Fayetteville City Council candidates sound off at first official forum

Sarah Marsh (right) / Staff photo

Three candidates for Fayetteville City Council spoke Tuesday night during a public forum hosted by AAUW Fayetteville and the NWA Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta.

About 100 people attended the event, held inside First United Presbyterian Church’s fellowship hall.

The evening began with candidates running for county assessor, county judge, and Fayetteville mayor before transitioning to the alderman hopefuls.

Most of this season’s candidates were present at the event, with only Alderman Alan Long (Ward 4) and Gary McHenry (Ward 2) not in attendance. Paul Phaneuf (Ward 1) arrived after the opening statements.

Here are our notes from the City Council candidate portion of the event:


Alderwoman Sarah Marsh (Ward 1), who was first elected to the City Council in 2012, is a 16-year resident of Fayetteville. Marsh listed her five favorite things about Fayetteville, which include: riding her bike on the trail system; buying fresh produce at the Farmers’ Market; learning new things at the library; the beauty of the city’s natural environment; and the diverse group of people that make up the city’s population. Marsh listed several things she’s proud of that occurred in Ward 1 during her time on the council, including the preservation of Mount Kessler, the nearly completed extension of Rupple Road, and the community orchard at the Yvonne Richardson Center.

Marsh said she’ll focus on three things if re-elected: responsible growth management; growing a robust economy; and building a resilient community.

Alderman Matthew Petty (Ward 2), who was first elected in 2008, is a 14-year resident of Fayetteville. Petty said anyone wanting to unseat an incumbent on the council needs to make a good case for ending their leadership. He said the Fayetteville he knows is on “a tremendous trajectory for the future” and listed some things he’s proud of being associated with: millions of dollars in infrastructure, including 17 miles of trails and linkages; the preservation of Mount Kessler, which he said will impact the city for centuries to come; and the acquisition of new land at Gulley Park.

Matthew Petty (left) / Staff photo

Petty said if elected, he’ll focus on four themes: continued transportation investments; restoring the ability for people to develop the community in a more traditional town form; development of more events like the Fayetteville Roots Festival that help define the city’s brand; and the creation of more signature public spaces.

Benjamin Harrison (Ward 3), a 21-year-old political science major and youth intern, is a lifelong resident of Fayetteville. Harrison said his decision to run for City Council was based on his belief that he should give back to his city.

“Anyone who has grown up in this city knows that Fayetteville becomes a part of you,” Harrison said. “Fayetteville makes you who you are, and I’d like to think that all my successes in life have come from me being born here.”

He said Fayetteville is unique because of its story, which is one of compassion, inclusion, entertainment, leisure, and hard work.

Sarah Bunch (Ward 3) is a local real estate agent who served six years on the Fayetteville Planning Commission where she also served as chair. She’s a graduate of Fayetteville High School who attended the University of Arkansas. Bunch said her skills in management, budgeting, negotiation, and working with people will be beneficial if elected to the council.

“I listen well, I analyze situations, and I come up with solutions,” Bunch said. “And I think that’s the kind of people we need on the City Council.”

Tracy Hoskins (Ward 3) is a 52-year resident of Fayetteville and a 32-year resident of Ward 3. He graduated from Fayetteville High School and owns several local businesses with his wife, including Maggie Moo’s, Great American Cookies, and Paradigm Development.

He said he’s had many opportunities to expand his businesses into other cities in the region, but is devoted to Fayetteville and plans to keep solely doing business here in the future.

Hoskins is member of the Fayetteville Planning Commission, where he has served since 2010.

Ben Harrison (right) / Staff photo

Nathan Allen (Ward 4), is a graduate of West Fork High School and attended the University of Arkansas where he was a Razorback mascot for several years. He is a pastor at New Heights Church in Fayetteville.

Allen said his church’s motto is to love God passionately and love people tangibly.

“I want to do that by serving in Ward 4 as alderman on the City Council,” Allen said.

Name one issue that is pressing in your ward.

Allen said growth and development is the biggest issue in Ward 4, but he’s spoken with developers who are having difficulty getting projects approved in that part of town. He said he’d like to see less regulation when it comes to large-scale developments and subdivisions.

“I love that our city is environmentally friendly and that we want to protect our environment…however, I sometimes think it goes a little too far,” said Allen. “When you’re telling property owners what they can and cannot do with their own property, I feel that infringes on liberty.”

Hoskins said expanding the city’s commercial tax base is key for Fayetteville.

“We need more businesses paying into the coffers instead of continually raising taxes on property,” Hoskins said, adding that he thinks people are doing more shopping lately in Benton County because some retailers have chosen Bentonville and Rogers over Fayetteville.

Bunch said the challenge in Ward 3 is to maintain the quality of life that people value in east Fayetteville. She agreed that business growth is important, but said residential growth – particularly the development of affordable homes – is also significant.

“As a real estate agent, I see firsthand how hard it is for people to find affordable housing in the areas that they want to live in, near the schools they want their children to attend, and near the amenities they’d like to have,” Bunch said.

Sarah Bunch (center) / Staff photo

Harrison said while Ward 3 is a great place to live, its walkability leaves much to be desired. He said with an abundance of families with children and elderly residents, east Fayetteville could use more continuous sidewalks that don’t require pedestrians to cross busy streets to continue their commutes.

Harrison praised areas in downtown Fayetteville that offer residents a safe means of walking to “anything they need outside of a hospital,” and said after seeing that kind of connectivity, “a shot in the arm for Ward 3 would be lovely.”

Petty said connecting existing neighborhoods in Ward 2 would lead to the solving of many of the other issues the city faces. He said with the city’s population expected to continue to explode, it’s been estimated that Fayetteville will need an additional 20,000 new dwelling units over the next 20 years.

Petty said an area like College Avenue, which is comprised of 70 percent parking lots, is a prime location for filling in gaps with dense residential and commercial developments that could help link some of the neighborhoods in midtown Fayetteville while also generating an increase in property and sales taxes.

Marsh said the most pressing issue in Ward 1 is the economy. She said the average household income south of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard is less than $25,000 per year.

Marsh said focusing on projects that promote sensible transportation, attainable housing, and food security is a good first step in addressing the economy in south Fayetteville.

Paul Phaneuf said he thinks the biggest issue is that the city is unfriendly to business. He said he’s heard that developers in Rogers get their projects approved in two hours, but that it takes six weeks to get approval in Fayetteville.

“We need to attract businesses, but we’re not going to do it by being the worst place in Northwest Arkansas to do business,” said Phaneuf.

Please discuss your strategy to bring businesses to Fayetteville, and what types of industry would you target?

Tracy Hoskins (center) / Staff photo

Phaneuf said Fayetteville needs to make itself more attractive to developers so that they city becomes a magnet for businesses.

“I would just make sure that we take away the impediments to doing business in Fayetteville,” said Phaneuf. “The fact of the matter is some people are not coming here to do business as they should be.”

Marsh said several factors are key in developing the local economy, including enhancing of the arts and culture environment to attract the best and brightest companies to the area; focusing on business retention; developing an educated workforce; and supporting local entrepreneurs.

Petty started by disagreeing with Allen, Hoskins and Phaneuf.

“Don’t believe anybody who tells you that it’s impossible to do business here,” said Petty. “It’s not perfect, and there are some things that we need to change, but don’t buy into the hype.”

He said the region’s only venture fund is located in downtown Fayetteville, and pointed to the city’s growing startup community that led to last year’s ranking of Fayetteville as being one of the top three places outside of Silicon Valley and New York to start a business.

He said implementation of the city’s new economic development plan, which calls for creation of an internal economic development division and includes contracted programs with startup professionals and the local chamber of commerce, will kickstart business development in a city that’s primed for success.

Harrison said with a 98 percent apartment occupancy rate, the most logical approach is to attract housing development jobs.

“We are growing very quickly and we need somewhere for these people to live,” Harrison said. “Solving housing problems through multi-use and infill development is the way we move Fayetteville forward.”

Bunch said bringing in big chains is important, but said nurturing smaller independent businesses will be a huge factor in economic growth of the city.

She said Ward 3 has a lot of older commercial buildings that could be rehabilitated or completely redeveloped like the former car dealership that was transformed into a Whole Foods-anchored shopping center.

Nathan Allen (left) / Staff photo

Hoskins said he’s the only person running for City Council that has experienced the city’s planning process as both a development applicant and as a Planning Commissioner. He said that experience gives him an insight into both sides of the process, which he said is over-regulated.

“People are not saying it’s impossible to do business in Fayetteville,” said Hoskins. “What people are saying is that it’s not profitable, it’s taxing and it’s not worth it.”

He said if the city continues to revamp older city codes, developers will flock to areas that are in need of rehabilitation, jobs will be created, and tax revenues will increase.

Allen said he’d like to see more culinary-focused businesses be attracted to Fayetteville, but said that won’t occur until the city relaxes its strict development regulations.

“We can say we want different types of businesses, but if we keep putting roadblocks in the way it’s not going to happen,” said Allen.

Closing remarks

Allen said Fayetteville is a great place that’s blessed by God and full of great people. He said he has enjoyed his time campaigning and hopes to secure enough votes in November.

Hoskins said the City Council has enough academics, and that it’s time to elect an alderman who has construction and development experience. Smart growth, he said, will solve a lot of problems while maintaining the character of the city.

Bunch said as a real estate agent and former planning commissioner, she also has spent time on both sides of the development aisle. She said focusing on developments that help maintain the quality of life in Fayetteville will benefit current and future residents and business owners.

Paul Phaneuf (right) / Staff photo

Harrison said focusing on food and housing insecurity is key to ensure the city’s success and solving some major problems.

Petty said he wants another four years so he can keep on doing the type of work he’s known for, which has included help developing and passing a civil rights ordinance and a new economic development plan, as well as expanding recycling plans and business opportunities for food truck owners.

Marsh said if Ward 1 residents appreciate her relevant education and experience in infrastructure planning, sound budgeting, and environmental stewardship, they should keep her on for another term.

Phaneuf said he loves Fayetteville, but said the city isn’t competitive in the region, and is operating on a false sense of security. He said when the city receives accolades, like being named the 3rd best place to live by U.S. News & World Report, those rankings are actually taking into account the entire region, not just Fayetteville.

“That is what those of us who have a different vision of Fayetteville are bringing to the table,” said Phaneuf.