Monday, June 15, 2009

Fran Alexander says support your local NIMBYs because your backyard could be next!

CROSS CURRENTS : Our backyards
Fran Alexander frana@nwarktimes.com
Posted on Monday, June 15, 2009
URL: http://www.nwanews.com/nwat/Editorial/77415/
I'll admit it. I'm a sucker for NIMBYs, and it doesn't even matter if I agree with their issues or not. When people draw a line in the sand and declare, "That's it - no longer will I put up with this," it is like witnessing the birth of citizenship. "Not In My Backyard" (NIMBY) reactions lift people off couches, send them into research and action/organizing modes and introduces many of them to how their community government is run.

Contrary to what our public servants on councils, boards, and quorum courts probably think, people rarely stand up for themselves in relation to how many times they actually should. If they did, no one would serve on these civic bodies because their workload would consist of 12-hour days. Apathy, innocence, and ignorance (the unintentional kind) keep a sleepy populace manageable because rarely do the masses bother to coalesce in large, angry numbers to push down the doors of city halls or courthouses. Oh, but when a group of citizens have had enough, those in politics might do well to check on the local sales figures for torches and pitchforks!

From the east, south, and west parts of Fayetteville, there are some hot backyard issues cooking on the grill this summer. On the east side, folks in the Hyland Park neighborhood continue their resistance to the construction of a crucial city water tower smack in the middle of several residents' lines of sight. The approved tower would be so close to some houses that the owners feel their property values and personal enjoyment of their homes will be lost or severely diminished.

The controversy centers to a large extent around what the intent of use was for a specific lot on that hill, which the city says was long ago designated for a water tower, but some believe that such a huge tank was not the objective for Lot 22. Alternative locations or solutions continue to be sought that will not cost either the city or the neighborhood's residents millions of dollars to remedy. Obviously at some point in time property buyers must not have had full disclosure nor knew to seek out details for what might be constructed on that hilltop. Perhaps a citywide property buyers' awareness guide needs to be created.

South Fayetteville is home to some of the oldest neighborhoods that were once "out in the country." Because of how the area grew over time, the changes there have created a mishmash of zones within close proximity to each other. For example, part of the cattle sale barn property is zoned "industrial," another part as "RMF-24," which translates as "residential multifamily - 24 units (or less) to an acre." Next to the sale barn is an established older neighborhood (also zoned RMF-24) and the Fayetteville National Cemetery, the final resting place of military veterans since 1867.

The owner of the Washington County Sale Barn wants to sell, and a builder of college student housing has made an offer contingent chiefly on a zoning change to Downtown General. However, the neighborhood is feeling the squeeze between the recently constructed Hill Place apartments for 800 students (and their cars) to their north, and this newer proposal, which will add 500 more on the east, further congesting what was once a peaceful place.

"Peaceful" is a key ingredient as well in regard to the national cemetery location. Currently without the funds to make or match an offer on the sale barn property, the Regional National Cemetery Improvement Corporation (P.O. Box 4221, Fayetteville, AR 72702) is looking for donations in order to expand before reaching capacity around 2023. Supposedly our nation promises the benefit of burial in a national cemetery to our service people, but there is no ongoing land acquisition paid for by our government. (Talk about need for a bailout!)

Listed on the National Register of Historic Places and on the Civil War Discovery Trail, this cemetery is a very special place where families and friends come to honor and remember those who served our country in the military. The possible ramifications that can accompany student life worries many who care greatly about the solemnity of this very intimate place.

Sorry that they did not petition to do it sooner, the neighborhood needs other voices to help them tomorrow night, Tuesday, June 16 at 6 p.m., in getting the City Council to agree with their request to rezone the whole area to "Neighborhood Conservation." This zoning would allow for some mix of uses, but "serves to promote and protect neighborhood character."

Moving westward, we find citizens who once enjoyed the pastoral peace of their area before dirt farm companies began to dig up the scenery a few years back. Unaware of any opportunities to object at the time this activity was permitted, residents tried to reconcile their loss with the knowledge that when the 45 acres of dirt were eventually depleted, they would be left looking at a pit, but at least the excavation noise and dust would end. Now they face applications by the landowners for a 100 acre expansion, plus the quarrying of the limestone that lies below the red dirt.

Adding insult to injury, the Quorum Court granted a conditional use for this quarrying, which could mean decades of blasting, truck traffic, dust, environmental harm, and continued degradation of the residents' surroundings. So, as in many cases of this sort, the West Fayetteville Citizens for Environmental Quality ("http://www.wfceq.com") has had to raise money in order to take legal action to correct what they see as detrimental and incompatible land use. They are supporting a county ordinance, "which discourages the establishment or the expansion of the non-conforming uses," within two miles of the limits of an incorporated city. They hope their fellow citizens will e-mail or call the Quorum Court members in support of this ordinance.

We need to view these backyard battling warriors among us as defenders for us all instead of the usual dismissal such isolated efforts are given by people who do not think they have a dog in these fights. As the west Fayettevillians point out, the next pit could be coming to a backyard near you.

Fran Alexander is a local resident and active environmentalist.

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Everyone needs to get off the argument that it should be sold to the cemetery, which does not have the money to purchase it. This is not a legitimate reason to not rezone the property.

You need to be focused on reasons not to - Campus Crest was defeated in Conway by traffic issues and safety - real and relevant reasons not to rezone property.

Also, environmental considerations should be met - the cattle run through the sale barn were expeosed to arsenic for dipping - enviro reports should be required to be made public to ensure there is no danger in converting this to residential use.

What about utilities? There is no way that the utilities at a cemetary and barn are sufficient for 500 kids apartments. Who is going to pay for all of these utilities? Whose property will these extensions run through? What is the environmental impact?

What about stormwater? The impervious cover will increase 100x - how is this to be handles without negatively affecting the area?

As regards the cemetery - what about a zoning text amendment to state that a certain level of density cannot be built within so many yards of a national park, shrine, or cemetery? The apartment proposal could be tabled long enough for this procedural method of zoning change to be implemented.

Has anyone gotten statements from cemetery owners that are next to kids apartments about all of the havoc they wreak on the place - that's just a few phone calls to be made.

Think people - this is the day that will live in infamy - if you do not stop this property from being developed today, it will be lost forever!