Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Neighbors, veterans turn out to protest plan for student apartments next to National Cemetery

The Morning News
Local News for Northwest Arkansas

County Sale Barn Site Gets Rezoned
By Skip Descant

FAYETTEVILLE — Despite nearly universal public opposition to a possible student apartment complex, the Fayetteville Planning Commission approved the rezoning of the Washington County Sale Barn to a multifamily land-use.
The property was rezoned from heavy commercial and light industrial use to downtown general. This was viewed by the commission as a "down zoning" in terms of the impact the land-use could have on the area.
But the commissioners were quick to note an endorsement of rezoning should not be read as an endorsement of the proposed project for the nearly 9-acre site on the south side of town.
"I want to emphasize that this is a rezoning request and the development will come at another time," said Christine Myres, a commissioner.
In the meantime, developers say they intend to meet with residents and find some sort of middle ground.
"We have a lot to do on this, and we're about trying to make concessions and see if we can have the problems worked out," said Dave Jorgensen, of Jorgensen and Associates, the design firm leading the project. Campus Crest, a Charlotte, N.C.-based developer, wants to develop the property for a 192-unit apartment complex. The apartments would be rented on a per-bedroom basis and bring some 500 residents to the area.
However, those at the meeting Tuesday night said there seems to be too much distance between what's been proposed and what they could live with.
"We've met with them at the ward meeting and they didn't seem to want to change their plans," said Michele Raine, a resident in the area.
But it wasn't just residents who were opposed to the project. Veterans also turned out to speak against any development that would border Fayetteville National Cemetery, which they say needs both more space and more respect.
"To have a sale barn removed and have an RMF-24 coming there and occupy the property right next to the cemetery is offensive to us veterans," said Jim Buckner, a retired lieutenant colonel and a representative of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which represents some 600 Purple Heart recipients in the state.
"This is sacred ground," Buckner added. "This is almost holy ground to us veterans."
He plans to rally veterans groups to raise the money needed to buy the property from Billy Joe Bartholomew, who owns the barn, but says today's economy makes his multigenerational business no longer viable.
"I'm going to have to sell the sale barn," Bartholomew told the commission. "It's outlived its uses."
Whatever new use the sale barn site takes, residents are not rooting for apartments. Most said the city already has its fair share. And still many seem opposed to the model presented by Campus Crest, with its standard building plan and leased bedrooms.
"I feel that renting apartments out by the bedroom is, I guess, just asking for trouble," said Kathy Kisida, of West Avenue.
"This apartment complex is what I'm against," she added. "I know that progress is going to happen there. I would just like to find something else."

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