Residents voice concerns over proposed 7-story building on Dickson Street

A subcommittee tabled the project until June 13 at the request of the developer.
A lot at the southwest corner of Dickson Street and Block Avenue is shown in this photo from Friday, May 24, 2024. Developers are planning a seven-story building on the property. (Flyer photo/Todd Gill)

Plans for a new seven-story building on Dickson Street were put on a temporary hold as the Planning Commission’s Subdivision Committee on Thursday agreed to table the project at the request of the developer.

The discussion will continue at the committee’s next meeting on June 13.

Despite the tabling request, public comment was taken, which included opposition and discussions about the development’s potential impact on the local environment and the cultural character of the downtown area.

The project, led by Indiana-based developers Trinitas Ventures, involves constructing a mixed-use building with 185 multifamily residential units, a 1,824-square-foot retail space, and associated parking on the lot currently occupied by Diamond Center Jewelers, between Block and Church avenues.

Trinitas, also behind the Atmosphere student apartments on Duncan Avenue and a planned six-story complex on Center Street, intends to include 611 bedrooms and 402 underground parking spaces in the Dickson Street project.

During Thursday’s Subdivision Committee meeting, several residents and officials voiced their concerns, including Nina Shirkey, who owns the property abutting the lot at the southeast corner. Shirkey presented an independent arborist report commissioned by McClelland Consulting Engineers that warned the construction could fatally damage trees on her property.

“The likelihood of survival of the above trees would be extremely low if the current plans are followed,” said Shirkey, citing the findings from the report. “The prior condition of the trees and the amount of canopy removal are the other main factors I’m considering, and based on these factors, my recommendation would be to either remove the trees or significantly alter the plans.”

Melissa Evans, the city’s urban forester supported Shirkey’s concerns, and said that while the developer has shown the offsite trees as being preserved, she has asked that they instead be included as unpreserved trees because with the project’s proximity to the trees and their roots, “there is no way they could survive.”

“I just can’t approve plans showing someone else’s trees being destroyed,” said Evans.

A public notice sign stands at 151 W. Dickson St. with information about upcoming meetings concerning a proposed seven-story development on the property. (Flyer photo/Todd Gill)

Traffic and access issues were also discussed. Elizabeth Mitchell, who lives two buildings down from the proposed site, raised concerns about the potential vacation of an alley that runs parallel to Block Avenue to the west. Mitchell said the alley provides essential parking access for multiple properties, and suggested the developers come up with an alternative design that would maintain the alley’s functionality, such as incorporating an archway into the building’s structure.

Concerns about the development’s impact on the character of Dickson Street were also raised. Resident Lee Anne Wiederkehr said that the building’s height and massing could obscure views of historic landmarks like the courthouse clock tower and a nearby church steeple which could fundamentally alter the area’s aesthetic.

“We want to preserve not only our trees, but also we want to preserve our character,” said Wiederkehr.

Residents also questioned why the city should bear the burden of providing student housing in the area, pointing to the University of Arkansas’s rapid growth and its insufficient provision of student accommodations.

“Why is the university not taking responsibility for increasing their student population by providing their students with housing?” asked Dot Neely.

Others questioned whether their feedback would even be considered, and asked if the development was a done deal.

Planning Commissioner Jimm Garlock said the project is far from finalized. He said more review from the city’s planning and legal departments is necessary, particularly regarding the offsite tree issue and whether it presents a potential violation of the city’s tree preservation ordinance.

Once the Subdivision Committee makes its recommendation, the project will head to the full Planning Commission for a final review.

A rendering shows a proposed seven-story building on Dickson Street near Church Avenue. (Courtesy/City of Fayetteville)

Property history

This isn’t the first time that developers have considered building something on the property.

A group of investors led by UA graduate James Chase purchased the land in 2017 for $4.4 million from local businessman Mel Collier under a company called 151 Dickson Development, LLC with plans for a mixed-use development.

Not much has happened since then, though a building at the northwest corner of the property was remodeled in 2021 and became home to Diamond Center after the jewelry store relocated to Dickson Street from the Northwest Arkansas Mall.

Before that, Specialized Real Estate Group was under contract to purchase the land in 2014 with plans for their own mixed-use project. Those plans, however were abandoned after a neighbor worked to prevent the development which led to a home protection ordinance being passed by the City Council. That rule requires structures taller than 24 feet to be built at least 15 feet from the side and rear property lines of houses that are being used as single-family residences. City staff said that rule won’t apply to the new project since the neighboring house is no longer being used as a home.

In 2006, the land was the proposed site for a hotel and condominium project called Divinity on Dickson from developer Brandon Barber. That project was also met with opposition from residents who said it was too big for the area and would cause traffic problems that could destroy the vibe of Dickson Street. Barber was denied a permit by the Planning Commission, but the project was approved by the City Council during an appeal process. The council’s decision sparked a lawsuit from a neighbor, but the development fell through after Barber cited financial issues related to the project.