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Officials look at expanding zoning options

Springdale to include older neighborhoods in downtown by LAURINDA JOENKS NWA DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE | November 16, 2020 at 1:00 a.m.
Cyclists cross Emma Avenue in Springdale on Sunday on the Razorback Greenway. Go to and to see more photos. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/J.T. Wampler)

SPRINGDALE — City officials want to expand the special zoning rules downtown to include the older, residential neighborhoods bordering the area.

The city wants residential areas north of downtown by Mill Street and south of downtown along South Powell Street included in the downtown form-based code. The code allows flexibility in design with all structures helping to complete the vision of downtown Spring-dale as a livable, walkable, urban community, explained Austin Thomas, an assistant planner for the city.

The zoning allows residential, commercial and other uses to exist together, sometimes in the same building. It also emphasizes a building’s design over its use, said Jayashree Narayana, principal of the Texas-based planning and urban design firm Livable Plans & Codes.

The Planning Commission will hold a meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday for developers, residents and others to share their opinions of the proposal.

The form-based code works to keep different areas of the community connected physically with streets, sidewalks and pathways leading from the neighborhoods to amenities, according to the Form-Based Code Institute of the Smart Growth America.

Jill Dabbs, executive director of the Downtown Springdale Alliance, said the alternate zoning has been a success in downtown. “It’s vibrant and walkable at any time.”

The form-based code gives investors confidence other downtown development will be consistent and there’s a controlling document to ensure it, Dabbs said.

Springdale approved form-based code for the downtown area in 2015, said Patsy Christie, director of the Springdale planning department. Both Rogers and Fayetteville have applied such zoning and have many areas with form-based code across their cities, said officials of those cities.

Success is hard to quantify, said Garner Stoll, the Development Services director for the city of Fayetteville. “But I absolutely think the public likes it,” he said.

“I love the idea of improving what is there,” said Loretta Mansell, whose family lives in a 1938 house on Mill Street in Springdale. She hopes any development would include fixing and installing sidewalks for the street lined with shade trees.

“I live eight houses from the greenway, and I can’t get there safely,” she said of the regional trail system.

“We’ve got to take a good look at what impact it would have on the neighborhood before we approve it,” Christie said.

A zone called the Mill Street overlay north of downtown would be bound by West Huntsville Avenue on the south, Shiloh Street on the west, Sanders Street on the north and Mill Street on the east. The area includes Bluff Cemetery and two senior living communities.

The Powell Street overlay to the south would be bound by Caudle Avenue on the north, the Springdale Municipal Airport on the east, East Robinson Avenue on the south and Turner Street on the west. The area includes Jones Elementary and Apple-gate Apartments and other single- and multifamily residences.

“It’s a really important step for growing downtown,” said Peyton Parker, a real estate developer in downtown and a member of the Springdale Planning Commission. He noted because the lots in these areas are “old and very unique and laid out differently,” the flexibility of the form-based code is needed.


Christie noted the Mill and Powell districts both qualify for opportunity zone funding. Under the federal program, the state identified areas of economic distress in which developers can receive tax incentives for investing in the area.

If a developer takes advantage of the opportunity zone funding and adds capacity to his lot, he could increase the return on his investment, she said. For example, some of the existing homes have carriage houses or garages in the back, which could be turned into apartment space, Christie said.

Or a developer could build a duplex — or even a fourplex, if he builds vertically — making the lot much more valuable.

The city’s regular residential codes limit how many units can be built in an acre. The form-based code could amend that standard.

“And it just makes sense to add a dwelling unit without having to rezone the property,” Christie added.

The area south of downtown needs some investment, Parker said. He expects these fringe areas of downtown will improve as developers see the building next door will be of the same or better quality than his.

Parker said he sees a lot of lots in the area that are vacant or hold structures needing restoration or demolition.

“The building’s not in great shape, but they’re in a prime area to be fixed. I hope people will take a second look at that area.”

The city needs more middle housing — duplexes, triplexes, courtyard apartments, Parker added.

“Not everybody wants to live in a single-family home,” he said. “And some like the cottage-style housing.”

Developers appreciate the freedom to design under the form-based code, said Tom Lundstrum.

“It’s just so much easier to work with,” he said. “It’s more flexible, and it makes so much more common sense.”

Lundstrum is the developer of the Little Emma multiuse complex. He noted the city’s regular zoning wouldn’t have allowed 24 residential units and 20,000 square feet of commercial space squeezed onto a small lot next to The Jones Center.

“It’s straightforward. It’s so much easier to work with. And it will attract projects that are architecturally diverse.”

The form-based codes also allow for nontraditional building materials and styles. The eastern face of Little Emma will consist of three-story walls rising from the parking lot covered in ivy or other greenery, Lundstrum said.


Christie said Springdale’s form-based code downtown has allowed developers to build what they couldn’t under the city’s 14 other zoning categories.

Most of the city’s zoning laws require both residential and commercial buildings to be set back from the street by a certain measurement of feet.

But the former Watson’s Furniture and Appliances building on South Main Street sits only a sidewalk-width from the street — where it has sat for 80 years. James-+James furniture shop and headquarters on the first floor will take the building into the next generation of furniture design and creation, while six urban-industrial Lofts at the Watson upstairs wait for renters to call them home.

Little Emma also will sit close to the street for consistency with other buildings downtown, Christie said.

“In form-based, you build out to the line instead of in from the setback,” Stoll said.

John McCrudy, director of community development for Rogers, said form-based codes are a return to the more traditional way of how towns developed.

“The shop owners lived upstairs over their shop and supported everything from families to the timber industry,” he said.

McCurdy noted the “regional center” near the West Pauline Whitaker Parkway exit on Interstate 49. It has office space, entertainment space, retail shops, restaurants, a grocery store and more.

“It’s high-intensity, multi and limited use,” he said. “It makes the most use of the land. It’s the most valuable land in town.”

McCurdy said the city has tried to develop these “centers” within a quarter mile, walking distance or a short drive to places residents need to go. And when the drives are reduced, fewer cars drive on area roads, tearing them up. This reduces the longterm cost of road maintenance, he said.

A developer can come to the city in Fayetteville for a form-based coding if his idea does not match the current zoning designation on the property, Stoll said.

Laurinda Joenks can be reached by email at [email protected] or on Twitter @NWALaurinda.

“I love the idea of improving what is there.”

— Loretta Mansell, Mill Street resident

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