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story.lead_photo.caption NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK The City Council will consider rezoning 1248 S. Washington Ave. in the Walker Park neighborhood from single family to a potentially higher-density designation. The council has prioritized infill development, the requests for which have clashed with some established neighborhoods.

FAYETTEVILLE -- What council members and planners believe is good for the city might not be what some residents in established neighborhoods want. The conflict becomes more frequent in the face of rapid growth.

The City Council on Tuesday will consider rezoning a property on South Washington Avenue, between 12th and 13th streets, in the Walker Park neighborhood. The rezoning would turn the property from a single-family designation to one allowing a variety of housing types, including duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes.

City Council meeting

When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Room 219, City Hall, 113 W. Mountain St.

That one plot of land is indicative of the city's predilection for dense, infill development. Making appropriate infill the highest priority is listed on the 2030 plan right behind where the council sits during meetings at City Hall.

In the past two years, the council has approved six rezonings of higher density and one to allow a commercial use within the Walker Park neighborhood. The city's planning staff has interpreted the votes as a shift in policy regarding the plan for the neighborhood, Planning Director Andrew Garner said. Staff recommended denial on two of the rezonings, which the Planning Commission and City Council passed with nearly unanimous votes.

"It's a little bit of reading the tea leaves, I guess," he said. "The council makes policy decisions and guidelines. They're interpreting the Walker Park plan when they make those decisions."

About 200 residents participated in a series of meetings and input sessions to create the Walker Park Neighborhood Plan, which the council adopted in February 2008. The majority of the area before then was zoned to allow up to 24 units per acre, opening the door to apartments and other developments out of scale in the neighborhood filled with mostly single-family homes.

Most of the area was rezoned under the plan to either a neighborhood conservation district or downtown general. Neighborhood conservation, which covers most of the houses there, allows single-family homes and accessory dwellings up to 10 units an acre. Lot width minimum is 40 feet with a maximum of three stories possible. Downtown general allows a wider mix of homes and commercial uses. Most of that type of zoning was put on the peripheries or near high-activity intersections.

Some residents say the recently approved rezonings, ranging in density from 18 units an acre to unlimited, are not in line with what neighbors had in mind a decade ago. Council members and planners say the increase in density is needed to accommodate the 800,000 people the Northwest Arkansas Council expects to live in the region by 2040.

Sticking to the plan

Lisa Meeks, who lives next door to the property up for rezoning Tuesday, said she fears a towering, three-story duplex may go up. The single-family home that was there has been demolished.

Michael Ward, a Fayetteville real estate agent representing the property owner, said there are no plans yet in place. Ward also has a leading role with development of the Homes at Willow Bend off South Washington Avenue. That project will put nearly 80 homes on about 9 acres with financing options available to lower- and middle-income families.

The property up for rezoning at 1248 S. Washington Ave. is listed to Sugarland Properties LLC, according to records. Ward said the owner of the company does not wish to have his named published.

Meeks said part of the problem she sees is the properties that get rezoned are associated with companies and not people. It's not that she and her neighbors are against new faces moving in, Meeks said, it's that the character of the neighborhood is changing.

"They're tearing down cottages and building the modern boxy things," she said. "I think it's a problem citywide."

A few of those newer structures popped up last year in the Parksdale neighborhood south of 15th Street near Duncan Avenue, prompting residents to petition the city and get their properties rezoned. Much like Walker Park more than a decade ago, Parksdale was zoned for multifamily housing up to 24 units. The City Council in August approved a plan that rezoned the core of the neighborhood as a neighborhood conservation district, like how most of the Walker Park neighborhood is now.

Even with a plan in place, anyone who owns property can ask the council for a rezoning, City Attorney Kit Williams said. Council members are not legally bound to a neighborhood plan, he said.

"The most important thing, supposedly, in zoning is compatibility with adjoining neighbors," he said. "A lot of times adjoining neighbors are the best judges of what is compatible."

The proposed rezoning for 1248 S. Washington Ave. is for a residential intermediate-urban district. That type of zoning allows homes ranging from single-family to quadplexes, accessory dwellings and cluster homes sharing a courtyard. It has no density limit. It has a three-story height maximum with a minimum 18-foot-wide lot. A three-story duplex could be built up to the property line, for example.

Council member Sarah Marsh, one of the Ward 1 representatives, said the city is experiencing an influx of residents it didn't anticipate 10 years ago.

"The zoning tools that were available at that time are incapable of meeting the current needs of our community," she said. "The challenges, and tools to meet those challenges, have changed, but we must still adhere to the guiding principals established in the plan."

Marsh said she interprets the Walker Park plan as encouraging a balance of uses and housing, improving connectivity and walkability and keeping the Jefferson Square as the core with plenty of accessible green space.

"Allowing infill development at slightly higher densities will allow us to welcome new neighbors while supporting the core values of the original neighborhood plan," she said.

The alternatives

Generally speaking, increasing density of housing helps keep up with the demand, or at least slows down the increase of pricing overall, said Jeff Cooperstein with the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville.

It may not seem like it at the neighborhood level, Cooperstein said. A multistory quadplex may come in and be rented out for the highest marketable value. But if the property isn't rezoned, a $500,000 single-family home may be built instead, he said.

Neighbors might prefer that option, but the people who would've lived in the other three units have to go somewhere, Cooperstein said.

"I think the dynamic you're looking at with the rezoning is a faster rate of change than if you say no," he said. "But saying no doesn't mean that eventually it's not going to change, and it also means in general you're pushing out housing somewhere else."

The average price of a home in Washington County is $235,618, up about 12 percent over last year, according to the latest Skyline report, which Arvest Bank sponsors biannually.

The population in Northwest Arkansas continues to grow as lots get taken up, especially in the most desirable parts of cities. Labor and material costs also are on the rise, according to the report.

Planning Commissioner Zara Niederman has been involved with three projects and their associated rezoning requests in the Walker Park neighborhood. Two were approved before Niederman was appointed to the commission and involve wheelchair-accessible duplexes that were granted with a permit and cottages for senior citizens. The third project hasn't started yet.

Niederman and his family live in the neighborhood. He said the city needs a wider variety of housing at higher density in order to create centralized, walkable communities. That type of development also allows easier access to transit and trails, which helps get cars off the road.

Pushing people to the outskirts of town means having to spread out the city's resources, such as police and fire and water, sewer and trash service, Niederman said. Leaving small homes on large lots isn't sustainable, he said.

"People are buying stuff in south Fayetteville for 160, 170 bucks a foot for, like, a cottage that's not renovated that's in just decent shape," Niederman said. "If we don't build more stuff that's close, all that is not going to be affordable. It's just going to go up massively in price because people want to be close to downtown."

NW News on 10/14/2018

Print Headline: Higher density coming to neighborhood

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