Bentonville Mayor Bans Gated Communities

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If firefighters respond to a blaze in Rogers’ gated Pinnacle Golf and Country Club, they have to take about 30 seconds to stop and open a gate or possibly drive the long way around to the main entrance.

It may not sound like much, but 30 seconds matters.

“In a fire emergency, every second counts,” said Allen Skogen, deputy chief of the Rogers Fire Department. “A fire will double in size every 30 seconds.”

“When you have a fire that has gone past insipient stage to flashover or free-burning, it could make a difference,” said Bentonville Fire Chief Dan White. “Depending on fire load and the heat being generated, fires can build pretty quick. Any delay in getting to the building allows the fire to grow and cause more damage. Significant delays can certainly affect our operations.”

The issue prompted Bentonville Mayor Terry Black Coberly to sign an ordinance on March 8 banning gated communities in that city.

“To ensure public safety with easy access to residential neighborhoods by police, fire and ambulance services and to maintain neighborhood connectivity … gated communities are prohibited,” states the ordinance, which takes effect April 8.

Bentonville offers a waiver to the ordinance if the land doesn’t provide connection to city streets, has slopes greater than 17 percent or doesn’t have a “collector, minor or major arterial shown on the Master Street Plan.”

Bentonville has no gated communities, but Park Hill Associates LLC of Lowell filed a proposal with the city planning commission in October to build one called Highland Park at 3301 NW 3rd St. That prompted Troy Galloway, Bentonville’s community development director, to get started on a campaign to ban such walled enclaves.

Sociologists have argued the merits of gated communities, especially in low-crime areas such as Northwest Arkansas. They say gated communities separate people based on income and perceived social status. Bentonville is home to the Waltons, the richest family in the world. But Sam Walton, who died in 1992, was not a man who made a show of his wealth.

“Our main things were the connectivity and the social implications,” said Danielle Semsrott, Bentonville planning technician. “One of the other issues was debating who’s going to take care of the streets in a gated community. They’re essentially private streets.”

Park Hill has since tossed the gate idea from its planned subdivision.

Chief White said his major concern was that, if gated communities were built, the same key should be used to get into all gates. It’s what Skogen referred to as a Knox key.

“It’s kind of like a master key to the city for fire services,” Skogen said.

Skogen said Rogers has five gated communities, and all of them meet the city’s fire codes. He said siren-activated gates open when a fire truck siren sounds for 15 or 20 seconds prior to reaching the gate. Skogen said he didn’t know if siren-activated gates had been installed at any of Rogers’ gated communities.

“We’ve never had a problem getting a fire truck in [to Pinnacle],” Skogen said. “But sometimes it makes us go the long way around … What could be an easy way in and out can be slowed down by only one access into the area.”