A residential construction boom is in effect in Bella Vista. According to city data, 126 building permits were issued in the first eight months of the year. By comparison, that’s up 91% from the January-August period last year, and is already more than the number of permits issued (98) in all of 2016.
It’s a long way from the turn of the century — when Bella Vista issued approximately 900 residential building permits one year, a surge driven by the growth of Wal-Mart Stores and its suppliers — but Mayor Peter Christie says the spike in 2017 has been interesting to watch.
“We thought 98 last year was a banner year compared to 63 in 2015,” said Christie, elected mayor in November 2014. “This year the activity has grown more than we’d anticipated.”
The growth in activity can be tied to a variety of factors, Christie said. There are several hundred affordable lots available to purchase through the Bella Vista Property Owners Association. Another reason? Escalating home prices in other parts of Benton County. The average selling price of a home in Benton County this year through August was $228,448. That’s up from $220,836 one year ago.
“The homes to the south of us are just too expensive,” Christie said. “Bentonville, in particular, is so popular and booming that the market forces, being what they are, have dramatically increased home prices. It’s surpassed the normal disposable income for most families to afford a home.”
LOCH LOMOND POPULARITY
While affordable homes are certainly driving activity, high-end home builders are also finding an attractive market in Bella Vista. Oliver Kiesel, owner of custom home builder O.A.K. Homes and Landscape of Hiwasse, said the opening in May of Highway 549, known as the Bella Vista Bypass, has influenced more interest in the city from homebuilders, particularly on the west side.
O.A.K. is nearing the end of construction of a 5,584-square-foot spec home on a Loch Lomond peninsula. The property on Stonehaven Drive was listed in mid-September by Jan Holland with Coldwell Banker Harris McHaney Faucette of Bentonville for $1.35 million.
“We do most of our stuff on the west side, in the Loch Lomond area, and the bypass has made a big difference,” he said. “Bella Vista was just kind of waiting to see the growth. You can also still go to Bella Vista and get a lot for $5,000 and build a home on it. That’s hard to do anywhere else in Northwest Arkansas.”
At 477 acres, Loch Lomond is the largest of Bella Vista’s seven lakes and also the newest, completed in 1982. Kiesel said its reputation as an amenity is growing among prospective homeowners. Kiesel, who grew up in the Loch Lomond area, is following in the footsteps of his father, Tony Kiesel, who built between 300 and 400 homes in Bella Vista. O.A.K. has six homes under construction in Bella Vista, about 25% of the company’s current workload.
A SHIFTING DEMOGRAPHIC
Bella Vista’s changing demographics are also a factor in increased residential interest. The city’s population hasn’t grown as fast as other areas of the region. It’s estimated by the Census Bureau to be 28,406 as of July 2016, up about 7% since 2010 — but the residential dynamic is shifting, from a reputation of being a retirement community to more of a family destination.
“In January 2015 there were 286 kids who lived on the west side of Bella Vista going to Gravette schools,” Christie said. “Now there’s about 500. We’ve gone from about 2,400 to 2,700 students who go to Bentonville schools. And there’s a tiny piece on the east side that’s in the Pea Ridge district, and the student population there is going up, too. More and more families are coming here. It’s been interesting to watch.”
Bella Vista is dissected by U.S. 71 heading north to south. Christie said the city’s median age east of the highway is 41. On the west side, the median age is 59.
Christie said the renewed residential activity is exciting. Property taxes were $98,000 over projection last year — but it’s tempered with the recognition that property taxes don’t have the greatest impact on city coffers. Sales taxes do.
To that end, the city hired its first economic development manager last year. Travis Stephens, Christie said, has been busy pursuing numerous retail prospects, representing Bella Vista at various economic development conferences and establishing an Advertising and Promotion Commission. The city’s 2% A&P tax went into effect on Sept. 1.
“We need to increase our economic commercial base,” Christie said.
Before retiring and running for elected office, he worked in corporate America for 33 years, the past 11 for National Cash Register Corp. (NCR), a computer hardware/software business whose largest account is Walmart.
“We’ve had some new businesses come in and all seem to be doing well. A bakery, a bicycle store, a ladies apparel store. The real need is more restaurants. It’s very limited, and that’s what I hear from residents all the time.
“Everything is intertwined, and that’s what I learned in the business world. If you pull one lever it’s going to move another.”
Custom home builder O.A.K. Homes and Landscape of Hiwassee is nearing the end of construction of a 5,584-square-foot spec home on a Loch Lomond peninsula in Bella Vista. It was listed in mid-September by Jan Holland with Coldwell Banker Harris McHaney Faucette of Bentonville for $1.35 million.