I have had the privilege of attending city council and planning commission meetings in cities throughout Saline County. I have seen the process of government “of the people, by the people and for the people” in motion with all its glory. I have also seen the darker, blemished side. I say this not in a derogatory sense but given the nature of the statement, I could see how others may conclude as such. I say it to show there is balance in all things. Conflict is not always a bad thing. Conflict that leads to better ideas is healthful. Conflict that leads to division and mistrust is not.
Next week the planning commission of the city of Benton will have before them a request to rezone approximately 175 acres of property, currently known to all as Longhills Golf Course, to a designation that will allow the construction of ‘multi-family housing units.’ These ‘units’ are often called apartments or pods or other designations. Some look at apartments as a good thing. Some look at them with disdain. In either case, perhaps we should be looking at them in a different light, taking into account history and facts.
According to information in the October 2011 issue of Metro Trends, multi-family housing permits issued for Benton from 2008 through the date of the issue was/is a total of “zero.” The article does not mention information prior to 2008. In the six months I have been managing editor here, I have witnessed two attempts of builders eager to bring construction to the city. Each time, they were voted down by the council despite being approved for rezoning by the planning commission.
Next week, the planning commission will have another chance to send an approval to the council. Longhills and the acreage included is on the agenda. Lindsey Properties has put forth a plan to purchase the ailing course and build 702 units for multi-family housing. Ok, call them apartments or upscale living but doing so overlooks some facts and builds on a bit of fear associated with the designation. Personally, I have no problem with apartments. I have lived in them in the past because I could not afford a house. I enjoyed living in an apartment. Most of us have at one time or another.
Thinking of 702 units sounds huge, and it is. But when taking the full picture into consideration, these units aren’t so large after all.
As mentioned earlier, the Longhills property includes approximately 175 acres. According the the proposed site plan for the development, after all the construction of the ‘units’ and associated access to them, approximately 140 acres will remain designated as ‘open space.’ In other words, approximately 83% of the total area will remain golf course. The remaining 17% will be housing related. According to the plan, there will be a two fairway buffer between Hwy 5 and one of the two clusters of units. There will also be a two fairway buffer between this same cluster and Spy Glass Drive. There will be a one fairway buffer between the first cluster scheduled for construction and traffic along Longhills Road.
The big picture isn’t even really about construction at Longhills. It’s about trends for the future in relation to cities and their growth.
The article in Metro Trends points out that a pattern has existed for three years “in which construction of new multi-family units has exceeded single-family construction in central Arkansas. This shift toward multi-family housing has likewise led the move toward ‘building in’ as a replacement for the previous trend of ‘building out,’ when construction activity moved in succeeding waves farther out into the region’s periphery.”
There are those who will say they don’t believe the facts because of the source, Metroplan. To do so would be an exercise in folly. These are numbers, not opinions.
Longhills is destined to close. Anyone familiar with the course and its history knows this as a fact. It’s time to continue the move toward the future and embrace, not reject, one way to grow the town.
A common phrase I have heard repeated at all the council meetings I have attended around the county is “I’m all for it, just not in my backyard.” When you get right down to it, every housing addition and every other project at one point or another was in somebody’s backyard. What would the county look like if city council members always voted with this mantra as their guide? Just imagine all the amenities and businesses we now enjoy would not be here. Take a look out your car window as you drive around and think about it. Imagine over seventy years ago when a football field was being proposed in downtown Benton. Without a doubt, there were those who did not want the noise and the traffic that high school football would bring to their neighborhood. Flash forward to present time and the effort of those who are doing all they can to keep C.W. Lewis as a viable structure for Panther football. Perspective is needed.
Some will say, “Well, Mr. Davis, it’s easy for you to say that when you don’t live next door to the monstrosity they plan to build. How would you like it if it were in your backyard?” In response, I would say, “I live behind the area off exit 114 where an area nearly three times as big as this development has been rezoned for commercial use. I say ‘bring it!’”
Those close to the issue of the Longhills project have been told there are at least three alderman who have already decided they will vote against the rezoning request if the planning commission approves it next week. Their minds are made up. Perhaps they have a myopic view of the future set for the town they all claim to love.
What a shame.