Com­mis­sion looks at Plan

The Weekly Vista - - Front Page - KEITH BRYANT kbryant@nwadg.com

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.

Com­mis­sioner Shawki

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.

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