Fayetteville approves Van Asche Drive rezoning

Developers plan to turn about 200 acres of land into a commercial district along the recently extended stretch of Van Asche Drive in north Fayetteville.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

An area that has been called the future “Pinnacle Hills of Washington County” has been cleared for commercial development.

City Council members voted 7-1 Tuesday to rezone about 200 acres of land straddling the newly extended section of Van Asche Drive in north Fayetteville.

Several aldermen expressed disappointment in their decisions, but said their hands were tied.

That’s because the rezoning carried no support from city planning staff or any of the city’s Planning Commissioners. The request asked for a mix of C-2 and C-3 commercial zones, a set of older districts that planners said are not in keeping with the city’s long-range planning goals. Instead, they said the land should be rezoned using one or more of the city’s newer, form-based zoning districts which encourage mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly developments.

The problem, however, is that the city promised in 2008 that the property could one day be rezoned as a “Commercial Zoning District” as part of an annexation agreement with the landowners.

Some aldermen argued that the newer form-based zones are indeed commercial districts and should be acceptable to the landowners, but City Attorney Kit Williams reluctantly disagreed. He said while he’d much prefer one of the newer districts, he doesn’t believe the city has a choice.

In at least two city memos, Williams said it makes no difference if the newer zones allow commercial activity. What matters, he said, is that form-based districts hadn’t yet been adopted in 2008, and that the city would likely be sued by the landowners if it tried to force them to accept zones that didn’t exist when the agreement was made.

“We are not working from a clean slate in deciding what to do with this property,” Williams said last month. “I think we have to do what we said we would do…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.”

Alderwoman Adella Gray agreed. Gray said Tuesday the council should do now what it said it would do in 2008. She said it was “totally out of the question” to ask the landowners to accept a newer zoning district that didn’t exist when the original agreement was made.

Alderwoman Sarah Marsh was the only council member to vote against the request. Marsh warned the other aldermen that allowing an outdated set of development standards, which encourage buildings similar to those on North College Avenue and West Wedington Drive, would have lasting negative effects on the area. She said the council has a responsibility to encourage the highest and best use of the land, which she said should include a very dense, walkable mix of residential, office and commercial developments.

“The question we need to ask ourselves is what we want our city to become,” Marsh said.

Alderman Matthew Petty said Tuesday although it was against his better judgement, he would be supporting the landowner’s request because it’s too much of a legal risk to do anything else.

“I don’t think there’s any arguing with the City Attorney’s memo,” said Petty.

Petty told aldermen he’s seen preliminary plans for the property. He called the design “a North College and West Wedington redux,” and said that’s what the council should expect to see once the land is developed.

“This is just one more example of an incompetent – a completely incompetent public-private partnership,” said Petty, who called the original agreement a “very poorly thought-out promise.”

Petty said public-private partnerships are necessary to advance the city’s goals. “But we’ve got to start doing them correctly,” he said.

Alderman Mark Kinion said while he was disappointed in the situation, a promise is a promise.

“The bottom line is we have to keep our word,” said Kinion, who ended his comments on a more positive note.

Kinion said there’s still time for the developers to take note of the council’s comments and develop something better than what some have predicted.

“I hope and I so desire that we’re going to be so plesantly surprised,” he said. “I’m not going to predict doom and gloom out there. I’m going to keep the hope alive for a progressive vision.”