Leslie Belden / Courtesy photo
A local business owner, pastor and member of the Fayetteville Planning Commission said it’s time to go “all in” and will run for City Council in the February special election.
Leslie Belden, 65, on Saturday announced her candidacy for the Ward 2, Position 2 seat which was recently vacated by Matthew Petty.
Belden is a 26-year resident of Fayetteville. She is an owner and partner at Old Buildings, LLC, a local company that specializes in revitalizing older properties.
Leslie and her husband, Ted, were partners in the renovation of Carnall Hall on the University of Arkansas campus, the UARK Ballroom on Dickson Street, the transformation of the old St. Joseph Catholic Church campus into condominiums and apartments, and the renovation of the Fulbright Public Library into an office complex.
Belden is a pastor in the Presbyterian Church, with a doctorate in ministry and a master’s in divinity. She said her theological training puts the needs of people foremost in her heart and mind, with a specific emphasis on justice and the need for all to be heard.
“As a pastor I am aware of the needs of the citizens of Fayetteville as people who experience our city in vastly different ways and hold a variety of perspectives, as well as a diversity of opinions,” Belden said. “I believe that our city must balance our desire to attract entrepreneurs, businesses and industries who add positively to our economy, with our commitment to the environment and providing attainable housing for all who live in Fayetteville.”
Belden’s second three-term on the Planning Commission is set to expire in March. She has served on Fayetteville’s Historic District Commission and Town and Gown Advisory Committee, and was a planning commissioner and member of the Board of Adjustments in Jacksonville before moving to Fayetteville in 1995.
She said she believes the City Council can do more to support the city’s law enforcement and fire personnel, and the work they’ve accomplished in addressing discrimination.
“The City of Fayetteville has historically been a positive example of anti-racism in our state, and as the division in our nation has become so evident I have been proud that I live in a community in which those who differ can address those differences in honest and open discourse,” she said. “But we must not fool ourselves into believing that there is not more improvement needed.”
Ward 2, which is typically associated with the downtown and Dickson Street areas, includes portions of the University of Arkansas campus and stretches west past Garland Avenue to Asbell Elementary School, and north to the Washington County Fairgrounds. The ward also includes the businesses along College Avenue in midtown, and many historic districts including Wilson Park.
Filing for the election will begin Nov. 12 and last through 12 p.m. on Nov. 29. The special election is scheduled for Feb. 8.
Profile: Leslie Belden
Position sought: Ward 2, Position 2
Residency: Lived in Fayetteville 26 years
Employment: Old Buildings, LLC and Presbyterian Church U.S.A.
Education: Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Arkansas, Master of Divinity from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Doctorate of Ministry from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and Ph.D. in Public Policy Planning from the University of Arkansas
Political Experience: Planning Commission and Board of Adjustments in Jacksonville, Arkansas, and the Planning Commission in Fayetteville, Arkansas
Questions for Leslie
What made you decide to seek election to the council? Is it something you’ve been considering for a while?
I was considering running for the City Council when my second term on the Planning Commission expires, which will be in 2022. But I have been supportive of both members of the City Council representing Ward 2 and didn’t want to run against someone who is doing a good job. So when Matthew Petty resigned I thought now would be a better time than running against someone already in office. My term on the Planning Commission expires March 31, 2022 so I would not be leaving a vacancy for an extended period of time if elected. I would not run for the City Council if the Planning Commission would be hindered in their ability to get their work done for an extended period of time were I to resign.
Is there anything in particular that drove you to reside in Ward 2? How would you describe that part of town?
When we moved to Fayetteville in 1995 we knew that we wanted to live in one of the historic areas of Fayetteville because we love older homes in neighborhoods with a lot of trees and in which you can walk to get to restaurants and other businesses. We lived halfway up Mount Sequoyah for five years then moved to the square, which was also in Ward 2. We’ve lived in Ward 2 since 2000, as does one of our daughters. We have appreciated being able to walk to Washington Elementary School to walk a grandchild home and wish that all families lived close enough to their child’s elementary school to walk to and from school. I love how there are small homes and larger homes mixed in the same neighborhood, some on large lots and some on smaller lots. Some streets have sidewalks on both sides of the street, some on only one side, and some streets have no sidewalk at all, nor curbs and gutters. Some streets do not allow on-street parking and some streets have residents parking on both sides of the street. I like the richness of a neighborhood with those sorts of differences.
Which recent council decision(s) do you agree or disagree with?
I agreed with the City Council’s decision to require masks in the City of Fayetteville and also to allow City Council members to join meetings via Zoom and have their votes on decisions “count.” I also agreed with the City Council allowing restaurants to have outside dining on sidewalks when COVID hit. I had been wanting restaurants to be allowed to seat people on the sidewalk prior to COVID-19 and I hope that change in policy remains in place when the dangers of COVID have lessened. There have been times when the City Council voted against the recommendation of the Planning Commission and I have not agreed with those decisions because ordinarily I voted in the majority on decisions of the Planning Commission. The Planning Commission is charged with making decisions based on what they believe is best for the City of Fayetteville considering the priorities of the City Council and the existing ordinances. The City Council is a political body who is more influenced by public opinion than is the Planning Commission, and so sometimes disagrees with the Planning Commission, just as the Planning Commission sometimes disagrees with the recommendation of staff.