Commissioners deny rezoning request for Lewis Ford car dealership in west Fayetteville

Lewis Automotive on College Avenue / Staff photo

The Planning Commission on Monday denied a rezoning request for a car dealership in west Fayetteville.

Commissioners voted to deny a request from Lewis Automotive to rezone 5.06 acres on Deane Solomon Road from a residential district to a commercial district.

Matt Lewis, vice president of Lewis Automotive, said the plan is to relocate the dealership from its current location on North College Avenue, not just onto the Deane Solomon property, but also onto the Williams Tractor land to the east and onto a few parcels to the north that he and his brothers have recently purchased.

Lewis said the dealership is landlocked on College Avenue and there’s simply no room to grow.

“We are out of land,” he said. “Our business goes curb to curb, so we have to move in order to keep up with the growth and the demand in Fayetteville.”

The property in question, which is north of Mount Comfort Road, is currently the site of Process Dynamics, an engineering consulting firm. The land is largely undeveloped with the exception of a roughly 7,700-square-foot office building and a cell tower.

City staff said they don’t believe the property would be compatible with the surrounding area if it were rezoned to C-2 Thoroughfare Commercial as requested by the Lewis brothers.

Ryan Umberger, senior planner for the city, said Fayetteville’s adopted land use plans designate the property as a City Neighborhood Area, which encourages a variety of residential building types and increased density.

“Much of the surrounding area is developed for residential uses or is undeveloped altogether,” Umberger said. “Although some of the commercial uses that would be allowed in the C2 district would be compatible, the intensity and breadth of those uses is unlikely to comport with the nearby properties.”

Also, he said staff believes that an automotive dealership would be more likely to attract regional traffic instead of serving the adjacent neighborhoods.

Process Dynamics on Deane Solomon Road / Staff photo

Umberger said staff does recognize that the property is located about a half-mile north of the Interstate 49 interchange at Porter Road, which would make it an ideal location from a visibility perspective. But overall, he said staff recommended denial of the request on the grounds that C2 would sacrifice some of the higher quality requirements that are associated with the more-preferred form-based commercial districts, which encourage walkability and favor buildings being constructed along the roadway.

Suzanne Clark, an attorney representing the Lewis brothers, said she knows that C2 is a district the commission has been moving away from in recent years, and that getting approval for a non-form-based district is an uphill climb.

But, she said, the property in question abuts the back of the other land that the brothers have purchased along Shiloh Drive, which includes about 20 more acres that’s already zoned C2.

“So that’s why we’re asking that the commission consider this as a bit of an exception,” Clark said.

The property is also about 1,000 feet from the back side of the Adventure Subaru dealership, and nearly a third of a mile from Crain Hyundai.

“This section of I-49 is quickly becoming Fayetteville’s auto park,” Clark said, adding that a Kia dealership is also planned in the area.

As a point of negotiation, Clark said the Lewis brothers would be willing to rezone a portion of the property they’re vacating on College Avenue from C2 to the form-based UT-Urban Thoroughfare district if the commission approved their west Fayetteville request.

“There will be a great deal of interest in developing that property,” she said. “We totally respect that that’s outside the norm in terms of how the commission considers a zoning application…but because of what we’re trying to accomplish and of our understanding that it’s an uphill climb, we felt it was the only to at least engage in that conversation.”

City of Fayetteville

Blake Pennington, assistant city attorney for Fayetteville, said the Arkansas Supreme Court has twice declined to definitively rule on “contract zoning” issues, so it’s not entirely clear whether the commission or City Council can legally bargain with a property owner over a zoning request.

“What you have is a single application in front of you so I would advise you to consider that and not some potential future application,” Pennington told commissioners.

Commissioner Leslie Belden said she believes the property is a good fit for a car dealership, but she’s hesitant to approve a request for C2 along Dean Solomon.

“I think a lot of car dealerships are being built along the interstate, and this is becoming the norm over there,” she said. “But the difficulty for me is that Deane Solomon Road has residences that are on the road and in fact, there are new condos being built in that area as well.”

She suggested the Lewis brothers consider a Commercial Planned Zoning District for the property instead of a blanket C2 rezoning. A C-PZD is a custom district that’s designed by the applicant to be used only for a specified use instead of allowing a variety of uses that might be considered inappropriate in a certain area.

“I personally would feel more comfortable with that,” said Belden.

Commissioner Robert Sharp said he also thinks a dealership is compatible with the area, but said he’d be more comfortable if C2 were extended only to within 150 feet of Deane Solomon so there’s a buffer between the high-intensity commercial district and the surrounding neighborhood.

Clark said the applicants haven’t yet considered a C-PZD for the 5-acre lot because they would have to work not only with the city to develop a custom district, but also with the vehicle manufacturers who have their own standards in terms of how their cars and trucks are presented and sold at a dealership.

During the final vote, the commission voted 8-1 to deny the request.

Chair Matthew Johnson voted against the denial, and said he thinks the commission could’ve come up with something that meets both the city’s and the applicant’s goals.