Commission denies another remote parking lot proposal for downtown apartment complex

The former Powerhouse Seafood & Grill property is shown in this photo taken on Wednesday, April 10, 2024. (Flyer photo)

The developers of a student apartment complex have for the second time been denied a permit for an off-site parking lot.

The Planning Commission on Monday voted 4-4 on a proposal to demolish the former Powerhouse Seafood & Grill restaurant and use the property as a parking area to help serve the new complex.

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

The six-story complex from developers Trinitas Ventures would include its own 245-space parking lot, but with nearly 700 beds planned, city code requires at least another 194 spaces be made available for the building’s tenants.

It’s the second location that Trinitas has proposed for the complex. The commission in December voted unanimously to deny a permit for an off-site parking lot about a mile away in south Fayetteville.

Powerhouse opened in the 1990s in a former electric power station on University Avenue, and became a Fayetteville staple until it was permanently closed in June 2023.

The restaurant property, which is owned by the Underwood family’s Tagon Corp., is 200 feet from the site of the planned complex, but includes a walking distance of about 675 feet using the area’s existing sidewalks. City code requires off-site lots to be within 600 feet of the buildings they serve, but does not specify whether the distance is directly walkable.

Todd Wendell with Trinitas said the plan for the Powerhouse site was to lease the land from the Underwoods for 55 years, and after demolishing the restaurant building, they’d construct a new parking lot with up to 220 spaces.

Commissioner Jimm Garlock said the city has spent too many taxpayer dollars on the arts corridor site to allow a private parking lot to sit adjacent to it for the next five decades.

“It has so much potential,” said Garlock. “We’re selling ourselves short by giving any kind of conditional use permit to this location.”

This map shows the proposed location of a planned student apartment complex on Center Street and the area where an off-site parking lot was proposed on University Avenue. (City of Fayetteville)

Commissioners Nick Castin, Fred Gulley and Mary McGetrick agreed, and voted against the proposal.

Commissioner Brad Payne said Garlock would have a valid point if any other developers had come forward with a different plan.

“I have a hard problem with trying to tell a private property owner what to do or not to do with their own property,” said Payne.

Commissioner Mary Madden said the site was “night and day better” than the first proposed location, but she was on the fence because the idea of allowing a longterm parking lot so close to the arts corridor was difficult to support, especially considering the corridor’s main feature is the replacement of a parking lot with a public park.

“We’re finally getting rid of a giant surface parking lot,” said Madden. “And as soon as it’s gone now we’re just going to put a new one in that’s about half its size?”

In the end, Madden sided with the developers, along with Payne, Andrew Brink and Nicolas Werner who said the site’s steep topography and overhead power lines would make it a challenging area to develop.

Before the vote, commissioners discussed some possible amendments that would’ve required the developers to make improvements to the sidewalk street lights and green spaces between the two properties, but city staff said there’s likely not enough right-of-way for those upgrades so those motions failed to receive any support.

This diagram shows a proposed off-site parking lot on the former Powerhouse Seafood & Grill property in downtown Fayetteville. (Blew & Associates P.A. via City of Fayetteville)