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Ward plan returns to 1900s

Building a “sense of place” with a return to city planning reminiscent of the early 1900s was one of the main agenda items for the Ward City Council meeting Monday.

Mayor Art Brooke and aldermen Bill Moon, Lee Schoonover, Jeff Shaver, Gary Matheny, Charles Gastineau and Don Howard attended the meeting.

Council members approved an ordinance that puts in effect the Ward Form-Based Zoning Overlay District. The zoning plan is the result of nearly two years of work, meetings and discussions by the City of Ward Planning Commission.

Overall, the overlay districts are to “promote compact, pedestrian oriented, mixed-use development at appropriate locations in the City of Ward.”

The overlay districts were explained during the Sept. 9 city council meeting by Metroplan transportation planner Richard Magee; along with Metroplan public policy analyst and GIS planner Jeff Runder. Magee had advised the commission through the development process.

The form-based zoning is a return to the format used more than 100 years ago, Magee said in September. It is a return to neighborhoods that put commercial and residential uses within convenient walking distances of each other, and often mixing the two with residences above businesses.

The Form Based Zoning Districts are also part Ward’s comprehensive plan, WARD2035, planning commission Gary Meadows explained at the September meeting. The requirements set out in the form-based districts follow six general goals: encourage mixed-use of districts; ensure that site planning supports a “walkable environment;” reduces dependence on vehicles; reduces public infrastructure costs; encourages a “sustainable” pattern of development; and preserves open spaces such as parks.

Ward’s three Form-Based Zoning Overlay Districts are:

•The Downtown Development District, generally bordered by Arkansas Highway 367, and Hickory and North streets;

•Ward Central Development District, a quarter-mile circle around the junction of Wilson Loop with Arkansas Highway 319;

•Ward South Development District, a quarter-mile circle around the junction of Arkansas Highway 319 with Arkansas Highway 38.

The Downtown Development District goal is to create a walkable, mixed-use town center — all while allowing flexibility in choice of use for property owners and developers.

Each district is based on a radius of a quarter mile to be pedestrian-friendly, Magee said. “It has been established that people, as a whole, do not mind walking up to a quarter mile,” Magee said. He added that he had noticed that many people in Ward already do much walking.

The Ward Central and South Development Districts are divided into three zones, each with differing requirements for frontage, parking and other planning requirements.

Streets would be planned to form a grid pattern wherever possible, considering existing streets and road networks, development patterns, and physical constraints. Cul de sacs are not permitted.

Other requirements, such as off-street parking behind buildings and bike lanes, are established for each zone.

Runder said the concept of the development plan covers a number of issues including meeting affordable housing needs by encouraging the construction of a mix of housing types for all income levels and developing recreational facilities such as trails and parks.

Trails and parks have become the deciding factor for many people looking for communities in which to live, Runder said. The development plan includes a new park area east of the city, along with added walking trails.

Also, mixed-use zoning can attract businesses and industries while making the best use of existing public facilities, Runder said.

The plan would help Ward use its “blank-slate” status to build and develop more efficiently from the start rather than having to fix poorly planned areas, Runder said.

Building new allows better use of undeveloped land to create a walkable, pedestrian-friendly city that inspires “A sense of place,” Runder said.

The planning also ensures the needs of residents are better met, but that the city’s infrastructure can accommodate growth with a wider range of services.

In remarks after the September meeting, Brooke said there had been a series of public meetings to discuss the development plan and form-based zoning. “But only one person showed up,” he said.

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