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Van Buren Parks group hears from consultants

The Van Buren Parks and Recreation Commission's steering committee got its first introduction Wednesday (July 2) to consultants hired by the city to assist them in crafting a parks master plan.

At this early stage in the process, the committee is working with a clean slate and is being tasked with building the city's first ever parks master plan from the ground up.

Senior Associate Dennis Blind of Alta Planning & Design in Bentonville told the small group of only two committee members to show and a small group of city staff, including Planning Director Joe Hurst and Mayor Bob Freeman, that he and Erin Rushing of CEI — another Bentonville consulting group — had been conducting an inventory of current park assets.

The next step in the process, Blind said, was preparing for the first public meeting and determining what citizens envision for an expanded parks system that is being funded in large part from a portion of a one cent sales tax passed by Van Buren citizens in 2012.

While Hurst and others mentioned communities like Bentonville, Fayetteville and Rogers as examples of parks and recreation systems Van Buren would be interested is possibly modeling itself after, Freeman urged caution to the group and consultants, prefacing his comments by saying he did not want to be a "Debbie Downer."

"I'd like to see some comparative communities as far as population, etcetera and what they are doing and where we stand. Northwest Arkansas, again a high standard and we'll try to get there. But our resources are a little bit different. I'm not saying we can't, for example, try and go to the foundation and have trails and get grants. But when you have someone who will build ever inch of a trail throughout an area there with private or foundation financing, it's a little more of a challenge."

Blind said comparisons to other cities in similar size to Van Buren, population nearly 23,000, would be a part of the planning process.

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He added that the group was targeting December 31 as the date for having the final plan delivered to the Van Buren City Council for approval.

The public could get its first chance to participate in the planning process at the next meeting of the steering committee is tentatively scheduled for mid-August. It is expected that more members of the committee will participate in that meeting, as well.

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