoughts.
Residents expressed concerns over traffic and argued apartment complexes typically draw crime. Several said they believed the proposed roundabout at Northeast John DeShields Boulevard and Northeast J Street would cause more problems than it would solve.
“People don’t know how to use a roundabout,” said Toby Coyle, resident on Glenbrook Avenue.
Some residents asked the commissioners to simply hear the people. Kevin Graham, resident on Southwest D Street, recalled the July 5 public hearing where several people spoke in opposition but only one spoke in favor of the project.
“Do you have a moral responsibility to stand up for the general population that literally voted 100 and something to one?” Graham asked commissioners.
There was little discussion among commissioners prior to their vote.
Developers have the option of appealing the commission’s decision to City Council within 30 days. Melissa Gute can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @NWAMelissa.