The Bentonville Planning Commission will on Tuesday hear a rezoning request for a property near Memorial Park that will shed light on the city’s position regarding property rights. The land owner, Cindy Springs LLC, is requesting the property be rezoned from Expired PUD (Planned Unit Development) to a combination of C-3, R-3 and R-4. The city’s Land Use Plan, a city guide for zoning decisions, shows the site as Mixed Use and recommends Downtown Core, C-3, R-O and/or PUD.
The topic has turned into a hot button issue for a few folks, based mainly on the location of the land at John Deshields and Legacy Parkway, while others are excited at the prospect of the rezone for the same reason. Proponents see potential future development as providing more diverse housing opportunities for those who work in Bentonville and more walkable/bikeable lifestyle amenities near downtown.
Before we jump into property rights, let’s look at how the city’s Land Use Plan shakes out with this request. C-3 is one of the city’s own recommendations for the property, so we’ll skip that and dive into how R-O (Residential Office) compares to R-3 and R-4. R-O allows offices “without limitation to the size or nature of the office,” along with community facilities and six residential units per acre. By contrast, R-3 allows 12 units per acre and R-4 allows 24 units per acre, each with no offices or additional facilities. Both of these zoning designations are less dense from a human and traffic perspective than R-O when considering the unlimited offices allowed plus residential areas. The city has set precedent on multiple occasions by approving R-3 and R-4 designations in place of R-O where the Land Use Plan calls for Mixed Use.
David, Morley, a senior research associate at the American Planning Association, said it would be unusual for a city to deny a rezoning request that conforms to the recommendations in its own Land Use Plan and for which it has already set precedent by approving similar rezone requests.
“Planning professionals would always advise that cities stick to their adopted plans,” he said.
Opponents have argued that the property should remain undeveloped, become city park land or be developed in such a way that frankly isn’t supported by the city’s Land Use Plan. That’s where we come to property rights. Every property owner has a right to develop their land within the scope of the city land uses allowed. It seems odd to assert that a property owner should give up that right or donate land to the city strictly because it’s adjacent to other city-owned land. It would be as if someone insisted the Bentonville First Baptist Church should deed its property to the city because it’s next door to City Hall or, likewise, to give up its rights to further develop the property.
The same argument hasn’t been made for other property developments near Memorial Park. Let’s look at the park’s neighbors. It lies next to a self-storage complex and laundromat, a large apartment complex, several schools, a Walmart Neighborhood Market, a museum and a variety of single-family neighborhoods. It’s a pretty diverse and developed environment, with the exception of the land at the center of the rezone request. One opponent mentioned that the C-3 zoning would allow for bars, a medical marijuana dispensary or retail liquor establishment to be installed adjacent to the park. That’s blatantly incorrect and a pretty classic example of fear-based manipulation. There are both city and state laws on the books that disallow each of these types of establishments from operating on the property due to its proximity to both parks and schools.
The question comes down to this: Will Bentonville uphold its Land Use Plan? And does the city believe in individual property rights for those who wish to develop properties in accordance with existing city ordinances? If the answer if no, all Bentonville property owners should be wary.