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DAVIS: Apartments are the political third rail

January 7, 2013

By Brent Davis

The conventional wisdom is that history only goes back as far as one's birthday. Everything that happened before our entry into this world is not relevant. It is for this very reason we hear statements made by the talking heads using words such as "unprecedented" or "never." When I worked in the mental health field, these words were defined as "absolutes" and were often used by clients when describing a situation that was causing them problems. "He never listens" or "She never cooks or washes the clothes." Other words such as "constantly" and "always" are clumped into this grouping as well.
Obviously, these words are often used to back the offender into a corner by painting them as constant offender who always thinks only of him or her self, never paying attention to what matters. When you watch for the "absolutes" and how often they come up in our daily conversations and news, it is easy to see how misleading they can be and how often they are not connected to fact. In some cases, the connection to common sense isn't present either.
However, the phrase "We've always done it this way." is the biggest roadblock to change and erects a wall, not to the past, but to the future.
Cities in Saline County find themselves at that very moment in time when they must decide where that wall will be placed.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, job growth in the Central Arkansas area is slow. August 2012 showed a gain of 0.3 percent as compared to the same month in 2011. The United States employment rate during the same period rose 1.7 percent.
So, what does this mean and why is it important? Without job growth, personal and household incomes are stunted. Without growth in income, consumer spending drops. Without increases in consumer spending, business profits drop and business closures increase.
The last scenario is evident in our county now and during the last several years. Local municipalities have seen changes in revenue and must adjust city budgets accordingly.
Benton and Bryant are facing the issue of apartment complex developments within their city limits. The topic is the "third rail" of politics for local council members, just as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid are for our representatives in Congress.
And, just as Congress turns a blind eye to the need for reform in these programs, so do local councils when it comes to apartments. The numbers point clearly show this to be true.
Benton has not approved a multi-family complex from 2009 through 2012. Zero units. None. It isn't because developers aren't interested in Benton. They are. The Planning Commission has approved them, the council has not.
Bryant has approved 502 units, but the number is a bit deceptive. Here is a breakdown by year: 2009, 4 units; 2010, 450 units; 2011, 22 units; 2012, 26 units. In fact, Bryant stopped construction of apartment complexes by instituting a moratorium in 2011.
There will be those that argue the point that apartments bring crime, vehicular congestion and an increased population compacted into a small area which, in turn, creates an impact on the local school systems. And they would be right in some cases, but not all.
To say that all apartment complexes bring crime and congestion is not factual. A review of police reports has been used as evidence when presentations have been made to city councils in the past. These reports show that without specific standards developers must follow in regards to safety, construction and quality, the negatives follow. The reports also show that when standards are in place, relative harmony prevails.
Nationally, the Multi-Family Construction Index has risen each year since the third quarter of 2009. The exact opposite holds true for the Little Rock-North Little Rock region in which Saline County is counted.
A measured and reasoned eye to the future must be taken. Growth is coming. Bryant has experienced it. Benton is next on the list and is well on its way with projects such as the Event Center and the potential of an upscale shopping center on the outskirts of the city.
Here is the question that must be considered. Will each city rely on the "way we've always done it" or will a wall to the past be erected so that the future can come into full perspective?
Will we cut off our nose to spite our face? Will we deny the fact that growth will not come from within our current population or accept the fact that it will be people moving to the area that will spur our future?
When the proposition is studied with an eye to the facts, it's a no-brainer. However, in politics, emotion, "optics" and party affiliation rule. Common sense and reasonable thinking are sometimes thrown out with the bath water.
Using last year's logic to solve the future's issues in a time of great change is folly at the least, ignorance at the most.
2013 will be an interesting year. What kind remains to be seen. Keep an eye on the councils. They will give an indication very quickly.

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