Commission looks at Plan
The Planning Commission got together for a special meeting and talked with representatives from Gould Evans, a design firm hired by the Bella Vista City Council to generate a comprehensive plan to guide the city to 2040.
Graham Smith, associate vice president with Gould Evans, said this is one of three meetings his firm intends to have with the commission during the comprehensive plan process, which is currently in what he called the visioning phase.
“We’re trying to identify the vision and goals of the
community,” Smith said. “One of the things we always do when we build our comp plans is building around a vision.”
The firm has primarily been gathering data and working to understand the community, he said, and will be holding a framework summit in October, then start work on the plan in November.
For the community assessment, he said, the firm examined the city’s revenue — how money flows in and how it’s spent — and other city data. They’ve also interviewed property owners, business owners, city staff and officials and officials from neighboring cities.
“You guys have a very unique organizational structure for a city,” he said.
His firm has been taking a survey of the community online, which has received more than 1,300 responses.
There was a lot of consistency, he said, with respondents focusing on nature, family and a sense of community. The majority of comments were about general quality of life, he said.
“There’s some interesting comments in there, I will tell you that,” Smith said.
Additionally, he said, his firm has been working on an assessment of the city’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats,
Among those strengths, he said, are the city’s amenities, but the city also suffers from a weak tax base and lack of goods and services. Interestingly, he said, the changing demographics — that is, the lowering average age of the city — was identified as an opportunity in this assessment, but has previously been seen as a threat.
Threats, he said, include a stagnant tax base and the challenges of remaining relevant in a growing area.
“What we’ve done is take a lot of this information and … tried to understand
the community,” Smith said.
Common themes he’s seen include the city’s natural setting and its role as a bedroom community.
An estimated 11,000 people leave the city for work, he said, while approximately 1,300 come to Bella Vista to work and roughly 1,600 live and work in Bella Vista.
There’s a lot leaving the community, he said, and it would be ideal if the city could find better ways to keep those workers in Bella Vista.
“How do we go about repositioning some of the assets you have… in a way that promotes the growth of your community?” he asked.
One example, he said, is streets. The city needs to find a sustainable way to maintain its 550-mile network of roads, he said.
Multimodal transportation, he said, might be worth looking at — and the city could already have a strong start with the Razorback Greenway, which is being extended into Bella Vista.
Al-Madhoun said he believed there is a degree of consensus on these issues.
One important thing to note, he said, is the age of the city is changing and the city needs to plan to meet younger residents’ needs, including the types of work they may be attracted to.
Commissioner Don Robinson said that the city also lacks a central hub and people often ask him where Bella Vista is. People like the trails, he said, but there aren’t many places they can stop for a drink.
“Where is Bella Vista?” he asked. “Downtown Bella Vista?”
Chairman Daniel Ellis said that while Bella Vista may struggle to find a singular downtown location, that may not be ideal today. People want somewhere close to where they live, he said, and these could give residents somewhere to walk to, spend discretionary income and then walk home from. So, rather than having a single urban area, he said, it might be ideal to have pockets of urbanization.
“People are not looking for one central location, he said. “There could be four or five downtown areas in Bella Vista where people can live, work, play.”
Smith said there’s a great deal to discuss in this process and nothing is set in stone for this planning process at this point.