Planning Commission recommends zoning approval for Underwood Park development

The old Razorback Golf Course property is located off Deane Solomon Road in west Fayetteville.

Photo: Todd Gill, Fayetteville Flyer

A plan for a west Fayetteville development that includes a new 65-acre park is another step closer to becoming a reality.

Planning commissioners on Monday approved the zoning plan for the development, located on the old Razorback Golf Course property located northwest of Deane Solomon Road in Fayetteville.

The commission voted unanimously to adopt a commercial planned zoning district for the property, which will allow for a 602-unit apartment complex, some commercial development, and a large “conservation-themed” park roughly twice the size of the recently-expanded Gulley Park, and nearly three times the size of Wilson Park.

Ted Jack, the city’s park planning superintendent, gave a presentation about the parks portion of the proposal, and said the area would help to fill in a gap in parks on the west side of town.

“When we are looking at gap analysis…you can see we have a weak spot in this portion of the city,” Jack said while showing a map of the existing parks in Fayetteville. “So as you are planning for new parks, those are really the areas that make sense to go and put a new park.”

A graphic showing a cap in community parkland in West Fayetteville

Screen capture

Jack said the new park could serve several recreational needs frequently requested by Fayetteville residents, inclucing walking, jogging, picnicking, bike riding, barbecuing, hammocking, gardening, nature programs, fishing, and others.

The land is currently owned by locals Laura and Craig Underwood, who purchased the property in 2017. Their plan at the time, Underwood said, was to hang on to the property for 10-15 years as an investment.

Craig said he attended meetings organized by the Walton Foundation a few years ago that led him to begin considering the possibility of using a portion of the property as park land.

“I have so many fond memories of growing up and spending time at Gulley Park, and spending time with our kids there as they were growing up,” Craig told us back in April. “We started discussing the feasibility of donating a portion of the property for a big park in that area of town.”

Underwood, who was involved in the development of The Cliffs apartment complex back in the 1990s, said throwing around ideas for the property led to the idea to develop a 602-unit apartment complex on a portion of the land, along with some Neighborhood Services commercial property as part of a planned zoning district.

The development would require the Underwoods to donate around 12 acres of land, or about $600,000 through the city’s current parkland dedication ordinance, but Craig said they liked the idea of a larger park.

“The more we started looking at it, we decided as long as we can have 602 units on the hill, it doesn’t matter if it’s on 30 acres or 50 acres,” he said. “And if we can do it on 30, that means we have more room for a park.”

About 28 acres of the land would be zoned for the apartment complex, 17 acres would be zoned to allow for small shops or retail, and another 17 acres would be set aside for small office developments.

It isn’t the first time the former golf course land has been considered for development.

A proposal in 2016 from Lindsey Management was abandoned after aldermen rejected a rezoning request that would’ve allowed up to 730 residential units on the property, including 480 apartments and a mix of commercial spaces. The idea was also partially opposed by the Planning Commission, and neighbors who cited concerns with a number of issues including traffic safety, drainage, use compatibility, and overall quality of life.

It was under contract a second time, also in 2016, when before developer Bart Bauer terminated the real estate contract for the property, where he’d planned to build low-density single-family homes and a small quadplex subdivision. Both of the earlier attempts to develop the property were met with strong opposition by the neighbors.

Neighborhood resident John Scott Bull, one of the most outspoken locals opposed the first two developments, posted a long note in support of the Underwood’s proposal on Facebook earlier this spring.

Bull cited several reasons for the support in his post, including his belief that it will increase property values in the neighborhood, and his preference for the PZD zoning, among others.

Commissioner Matt Hoffman requested conditions of approval of the development that would require 50% of the perimeter of the park have lots that feature buildings that front the park, and commissioners voted to adopted the conditions.

Next up, the development will head to the Fayetteville City Council at a to-be-determined date for final approval.