Markham Hill development discussion begins in Fayetteville

Pratt Place Inn / Courtesy photo

The Fayetteville City Council on Tuesday heard from neighbors about proposed changes atop Markham Hill just west of the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville.

Specialized Real Estate Group, the local firm that owns the Pratt Place Inn and about 144 acres on the hill, wants to expand the event center and build a conservation-based neighborhood.

Up for consideration is a redesign of the planned zoning district that encompasses Pratt Place, along with a rezoning of the surrounding land. As part of the proposal, Specialized has offered a bill of assurance to permanently conserve the forest land on the west side of the mountain.

Seth Mims, president of Specialized Real Estate Group, gave a brief presentation about the project. He said part of the plan is to revitalize Pratt Place, which serves as a popular as a wedding venue, but has only seven rooms and one cottage for overnight guests. With so few rooms, no restaurant and no other commercial uses, he said the event center simply isn’t profitable.

An expanded Pratt Place, Mims said, would include 5,000 square feet of event space and enough new hotel-format buildings and cabins to accommodate an additional 80 guests. Plans call for 12,000 square feet of restaurant and commercial space, and about 43 single-family homes along the eastern portion of the property. The inn, barn, cottage, and a nearby cabin and storage building would remain. The cabin would become an overnight suite and the cottage would become a commercial space. Plans also call for several single-story cabins, a conference and meeting space, a two- or three-story hotel-style building, and smaller structures like an office, guest services center, and some shops. Company officials have said the restaurant and retail spaces would be open to the public.

The current planned zoning district contains 74 acres and the surrounding land is zoned RSF-4 (Residential Single-Family 4 Units Per Acre). Specialized seeks to reduce the PZD to 24 acres and rezone 75 acres as RI-U (Residential Intermediate-Urban). The remaining 44 acres would be rezoned to RA (Residential Agricultural) and then preserved.

Mims said the 44 acres would be preserved either through a conservation easement or a gift to a land trust or municipality.

C-PZD conceptual plan / Specialized Real Estate Group

The areas outside Pratt Place would be developed into a neighborhood in phases over the next 10-20 years. Officials have said inspiration for the neighborhood comes in part from Serenbe, a 1,000-acre community built over the past 15 years in Fulton County, Georgia. About 600 people live in the community’s 350 homes set among preserved forests and meadows.

The bill of assurance promises that despite the change from RSF-4, the overall density for the rezoned property will remain at four units per acre, or 476 units. Mims said with smaller lots, the neighborhood would have the same density as what’s allowed today, but retain more green space.

The binding agreement also commits Specialized to keep at least 50 percent of the total RI-U and RA acreage as passive and active open space. That includes the preserved conservation area, but also adds landscaping, gardens, pocket parks, meadows, watersheds, outdoor plazas and existing or new walking or multi-use trails throughout the neighborhood.

After public comment was opened, the first resident to speak Tuesday was against the rezoning and called the project “a fantasy” and said the original C-PZD was a promise to the neighbors that should be honored by not being changed.

Some residents who spoke against the plan mentioned access and traffic concerns as reasons why the rezoning should be denied, but most said development would destroy the natural habitat of the historical hillside, and that the area should stay preserved.

Council member Marsh said she wanted to remind the audience that the current zoning already allows the property owner to develop the land in a typical 4-units-per-ace fashion by right. This new zoning, she said, would keep the same density that’s currently allowed while preserving more natural habitat than could be fit into a typical RSF-4 neighborhood.

“I keep hearing people refer to this as ‘a preserve,’ when really this is private property that has yet to be developed,” said Marsh. “I think it’s important we recognize that this is not publicly owned land.”

City documents show about 21 emails were sent to the City Clerk’s office in support of the project, with only about eight against. Those opposed, however, were in the majority at Tuesday’s meeting, with 17 speaking against the proposals and only two in favor.

The second reading of the ordinance will take place on Oct. 2.