This is one those “heads-up!” This article reminds us that the holidays have ended and it’s time for us to be vigilant about the manipulations of the circus. The special local election of charging down the pike in the early part of this year is an example of a larger deal than many people realize. This contest will ultimately be an environmental outcome.
Although the February 8 vote to fill a vacant Ward 2 city council seat will be held in Fayetteville this year, many of the issues this town faces are the same across the country. The decisions made at the local level are like sand particles being filtered through an hourglass. They all matter. They all measure time. Humans are slowly integrating environmental consequences with time, climate changes being the most well-known example.
Over 35 years I have watched the votes of our city council. Major changes can be teetering over a single vote difference in zoning decisions. These are all environmental issues that can be tricky to manage. This is why it’s so important to elect a new councilmember.
Northwest Arkansas faces the greatest challenge: how do we have our cake and eat too. The push for population growth is causing changes in the land and the quality of the water and air. We need to understand the basics of what it takes to maintain basic physical needs in order to have it all. There are no policies or studies that can tell us how much land we can plow, how much air we pollute, or how much water you can consume before we lose the quality of our lives we have been raving about for decades.
Now, let’s get back to this election. Ward 2 is the central part of Fayetteville’s downtown. It covers part of the University of Arkansas campus and stretches north to Asbell School. Wilson Park and many of the historic areas of town are located within its borders. However, all council members can vote on issues that affect the entire town.
Three candidates — Leslie Belden and Kristen Scott, as well as Mike Wiederkehr — have addressed housing issues in their remarks. For best results, search their names online and then type “Fayetteville”. While it is logical to address the need for different housing options to accommodate everyone, there must be a parallel guiding principle that ensures the town’s physical well-being.
Recent actions of the planning commission as well as the city council have promoted density and infilling of housing. This intensive building practice, however, causes more soil to be plowed and more trees to be removed.
Tonight’s meeting of the city council will feature a demonstration of density promotion. Item C.4 of the agenda changes the definitions of ADUs, “Accessory Dwelling Unites,” which are allowed to built on residential properties. This will allow for two detached and one attached units. These are “separate and complete housekeeping units.”[s]With a separate entrance.” You can now have more rental units around your house than a garden or forest.
There is no way to know what the heating effects of more driveways, rooftops, or vegetation loss will be before allowing more housing footprints onto properties. A little bit of decorative landscaping and perhaps a baby tree can help to reduce the city’s heat islands effect. It also doesn’t answer how water can flow into the land, or how dense traffic will impact air quality.
Belden and Wiederkehr, both council candidates, are currently on the Planning Commission. They should be questioned about whether they voted yes on these ADUs to increase neighborhood density. It is also worth asking Candidate Scott for his opinion. Their answers could help us gain a better understanding of their environmental awareness and the tradeoffs they are willing or unable to make in our mad drive to grow Northwest Arkansas.
Last year was a painful year for national leaders. We were made aware of the dangers of a narrow margin of one or two votes destroying our hopes of tackling climate change and all its associated horrors. The amount of time we have to change our direction will depend on the decisions we make now, even at the local level.