Planning Commission denies 200-acre rezoning along Van Asche Drive extension

Traffic moves along a recently extended stretch of Van Asche Drive on Sept. 23.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

It looks like the City Council will decide whether commercial development along Van Asche Drive has hit a road block or merely a speed bump.

Members of the city’s Planning Commission on Monday voted unanimously to deny a rezoning request for nearly 200 acres of undeveloped land straddling the newly extended section of Van Asche in north Fayetteville. During the meeting the applicant indicated the plan is to appeal the decision to the City Council.

There’s a chance of a lawsuit if aldermen side with commissioners and ultimately deny the request because the city promised in 2008 to allow commercial rezoning of the land as part of an annexation agreement with the landowners.

The property includes two parcels north and south of Van Asche owned by the Whitfield and Green family trusts. It’s the same land Fayetteville developer and real estate broker Tom Terminella called the “Pinnacle Hills of Washington County” shortly after the ribbon-cutting for the Van Asche extension on Sept. 23.

At the time, Terminella had just submitted the rezoning request for the land, for which he said he was courting tenants in the retail, hotel, auto, medical, music, convention, and multi-family industries.

While planners do want to see the land flourish with commercial activity, they don’t agree that the area should be rezoned to the mix of C-2 and C-3 zones being requested. Planning staff said those districts, which require buildings to be built away from the front of the property and encourage parking lots to be built in front of the buildings, are not in keeping with the city’s long-range planning goals which encourage pedestrian-friendly developments.

Fayetteville developer and real estate broker Tom Terminella talks about the commercial development potential of the opening of Van Asche Drive extension shortly after a Sept. 23 ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

Senior planner Andrew Garner recommended at least some of the property be developed under a form-based zoning district or a planned zoning district that encourages buildings to be constructed along the street with parking in the rear. Garner said while older, suburban development patterns are reasonable in the areas adjacent to Interstate 49, the interior portions of the land are ripe for walkable, mixed-use development.

Commissioner William Chesser agreed.

“We do not get a lot of opportunities to greatly affect the future fabric of the city,” said Chesser. “I think to rezone it in what the commission, the planning department and the citizens have sort of deemed as an archaic development pattern is a huge mistake.”

City Attorney Kit Williams said while he would like to see a smarter plan that’s more in line with the city’s long-term planning goals, he doesn’t believe the city has a choice on the matter.

“We are not working from a clean slate in deciding what to do with this property,” Williams said, who added that form-based zoning districts had not been enacted for use near the city limits when aldermen agreed to one day rezone the land using a “Commercial Zoning District.” At the time, he said, there were only three commercial options available: C-1, C-2, and C-3.

“I think we have to do what we said we would do, which is zone it commercial,” said Williams. “Not zone it mixed-use, not zone it form-based, but zone it commercial to what existed back then and not change the terms now.”

Several commissioners disagreed.

“If there was a handshake agreement regarding the specific type of zoning this was to become, then it should be honored, but thus far, I haven’t been able to discover evidence of that,” said Chesser. “The form-based codes we have are in fact commercial, and I think there is plenty of varied opportunity for commercial that can be built there.”

Commissioner Tracy Hoskins echoed some of Chesser’s comments, and said it’s not uncommon for a city to update its regulations over time, and for developers to be required to follow those new rules.

Terminella urged commissioners to honor the city’s agreement, and said the owners and developers will not agree to form-based zones or planned zoning districts.

“We’re not willing to bargain away our rights as property owners and individual rights to a municipality and allow them to plan our real estate when they don’t have a single dollar at stake, other than the improvement of Van Asche,” Terminella said.

He questioned whether the area could even support the type of urban center that form-based zones encourage, calling the idea “a stretch.”

Terminella said he and the other developers do plan to create a “healthy, walkable, workable” community.

“But we are not willing to bargain our rights away,” he said.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer