Saturday, August 16, 2008

Ignore City Plan 2025?

City Plan 2025 serves as the City’s guiding policy for future growth and is the impetus for the creation of complete neighborhood plans. It won an Arkansas American Planning Association award for achievement in comprehensive planning and a Congress for the New Urbanism Charter Award for a Region and Metropolis Plan.

Among the essential elements of City Plan 2025 in planning future growth are the boldly stated goals that "We will make infill and revitalization our highest priorities," and "We will discourage suburban sprawl." These are both laudable goals, but it appears that they might be more useful for politicians claiming credit for winning national awards than actually guiding the future growth of our community.

The last item on next Tuesday's City Council agenda, assuming that the Mayor doesn't again walk on a major project that is not on the published agenda, is : An ordinance annexing that property described in annexation petition ANX 08-2897 (CC2008-38), for property located west of I-540 and Cato Springs Road, Southpass Development, containing approximately 855.97 acres. That's right. Hardly "infill and revitalization." Hardy discouraging "suburban sprawl." Hardly "growing a livable transportation network." Hardly "creating attainable housing." It is just more greenfield development that is not in the Fayetteville City Limits nor in the Fayetteville School District. But it has been recommended for annexation by Coody's Planning Director Jeremy Pate and signed off on by the Mayor himself.

How did we get here? Someone at City Hall decided they wanted a big multi-million dollar sports park instead of planning and developing more neighborhood parks. So, the City Council agreed to authorize Mayor Coody to execute an agreement with John Nock, Richard Alexander, and Hank Broyles operating as SouthPass Development to accept 200 acres of park land, a 10-acre water tank site, and $1 million for park development in exchange for the city accepting ownership and liability for an old landfill that is leaking. Although Coody told us with a straight face that we "will see this park begin construction in 2005," the city has not yet received the deed to the proposed park land three years later. Yet, Coody and his staff are now rushing through annexation of the property for the developers, the same developers who were involved in the $3.7 million TIF District Mudhole (Nock and Alexander) and the failed Aspen Ridge condo project (Broyles).

Coody's staff has not conducted a fiscal impact assessment for this huge annexation. They admit that the two lane road is insufficient for the planned development, that there is no sanitary sewer available on the property, that there would be another fire station and a police substation to be built and staffed by the city to serve the 4,320 homes that the developers say they want to build. Like they said they wanted to build a Renaissance Hotel. Sometime in the future, the staff says it will submit a supplemental cost share agreement to the City Council so they will better understand the fiscal impact of the annexation and development that they are being asked to approve next week. That's bassackwards.

If the City thinks it really needs a mega-sports park, then get the deed and annex the park land. Don't ignore the key elements of City Plan 2025, and don't annex the developers' 856-acre greenfield wet dream west of I-540 and assume some unknown financial liability for the taxpayers. Especially not these developers who have failed to perform on past projects, no matter how good of friends and supporters they are with the mayor. Don't do it. Don't even think about doing it until they fulfill the promises that the city foolishly trusted them to keep in the past.

In his 2005 State of the City speech, Mayor Coody beamed about SouthPass and said, "This is another of those opportunities that cannot be passed up." Yes it can, and it should.

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