Fayetteville offers “pattern books” with pre-approved designs for homes

FAYETTEVILLE — The city says having a set of pre-approved home designs will help reduce development costs, streamline the residential permitting process and lead to the types of projects that neighbors, planners and developers all love.

City council will consider Tuesday to approve a $212,257 contract with local firm Miller Boskus Lack Architecture. The contract would require the company to create a set of four to six model homes in the downtown neighborhoods and near Walker Park.

The goal is to provide developers and owners with an easier way to create homes that fit into a neighborhood, said Jonathan Curth, director of city development services. Designs would be optional and allow builders to move through the city’s residency permit process more quickly, he said.

“First and foremost, it will save on design costs. When you’re not paying an architect for a design, it can immediately save several thousand dollars on a project,” Curth told the council during the its agenda-setting session on Tuesday.

“From a developer’s perspective, they will certainly benefit from this cost savings, but they will also be able to benefit from faster approval since these designs will have already been approved by neighbors and approved according to our development and building codes. .”

Neighbors will have a say in the designs. The city and the consulting firm will host focus groups for the downtown and nearby Walker Park neighborhoods where designs will be presented and discussed.

Pre-approved home designs, or “pattern books,” were part of the city’s 2040 plan, adopted in 2018. City council and planning commission meetings often include requests to rezone small lots in neighborhoods . A common concern among residents is that the structure or structures built as part of the rezoning will be out of character with the neighborhood. The proposal would help ease those concerns, Curth said.

“This reduction in cost and time encourages the use of neighborhood-responsive designs and can potentially provide more attractive solutions for housing density, whether it’s secondary suites to existing homes or a triplex that looks more to a single-family home,” Curth wrote in a memo to the board.

The city plans to launch focus group meetings before the end of the year and promulgate the program by the end of next year, Curth said.

The money for the contract will come from the city’s capital budget.

Streamline the process

Zara Niederman of 3V Development said the program will help developers eliminate unknowns from their projects. Niederman developed several small-scale properties in South Fayetteville.

Hiring a designer can cost several thousand dollars, and designs inevitably require modifications once reviewed by city staff, Niederman said. As the developer, Niederman said he needed to take these changes to his designer to make them, and then have city staff review the revised designs. The whole process can take weeks, he said.

If a developer has a set of approved designs that they know will pass city reviews, they can go straight to submitting a project bid to building contractors, Niederman said. Streamlining the process gives the developer a much better idea of ​​how much a project will cost, he said.

“It’s just a very long, intensive process,” Niederman said of the current regulations. “Then, at the end, you might be like, ‘Well, that’s not even working. Numbers don’t even work for me. This happened to me after spending tens of thousands of dollars.”

Niederman compared the idea to what many housing estate developers do. These companies usually already have designs to choose from when building a neighborhood. But instead of designs being concentrated in one area, the city’s pre-approved designs will be spread throughout downtown and south Fayetteville, he said.

Miller Boskus Lack completed a similar project for Bryan, Texas, a town of about 85,000 west of College Station, Texas, home of Texas A&M University.

According to a May 2020 article by Congress for New Urbanism, a national organization that provides urban planning resources, education, and technical assistance.

The program allowed developers to build homes at the neighborhood scale, saving more than $8,000 per unit, according to the article. The designs were made available in a part of the city known as Midtown, which is what the planners mean when they refer to a “model area”.

What to expect

The pre-approved building process is the opposite of conventional zoning, said Matt Hoffman of MBL and former planning commissioner. In conventional zoning, permission for a variety of land uses and building types is granted before the city or neighbors see the plans. If a developer chooses a pre-approved plan, neighbors will know what they’re getting, he said.

“It’s never been possible before, and people want the way things are done to change,” Hoffman said.

Permits and design are only part of the development puzzle, but the city is experiencing a housing affordability crisis, Hoffman said. The program will provide high-quality architecture and developers could pass the authorization process within 10 days, he said.

Home prices rose at a faster percentage rate in northwest Arkansas than anywhere else in the United States during the second quarter of this year, according to the quarterly report from the National Association of Realtors. The median single-family home price in northwest Arkansas hit $350,000 from April through June, up 31.9% from that price at the end of the second quarter of 2021, the report said. .

Few homes are actually designed by architects, Hoffman said. The goal is to make responsive and competent design more widely available for smaller projects, he said.

The designs will include a variety of buildings that could undergo minor modifications, Hoffman said.

“We will bring together talented architects from the region and beyond and give local builders access to their plans,” he said.

Colin L. Johnson