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New owners consider plans for downtown Fayetteville property

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FAYETTEVILLE -- A piece of property on Dickson Street that has served as a magnet of controversy eventually will have something on it other than parking spaces.

NWA Democrat-Gazette/DAVID GOTTSCHALK The site of the former Divinity Hotel project has been an empty parking lot with some trees and Lamar Pettus’ ol...

Five parcels comprising just more than an acre at 151 W. Dickson St., across the street from Collier's Drug Store, sold for $4.4 million last month. An investor from Colorado, James Chase, made the purchase under the name of a holding company out of Texas.

The property gained notoriety when former developer Brandon Barber tried to put in a nine-story hotel called the Divinity on Dickson. Barber's company bought the land for $4.6 million in 2006 and eventually abandoned the project, citing financial woes.

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A deal was under contract in 2013 for a mixed-use project but a resident-led effort put it to a halt. Collier Diversification bought the land for $2.7 million a year later.

In midst of the 2013 parcel fight, the City Council passed the Home Protection Ordinance. The idea was to limit building size on lots next to single-family homes by requiring staggered 36-foot walls as opposed to tall, flat structures.

The property's main street zoning allows buildings as tall as 84 feet, or about seven stories, if the structure is more than 15 feet from the street. Buildings within 15 feet have a 56-foot height maximum, about four or five stories.

Two of the lots sit next to a home. The other three abut Dickson Street.

In other words, tall buildings could go up near Dickson Street and smaller ones are possible next to the home.

The site has about 50 parking spaces that nearby restaurants use for valet parking. Lamar Pettus' old law building sits along Block Avenue and trees cover the rest.

Tim Stein, broker with Bassett Mix and Associates, said construction is likely about three years away. In the meantime, it will continue to be used as a parking lot and maybe a food truck or two could park there. The old Pettus building might get a remodel, he said.

With "mixed use," the developers are open to almost anything, Stein said. Clinics, an urgent care facility that could match with Collier Drug Store, rentals, condominiums, retail and office space are all being considered, he said.

"They want it to be aesthetically pleasing," Stein said. "It's not going to be some gargantuan building that doesn't match the surroundings."

Mel Collier envisioned a parking lot that could hold 200 cars when he bought the land for $2.7 million in 2014. City staff members didn't sign off on the idea and changes would have wiped out several of the spaces, he said. The city's code only allows off-site parking lots with a conditional use permit, which the Planning Commission must approve.

Collier decided to sell the property after the parking lot wasn't going to work out. He still says Dickson Street needs more parking.

"We thought this was kind of a no-brainer, home-run-with-the-city kind of thing. We met with about 20 folks from the city and they said, 'No, that's not what we want. We don't want parking lots to be seen from the street. We want a liner building,'" Collier said. "I said, 'I don't want to build a building. I don't want to be a landlord.'"

Alderwoman Sarah Marsh sponsored the Home Protection Ordinance but voted against it after several amendments made it too restrictive, she said.

She hopes the developers will bring something that serves the working class or young professionals. Replacing a parking lot on a prominent corner with places for people to live, work and shop would serve as a great step forward for downtown, Marsh said.

"We don't need more luxury condos only occupied on game weekends," she said. "We need desirable and attainable housing and amenities to help us attract and retain the skilled workforce necessary to power our growing economy and increase the customer base for downtown businesses."

Developer Mark Zweig, who owns two plots immediately south of the lots, said mixed-use development ties into the city's long-term goals. More people downtown means more economic vitality, increased property values and a firmer tax base to sustain something like public transit, he said.

"On the other side we've got Collier's and U.S. Pizza and French Metro Antiques and all that. But, on that side of the road we've got just kind of a void," Zweig said. "I think it'll really help sell that and sort of define the top of Dickson."

NW News on 07/16/2017

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