One can forgive Rick Bramall for losing count momentarily of Farmington’s growing residential market numbers.
Bramall and planning and development officials with other cities and towns in northwest Arkansas have the same question and challenge. As the region continues to grow in population, how does a city plan its own growth and where can all the new family homes and other residential units go?
Bramall, the city’s building official and “one and only building inspector,” said the town’s open space and proximity to the burgeoning city of Fayetteville have created a sort of housing boom. It’s not that Fayetteville doesn’t have room for its own new homes, but Farmington finds itself the beneficiary of a spillover effect.
“We have two new subdivisions, I mean 10 new subdivisions right now going on,” Bramall said. “Last year Centerton had 17 developments going on at once. Same kind of thing. Everybody is growing; it is going to be one big place.”
Bramall said Farmington’s residential construction projects range from a handful of rural homes to large 300-plus single-family home subdivisions. One Farmington subdivision, the sprawling Goose Creek on Double Springs Road in the north, has dozens of homes built and ready for sale with more lots being prepared for the next round of building.
Another subdivision, the equally robust The Grove at Engles Mill, is still in the preparation stage. Engineers have cleared the paths for the streets and building equipment has been stacked on the work site.
All told, Bramall said, Farmington should add 800 new single-family homes in the coming years with another 800 following soon after. Farmington’s population has burst in recent years; 20 years ago it was fewer than 2,000 and now most city officials say it is closer to 9,000, moving so fast that even the census can’t keep up.
“What is going to be next is we are going to have to find places to build more schools,” Bramall said. “We are going to run out of elementary schools with all this growth. The first thing you need with growth is elementary schools.”
The four main cities of the region — Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers and Bentonville — make up more than half of the more than 500,000 citizens of northwest Arkansas. Predictions are the region will reach 600,000 residents by 2023.
There is still room for homes, apartment complexes and other residential units in each of the four cities. Springdale has been expanding to the west of Interstate 49, something that has benefitted Farmington and Centerton, two towns west of the area’s linchpin cities.
Patsy Christie, director of planning and community development for Springdale, said her city has residential areas coming in its southwest and northwest areas. She said Springdale has benefitted from the construction of the Don Tyson Parkway, a main east-west thoroughfare that has helped alleviate Springdale’s notorious traffic woes and made the western half of the city more accessible.
“There is a high demand and we are seeing several new subdivisions coming in,” Christie said. “We have lots of areas around the city for residential areas. We are seeing those areas brought in.
“Springdale has a better opportunity for development within our current boundaries. We have done a good job of developing our transportation system and keeping the water and sewer system expanding where we can develop areas that are available.”
One of the major development drives of the four main cities of northwest Arkansas has been a focus on revitalizing their downtown areas. That has proved to be an economic driver and allowed for infill projects — developing or redeveloping properties or vacant lots within existing areas — but there is hardly room for major residential expansion in a downtown.
Springdale recently saw three old buildings replaced by a 20-unit apartment complex on Emma Avenue, the main street in its downtown. Most of the major residential projects are on the edges of cities, where land is being converted or annexed into a city’s planning.
John McCurdy, director of community development for Rogers, said the city tries to tie residential and commercial together at intersection pockets throughout the city, which he said is, fortunately, set up as a grid to allow that.
“There are a lot of different forms of housing, and a lot of those are fairly unknown in northwest Arkansas,” McCurdy said. “We don’t have a lot of townhomes and duplexes and cluster housings. It’s not a matter of finding 50 to 100 acres of green field somewhere within Rogers and then encouraging people to build yet another subdivision.”
McCurdy said Rogers has three prime urbanized areas, most prominently the area around Pinnacle and the Promenade alongside I-49. Rogers certainly tries to encourage certain types of developments in certain areas but the city is in the regulation business, not construction.
“In terms of what the city does to encourage certain types of development, there is a significant emphasis on bringing more folks to live and work in downtown,” McCurdy said. “We are doing what we can to make that a more attractive place for people to live. There aren’t great big huge chunks of undeveloped land in downtown Rogers, so we will be relying on infill and redevelopment of existing land.”
Fayetteville, the area’s largest city, has growth areas on its western side.
Rupple Road was recently expanded and extended in the west, and where once stood vast tracts of farmland and pastures now a large development is taking shape. Many houses are already up and ground has been turned for the next phases.
“Most of what is in Fayetteville is on the west side of 49, and there is still several hundred acres of undeveloped land there, especially along the Rupple Road corridor,” said Jonathan Curth, the city’s development services director. “There is going to be a middle school on the other side of the road soon. That area in general was pretty easy [to develop] because it was all zoned to be developed in mostly a single-family fashion. Once you get a little further out it does get more challenging. A lot of that is still zoned for very low-density land uses.”
Fayetteville, like the other big cities in the region, has a focus on infill projects. It has two major projects, Drake Farms and Marinoni Farm, that will involve massive residential and commercial mixed-use developments.
The Marinoni Farm is just to the east of Interstate 49, where the Arkansas Department of Transportation will do major renovation of the Wedington Drive interchange — which can charitably be described as a traffic nightmare during busy times of day.
Other areas that Fayetteville has its eye on are unincorporated areas outside the city limits. Curth said Fayetteville has annexed several properties just in the last couple of years after a decade of executing no annexations.
Springdale, likewise, has annexed property in its northwest recently, Christie said.
“The conversation has increasingly moved more toward annexation and whether it is appropriate to start annexing areas for development,” Curth said. “I contend there are still areas that can be developed. It is a question if anyone wants to sell their land to develop.”
The building market has been good to Farmington and Prairie Grove, Bramall said, as people who work in Fayetteville or another of the major cities go west to find homes. The expansion of Highway 62, once a two-lane highway, has tightened the connection between Fayetteville and its two bedroom communities.
“Fayetteville has developed on MLK all the way to us,” said Bramall, referring to Highway 62’s other name. “It’s just kind of one long city now, it seems like.”