Planning Commission rejects Cross Church rezoning in west Fayetteville

An artist rendering show what a new Cross Church might look like at the southeast corner of Wedington Drive and Interstate 49 in Fayetteville.

Video still / Cross Church

Cross Church officials may have to go back to the drawing board with their plans for a new campus in west Fayetteville.

Planning Commissioners on Monday voted unanimously to deny a rezoning request for 24 acres at the southeast corner of Wedington Drive and Interstate 49 where a 57,500-square-foot worship center is planned, along with a non-church-owned hotel, restaurant, and fitness center.

The land is currently zoned as a mix of C-2 (Commercial Thoroughfare) and UT (Urban Thoroughfare). The request was to rezone the property to C-PZD (Commercial Planned Zoning District).

The new facility would replace the church’s current, overcrowded location about a mile west on Wedington Drive. Plans include a 900-seat main worship center and a 600-space parking lot.

Commissioners agreed with city staff who said the proposed district is not in keeping with Fayetteville’s long-range planning goals for the area which encourage dense, pedestrian-friendly, mixed-use developments.

Many members said they’d be more inclined to vote in favor of a plan with buildings constructed along the streets with parking in the rear, and a zoning district that allows for at least some potential for future residential uses.

Their concerns were similar to those voiced in 2014 when the commission rejected a rezoning request for a Walmart Neighborhood Market near the Mill District in south Fayetteville. That plan, however, was appealed to the City Council and approved after much debate.

Church officials said they understood the city’s goals and even expected some pushback, but told commissioners that the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department’s plan to redesign the I-49 interchange at Wedington Drive led them to the current proposal.

Cross Church attorney Ken Hall said he met with the department and was told that the latest interchange design calls for an exit ramp that would route traffic east onto McMillan Drive in front of the new church campus.

“Quite frankly…we don’t want to be that close to an exit ramp,” said Hall, who added that safety was a concern.

Hall said the developers of the hotel, restaurant, and fitness center might be willing to relocate their buildings next to the streets, but said the church would prefer to keep a parking lot between the roadway and the building for safety reasons.

Commissioner Matthew Hoffman said several churches in Fayetteville are located close to busy roads, including First Baptist Church, which was recently expanded up to the sidewalk near the corner of North College Avenue and Dickson Street.

Hoffman said he understands that churches need large parking lots, but said there are a number of ways to build the project without sacrificing the city’s long-term goals. In fact, he said, “I see no reason why this couldn’t be built within the current zoning.”

Commissioner Allison Quinlan agreed.

“I think this is probably the premier property in Fayetteville,” Quinlan said. “I think there’s great solutions that we can come up with but I think this PZD (planned zoning district) limits us to only maybe bad solutions.”

The developers now have the option of adjusting their plans or appealing the decision to the City Council.