Commission denies remote parking lot permit for downtown student apartment complex

The former site of the Southgate IGA grocery store is shown in this photo taken Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2023. (Flyer photo/Todd Gill)

FAYETTEVILLE — The developers of a planned student apartment complex will have to find another solution for how to provide enough parking for their future tenants.

Planning Commissioners on Monday voted 8-0 to deny a permit for an off-site parking lot in south Fayetteville that would help serve the complex near the University of Arkansas campus.

If built, the complex would replace the quonset huts and four other buildings along Center Street at the Razorback Greenway crossing.

Representatives from Trinitas Ventures in October showed several renderings of the proposed complex, which would include six stories with 191 units ranging from studio apartments to 4-bedroom spaces.

A total of 572 beds are planned across the property, but with only 250 on-site parking spaces in the plans, the developers requested to build an off-site lot at a vacant site that was once home to Southgate IGA near the corner of West 15th Street and South School Avenue. The former grocery store closed in 2017 and was demolished in 2020.

Trinitas representatives said of the 357 parking spaces planned at the remote lot, 180 spaces would be dedicated to the Center Street complex.

City code allows for off-site parking lots, but they must lie within 600 feet of the development. In this case, the proposed remote lot is over a mile away.

Jessica Masters, the city’s development review manager, said because of that distance, city staff were not in favor of the request.

“We find that this distance would be inconvenient,” said Masters. “And because of that inconvenience we believe it may encourage tenants to try and park near the housing development where there are not many existing feasible on-street spaces or around the vicinity.”

Fire chief Brad Hardin agreed, and said apartment complexes that don’t provide enough on-site parking can create major safety issues. Hardin pointed to the Atmosphere apartments on Duncan Avenue as an example.

“We have just a perpetual parking problem there,” said Hardin. “You can drive by there and you’ll see cars parked illegally everywhere. This creates a great deal of problems for the Fire Department. Driving our big trucks around there is really difficult, so we beg you to please not approve this.”

A rendering shows what a new student housing complex could look like on Center Street next to the Razorback Greenway near downtown Fayetteville. (Trinitas Ventures/City of Fayetteville)

In a letter to city staff, Trinitas said the complex’s close proximity to the university campus limits the need for a car and encourages tenants to walk to school or the nearby entertainment district and downtown square.

The developers said there are typically two types of students: those who require a car daily that can park at the complex, and those who occasionally need a car to travel back home or for road trips. Residents who don’t regularly use cars can park at the off-site lot, they said.

Masters said Trinitas intends for residents who use the remote lot to rely on ride share services and existing public transit to get back and forth between the complex. However, Masters said Ozark Regional Transit ends its service to the area at 7 p.m. each night.

Other safety issues were raised by the Police Department. According to a memo from the department, the south Fayetteville site and its immediate surroundings have been subject to over 1,600 calls for service since January.

Masters said adding such a passive, intermittent use at the site could compound those safety issues since a parking lot would not bring more eyes to the street or activate the underdeveloped area. Even with added security measures that have been proposed by the applicant, such as wood board fencing, Masters said city staff still believe the parking lot would have a negative effect on the neighborhood, and that some type of retail, commercial, office or housing use would better serve the area in both the short and long term.

Commissioner Mary McGetrick said she likes the student housing project, but couldn’t support a remote lot so far away.

“I have a daughter and I would not be comfortable with her getting off work at night, parking her car there and then walking back to the complex,” McGetrick said. “If a shuttle service was offered or if there was 24-hour public transit, then maybe, but it’s just too far away without that.”

Commissioner Mary Madden agreed, and said it’s simply not the right use for the site.

“This property would be a parking lot in perpetuity,” said Madden. “And I don’t think that’s what we want when we need more housing.”

A rendering shows what an off-site parking lot would look like at the former Southgate IGA site near the corner of West 15th Street and South School Avenue. (Blew & Associates P.A. via City of Fayetteville)