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Metroplan ordinance seeks to streamline, standardize development in central Arkansas communities

 A new draft ordinance from central Arkansas regional planning agency Metroplan seeks to standardize recommendations for land use, development and connectivity.
Julia Robinson
A new draft ordinance from central Arkansas regional planning agency Metroplan seeks to standardize recommendations for land use, development and connectivity.

Smaller cities in the central Arkansas area are experiencing rapid population rise, and a new tool seeks to help them grow sustainably.

The new Unified Development Ordinance was created by Metroplan, the central Arkansas area’s regional planning agency, and includes guidelines for all stages of the planning and land development process.

Bernadette Gunn Rhodes, community planner at Metroplan, says the goal is to help smaller, faster-growing cities in the region make it easier for residents to get around.

“Transportation planning in general is our bread and butter… but what we quickly realized in conversations with these mayors, is that the best transportation infrastructure in the world won’t be as effective if the land use on the property surrounding those investments [doesn’t] mesh well and support the transportation network,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes says connectivity problems often begin at the planning level, and are much harder to correct after land has been developed.

“For instance, if a new subdivision is being planned out and a lot of the backyards are adjoining a major street; what are options there for putting bicycle/pedestrian connections from the subdivision to certain points along that major road, so that you can drive out one way, but you also have a choice to get onto that major road and walk where you need to go?”

Included in the ordinance are sample forms and checklists to help landowners with local rules and regulations surrounding zoning and subdivision. Rhodes says the ordinance is completely voluntary, and offers flexibility for communities to have different types of development in different parts of the city.

“Some people want to live in a single-family neighborhood, other people want to live in a neighborhood where they can walk to get their groceries or see a doctor. So what this model Unified Development Ordinance creates is choice and flexibility,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes says the ordinance also offers communities a chance to update their zoning and subdivision regulations, which sometimes haven’t been changed in decades. The ordinance also includes recommendations for architecture and aesthetics to help beautify communities.

“Form and aesthetics are important to ensuring the quality of the environment that you’re building in a city, and we offer a lot of options for cities to consider as far as requiring, say, architectural finish around commercial buildings… requiring certain elements like building articulation, making sure it’s not just one blank wall but it’s a nicely structured surface that is appealing to the eye,” Rhodes said.

She says the ordinance offers consistency and support for smaller cities which may not have many staffers dedicated to planning.

“Developers want consistency, they want predictability, and cities want to be able to rely on each other and share how they’re administering their codes,” Rhodes said. “Great cities need great DNA, and having cities in central Arkansas work off of a similar DNA would increase and elevate the quality of development across central Arkansas.”

According to Rhodes, several central Arkansas communities, including Greenbrier, Austin and Ward, have begun looking at adopting the ordinance for their own use.

Daniel Breen is News Director for UA Little Rock Public Radio.