Both candidates looking to represent Ward 4 in the upcoming City Council election sat down for an hour-long public debate Wednesday evening inside the former Chamber of Commerce building in downtown Fayetteville.
Ward 4 contains a large portion of west Fayetteville, including Razorback Stadium, Holt Middle School, Holcomb Elementary School, the Boys & Girls Club, and the Wedington Drive corridor.
Alderman Long, 35, who was first elected in 2012, said he’s found great joy in representing the people of Ward 4.
“I’m not here because I have an agenda,” Long said. “There’s no particular thing that I want to push on the citizens of Fayetteville. I just want to be here to listen.”
Allen he’s also eager to become a representative, but told the crowd he’s been frustrated by some of the current council’s decisions, which he said are not in line with his Libertarian principles.
Alderman Alan Long / Staff photo
“I love that our city is intent on design, form and environment, and protecting those things,” Allen said. “But sometimes I think it goes a little too far.”
As for what Ward 4 needs the most, Long said he spends a lot of time thinking about infrastructure needs, considering the uniqueness of the west side of town, which is growing in population, but sometimes feels segregated by Interstate 49.
Long said he’s looking forward to an increase in connectivity once the state highway department overhauls the I-49 interchange at Wedington Drive, which will include a city-funded shared-use path for bicyclists and pedestrians.
Allen said the growth of the area has led to an increased need for development, but said the City Council has been too strict on builders. Allen said he’s talked to developers who’ve told him it’s too difficult to get projects approved in Fayetteville.
“I can’t believe some of the things our city dictates,” Allen said, pointing to the city’s sign ordinance and tree-preservation requirements. “There are people who want to improve their homes and rezone their property…and the City Council and Planning Commission say, ‘Hey, we don’t think you should, so no.’ It drives me crazy.”
Long said landowners should have the right to develop their land, but any approval of those plans should take into account the property rights of the neighbors who expect the city to help protect their quality of life.
Allen pointed to the recent rezoning of the Razorback Golf Course as one project that he thinks took too long to get approval, and did not have Long’s support.
Long said he voted against the proposal because he believed the proposed development would only increase the flooding issues the area sees during heavy rainfall.
One resident asked if either candidate would support a complete ban on smoking in all Fayetteville businesses. Long said he would, but Allen said he would not, adding that business owners should have the right to decide whether smoking is allowed in their businesses.
Nathan Allen / Staff photo
When asked if the claim that Fayetteville is being outpaced by other nearby cities holds any water, the candidates offered differing opinions.
Allen said despite city staff’s recent survey which found that a majority of business owners don’t believe Fayetteville is unfriendly to business, he’s heard a different story.
“When I talk to business owners, they don’t say the same thing,” Allen said, adding that less regulation will attract business growth and ultimately increase the city’s tax base.
Long pointed to the city’s newly adopted economic development plan, which is aimed at improving recruitment of new industries, helping business owners with the startup process, and retention of existing businesses that make up the fabric of Fayetteville.
Long said building permit fees reached the city’s total annual $1 million goal by June this year, and that sales tax numbers don’t paint a picture of a city in distress.
“So I don’t see it when people say that businesses are going north,” Long said. “But I can see where some of the sentiment comes from and I think that we ought to be proactive and work on that.”
Property rights and development were central themes of the evening, from the beginning of the forum to the closing statements.
Allen said if elected, he’d bring a “common sense balance” to the council by voting to allow more landowners to do what they want with their property.
“I’m not for cutting all the strings and letting anyone build anywhere,” Allen said. “But in the end, I say if someone takes the risk and purchases property and wants to build on that investment we should let them do it.”
Long said there’s more to being an alderman than approving developments. He said there are decisions to be made about infrastructure, funding for emergency services, and the preservation of greenspace, such as the deal the City Council approved in 2014 to purchase over 300 acres of woodland on Kessler Mountain.
“It’s great to talk about development, but we also have to think about what we don’t want to develop,” said Long.