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BENTONVILLE -- Benton County officials are working to make the 2014 land use regulations easier to understand.

John Sudduth, general services administrator who oversees the Planning Division, said no major changes are being proposed.

"There's a lot of typos and simple changes that need to be done, based on our use of the ordinance these last few years," Sudduth said. "We did a major revision in 2014, so this is more going after the low-hanging fruit; more of a cleanup, making it more user-friendly."

Sudduth said staff is working with the Planning Board on possible changes. He cited changes in the parking calculations for some projects, so smaller operations won't always be held to the same standards as larger operations in the same category. He also mentioned striking the limit of one septic system per parcel.

Once the initial review is done, public meetings will be held, Sudduth said. The proposed changes will then go to the Quorum Court's Legislative Committee for review and possible approval by the Quorum Court.

Benton County's ordinance provides for land use planning, not zoning. Planning Board member Ashley Tucker said the difference can be difficult to understand.

"The main difference between zoning and what the county does is that instead of having a comprehensive plan that details what uses are permitted in a certain area, the county has general guidelines for how to cluster or group similar uses or, if a use is not compatible, how to mitigate the things that make it incompatible."

The county uses a compatibility matrix. The matrix lists the categories of land use recognized in the ordinance from agricultural to heavy industrial and ranks them for compatibility.

Residential use would be compatible with other residential uses, while heavy industrial would be listed as incompatible with surrounding residential property.

The Planning Board uses the matrix to help determine if projects fit into uses and if incompatible uses can be changed enough to be approved.

The board recently approved a Simmons Foods plant near Gentry despite objections of many neighbors. The board noted the company was willing to mitigate problems with traffic, noise, odors and lighting. The plant will have larger setbacks from the property lines than the minimum requirements under the county ordinance, will shield outdoor lighting to limit any effect on neighboring properties and will have extensive landscape buffering.

At its Jan 3 meeting, the board approved a boat and RV storage business in a predominately residential area on Arkansas 94 East. The board told the developers to shift the location of the building; to make improvements to the driveway to reduce safety concerns; to make use of existing trees and supplement those with new plantings to screen the building from adjacent residences; and to use neutral or earth-tone colors for the building.

Several neighbors opposed the project and pointed to the planning guidelines and the compatibility matrix for reasons it should be rejected. Larry Theleman, one of the opponents, asked if the ordinance was still in effect.

"The way my mind works, there is no way you can approve this under these guidelines unless you first change the guidelines," Theleman said.

Tucker said the compatibility matrix is just one part of the process. He said the board has to use "reasonable judgment" in considering whether uses can be made compatible.

"Issues like traffic, concerns about property values, safety and aesthetics, those are par for the course in any planning atmosphere," he said. "If it can't be mitigated, it can't be allowed."

Mark Curtis is a former board chairman who now serves on the board of appeals. He became involved in county planning when a member of his property owners association asked him to join a citizen's committee. He became more involved when he opposed a proposal, which eventually failed, to build several large condominiums on Beaver Lake.

He said population growth, if it continues, will push the county into more comprehensive land use regulation and eventually to zoning.

"I think zoning will allow people to have a better idea of what is rural and what is develop-able. That all needs to be part of a plan," he said.

Jeff Hawkins, executive director of the Northwest Arkansas Regional Planning Commission, said it's rare for Arkansas counties to adopt restrictive land use ordinances, whether they call it zoning or land use regulation. He said Washington County adopted a zoning ordinance in 2006.

Hawkins said Poinsett County adopted a zoning ordinance to block a landfill. Crittenden County adopted a zoning ordinance in the 1970s, he said, but subsequent county administrations have not always actively enforced it.

He said Benton and Washington counties are similar in what they do.

"Benton County has what they call compatibility," Hawkins said, "It's kind of like a conditional use for anything that's not agri or single-family residential. It's a zoning procedure without using 'the Z-word.' The effect is basically the same."

Pat Adams, justice of the peace for District 6, said he thinks the county has gone too far in regulating land use.

"I'm all for throwing the whole thing out and starting over," he said. "I think they've overstepped the boundaries of what we intended for them to be able to do. I understand the need to regulate a business that might be a hazard to the community. But I don't think the average citizen should have to jump through hoops if they want to build a barn or build a cabin in the middle of 1,000 acres. They should be able to do that without asking."

Susan Anglin, justice of the peace for District 9, has been active in past revisions of the planning regulations. Anglin said she thinks the county is working to strike a balance between needed regulations and the desire of property owners to be left alone.

"At the end of the day, we don't have zoning," she said. "Everything is by land use. Speaking as a farmer and landowner, we don't want more rules and regulations. But there are things you wouldn't want right at your back door."

NW News on 01/14/2018

Print Headline: County revising land use rules

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