Because of the potential for losing valued land and threats to the safety of children, Fayetteville residents have continued to speak out against the rapid urbanization of Northwest Arkansas.
Urbanization is population growth resulting in the formation of cities. By 2040, the population of Fayetteville is expected to grow to 140,000 people, said Andrew Garner, the Fayetteville planning director.
To accommodate the growth, the city uses vacant lots that are between existing houses and discouraging new developments outside of the city, he said.
Will Dockery, the Friends of Lewis Park vice president, started the initiative Save Lewis Park in September 2017. He created this group because the Parks and Recreation department and the UA Board of Trustees was going to cancel the city lease for the land six months earlier than what was planned in the lease. This would leave the space to be sold and used for condominiums.
Residents’ petitions extended the lease until June 2019, and the next public vote on the bond issue is April 9, Dockery said.
The bond issue has 10 items to vote on which will extend a one percent sales tax. If questions one and five pass, Lewis Park will be saved. Question one asks for the refinancing of sales tax bonds, and question five asks for park improvements, he said.
Lewis Park is valuable to Fayetteville because of its location, Dockery said.
Lewis Park helps manage water because the south side of the park is bottomland hardwood, which is a type of wetland that reduces the severity of flooding and provides an area to store floodwater, Dockery said.
Mervin Jebaraj, director of the Center for Business and Economic Research, thinks that NWA is growing rapidly and has the room to expand, he said. Commercial spaces that are out of use can be turned into new commercial spaces, which allows for businesses to grow and saves natural spaces.
“That has meant a lot more disputes with where roads should go and how dense roads should be,” Jebaraj said.
Mervin thinks urbanization is a positive thing, but not every space can be saved. Growing cities have the pressure of providing more housing options, making development inevitable, he said.
“I think it’s valuable saving parks that people use,” Jebaraj said. “If part of the park is saved and other parts are used by the university, that would put the city in an ideal position.”
Once the Lewis Park petitions gained over 1,000 local signatures, Mayor Lioneld Jordan and the board of education helped to get the lease extended, Dockery said. The petition was to stop the early sale of Lewis Park.
City council members also try to give residents all the information for an issue through a public process in which residents can hear about it and also give their own input, City Engineer Chris Brown said.
City council members also considered Rolling Hills for development. Nicole Claesen, Parks and Recreation advisory board member, created a petition to stop the development of a road that was to be built in Rolling Hills because of safety, environmental and ecological concerns residents had, she said.
Residents had safety concerns about building a road in this area because the road will go behind Butterfield Elementary School, and the loud construction equipment would be harmful to the students’ hearing. Residents were also concerned about dust being blown into the playground for eight hours a day, Claesen said.
“We know growth happens, and we know it can happen responsibly,” Claesen said. “We believe (Rolling Hills) has so much environmental importance. It has a lot of properties that make it extraordinarily unique.”
The original plan for Rolling Hills was to make it an arterial street, which is a street that handles a high volume of traffic, like College Avenue. After a city council vote that recognized residential input, it was downgraded to a collector street, which is a street that connects residential roads to arterial streets, Brown said.
City planners intend to create developments close to the center of town to reduce the distance a residents have to go to find existing services, Brown said. The city council members want to do this and also preserve parks.