Robert Ginnaven

Max Floss


S ome many years ago an effort commenced to protect the hillsides in Fayetteville. It all started with the idea that trees help keep the local shale and clay strata from sliding down the mountain when lots are excavated to build new homes. It was a good idea then, and it still is today. Unfortunately, the original goal of a proposed law to protect hillsides has morphed into a law that gives lip service to structural integrity in favor of the new goal of protecting the public's "perceived sense of ownership of hillside views". (See the drafts of the proposed hillside ordinance).


Hillside Hooey
Printing 010506-04

Councilwoman Shirley Lucas, among others on the council, have been heard to comment on how impressed they have been to hear visitors to our fair city wonder where everyone lives, since they cannot see any houses hidden amid the forest. Councilwoman Lucas, among others on the council, has fixated on the notion that protecting the hillsides means keeping our houses hidden from view. It is hard to argue with the sheer beauty of the Ozark Mountains, with mile after mile of an undeveloped wonderland spreading in every direction from our local cities. It is tempting to want our city to blend into the forest undetectable from eyes passing through. It is natural, if not a requirement, that if you live in Fayetteville you must love trees. If you don't, you picked the wrong town to live in. It is no wonder, therefore, that Councilwoman Lucas, among others on the council, are fearful of being voted out of office if they don't protect our trees, and our "perceived sense of ownership of hillside views".

One reason people passing through can't see anything but trees is because so much of our city is undeveloped. One of the reasons they can't see the houses that are already here is that they were built long enough ago that trees have grown up to hide them. The undisputed fact is that people keep moving here whether we like it or not. The problem for those moving in is that there are not enough houses in town for them to live in. The dilemma is that we can't build houses without removing trees and that, for a while, new houses will be visible as they are built up and down our hillsides. The good news is that laws are already in place to limit the trees that can be cut for new development. The good news is that there are laws in place that put limitations on grading to protect our hillsides. The good news is that laws are in place to require new developments to plant new trees, to dedicate parkland, and to encourage the connection from one neighborhood to another via an elaborate trail system that is inching its way through town, breaking down the barriers that keep us strapped into our cars for every trip we must make.

We cannot stop growth, and based upon a recent survey out of the University, the people in Fayetteville don't want to stop growth. We just want the growth to be "managed". Unfortunately, some of our city council members have gotten the idea that the only safe way they will be reelected is to vote against growth. Councilman Marr, the next mayor apparent, confessed his fear of the voters in a recent review of the proposed hillside ordinance noting that he was elected by folks who love trees. As a result of this fear among some on the City Council, local developers have become the whipping boys of mayors apparent. It takes little courage to muster up a fight around here against that part of our community that is left with the responsibility of building the houses that will become homes for our new citizens. So, instead of leadership we are getting politics as usual. Instead of honesty, we're getting word games. Of course we are used to this kind of behavior from our elected officials, so used to it that we've tuned out and dropped out.

When I recently asked Council Members Marr, Lucas, and Theil to comment on whether the purpose of the hillside ordinance was really to protect the public's "perceived sense of ownership of hillside views" (which language was recently stricken from the latest draft of the ordinance on advice of the City Attorney, probably because there is no such ownership interest that is legally defensible), only Councilwoman Lucas was willing to admit that she doesn't want to be able to see houses on the hillsides. Before Marr or Theil could speak up, the City Planner, an employee of the city appointed by the mayor who was presumably briefed by the City Attorney, chose his words very carefully when he flatly denied that the new proposed hillside ordinance had anything to do with protecting the public's view of the hillsides. Hmm.

It is time for some leadership in Fayetteville. It is time for someone to stand up for reason and make us face reality. No more word games. It is time for us to hold hands with those who will build houses we want at prices we can afford. What goes around comes around. The more it costs to build, the more it costs to buy. It's getting to the point that most people can't afford to live in Fayetteville. Will Fayetteville become an enclave for the rich, sacrificing the very diversity that makes this town so special?

Think of what will happen if we discourage growth within our city limits. Think of Every-town, USA, with one neighborhood leap-frogging over another chewing up miles and miles of surrounding forest and spitting out sawdust. The battle is between density and sprawl. If we don't encourage more growth in town, the growth will move out. We must face the fact that we are a city, not a forest. If we want to preserve our surroundings then we must make room for folks to live here within our city limits. I am not concerned when I see a house in a city. It is not important to me that I be hidden from view. I don't care if one house looks different from another. I honor your taste whether I like it or not.

Beware. The proposed hillside ordinance has lost its way in the forest of politics. No longer is the effort to keep houses from sliding off the hills. The current effort is to keep houses from being seen at all. Houses on hills, unlike everywhere else in town, will be restricted to strict height limitations. Houses on hills will be required to save more trees than houses everywhere else. If you own a house on a hill that you want to renovate, or you own a lot on a hill and you want to build, the new proposed law will cause you more heartburn, and cost you more money. While your neighbor in the valley below is cutting down trees and putting up one story after another, you will be limited to secreting your home in such a way that visitors to our fair city may leave wondering where everyone is living around here.

Here's my problem with all of this: If it's all about the view, and if we really love trees as much as we say we do, why are we singling out the trees on the hills? Why shouldn't we treat all trees the same? If we're going to increase the number of trees we protect on hills, why don't we go ahead protect trees everywhere and keep our entire city hidden beneath the boughs? Or do we really care to be hidden? Maybe the reason it has taken so many years to find a solution to our hillside problem is that we can't seem to agree that there is a problem in the first place. Do you think you own your view? If so, what did you pay for it?

By Robert Ginnaven
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