Crystal Flats amends rezoning request, back before Commission tonight

In Home, Politics by arkansasprogressive

Developers for the Crystal Flats multi-use project submitted an amended Planned Unit Development (PUD) request to Bentonville city planners on Monday. The Planning Commission is scheduled to vote on the development tonight at 5 p.m. at the Community Development Building. The full meeting agenda and updated submission is available online.

The Planning Commission tabled a vote on Crystal Flats at its July 5 meeting at the request of the developer. The project has drawn concerns from some residents regarding increased traffic, the scale of the buildings and impact on local parks and schools. To address those concerns, developers held a number of stakeholder conversations and a public input meeting in the intervening month. Feedback from these meetings informed the amendments to the request submitted on Monday. First, here’s a link to an overview of the original submission.

And now let’s dive in to the changes:

  • After several residents voiced doubts about the accuracy and/or timing of a traffic study affiliated with the project, developers will conduct a second traffic study. Community members will be allowed to select the dates and times for the study period.
  • A seven-member Community Advisory Council will be created to help inform and guide developers throughout the large-scale design and construction process.
  • The development will implement an Innovative Stormwater Management and Water Quality plan (currently in use in Springfield, Mo.) as a pilot project for the city of Bentonville, complete with metrics and follow-up assessment.
  • To ameliorate construction noise and light pollution concerns, the developer will plant buffer vegetation along the Crystal Flats property line as well as in Legacy Village and Memorial Park. In addition, acoustic barriers will be positioned to block noise, beginning with the onset of construction.
  • Developers will add a .8-mile natural surface walking/running trail accessible to neighbors and park visitors. The Crystal Flats dog park will also be open to visitors. The trail provides an additional buffer and transition zone for the property boundary.
  • The height of the front building (Building A) will be lowered from 75 feet to 55 feet at the roofline.
  • The development will create a preferred leasing program with Legacy Village┬áthat will allow them to grow immediately adjacent to their property. Legacy Village residents will have dedicated community garden space, as well as accessibility to programming options and amenity spaces.

A Progressive View:

The conversation around Crystal Flats, while it may appear to be project-based, is really about something much larger. Bentonville is growing at a phenomenal pace. The city has changed significantly over the last five years. Not just its physical landscape, but the culture of the city is changing. And while most residents appreciate the trails, museums and culinary opportunities, it seems there’s a desire for all of the amenities that come with growth without the actual growth.

It’s time for the city to have a real, meaningful conversation – unrelated to any one development project – about what it wants to be. You can’t have world-class amenities and a strong economy without people. And people need places to live. Without quality, accessible housing, Bentonville will become a community of elitists surrounded by housing slums for workers who commute in to serve the affluent. If that’s the eventual outcome, the city will lose much of its diversity and energy. Innovation doesn’t come from comfort; it comes from need.

City planners have attempted this conversation through district specific and city-wide master plans. In those efforts, which were informed by the community, the feedback overwhelmingly trended toward a diverse environment with higher density housing and opportunities for growth. Those master plans call for projects like Crystal Flats. In fact, the future land use plan for the Crystal Flats site calls for a project like Crystal Flats. Growth is hard, and getting ahead of growth is even harder. The Planning Commission has a responsibility to do just that – plan. We don’t plan for what we have today; we plan for where we’re going.

There’s been much discussion about Crystal Flats being “in harmony” with its surroundings. Harmony is a very subjective term and should be looked at in a non-static way. It doesn’t mean, “All the buildings are the same height and density.” If it did, the code would spell that out. This development is located across the street from two amazing museums and a park. The multiplicity of “eyes on the street” research applies to “eyes on the park.” We know that multi-story, multi-use developments lead to better used and safer park spaces. From that perspective, higher density housing is in harmony with the park. Who would argue that museums and housing don’t go together like hand and glove? From that perspective, higher density housing is in harmony with its neighboring museums. The developer is committing an astonishing amount of money and effort into maintaining and even growing green space amenities with the project. From that perspective, Crystal Flats is in harmony with its green surroundings. A number of units will be priced at rates affordable to those who work in the service industry downtown, leading to fewer cars on busy downtown streets and a healthier, happier workforce. From that perspective, it’s in harmony with downtown. Bentonville is in dire need of housing. It has the highest rental costs and the lowest vacancy rates. From that perspective, this project isn’t just in harmony with city needs, it’s a godsend.

Apart from the assisted living center at Legacy Village, the nearest single-family housing is a smattering of homes to the north east off of 10th Street that are well-buffered by treelines. The nearest home to the south is 1/3 of a mile away, and the nearest gridded neighborhood is a 1/2 mile away.

One final thing, it seems like some people have lost sight of the fact that this is a private development, not public property. This is not a municipal building, where taxpayers are footing the bill for design and development. This is a property that will be paying millions in city impact fees (which go back into park and other city infrastructure) and property taxes (which pay for roads and public schools).

The men and women on the Planning Commission are serving at one of the most challenging and crucial turning points in the history of city development in Bentonville. There will be voices in opposition to Crystal Flats tonight, but those voices will represent a tiny proportion of the citizens and voters in Bentonville. We hope that the Planning Commission will have the foresight to stick to their adopted land use plan and honor master plans developed for and by the greater community.