By Sarah Terry, The Morning News
FAYETTEVILLE – A group of neighbors in south Fayetteville met their goal Friday to buy a wetland preservation site that would have become apartments.
The Town Branch Neighborhood Association had a May 1 deadline to raise $125,000.
Tyson Foods presented the group a check for $25,000 Friday, bumping the group's total to $133,000.
The 2.5-acre site will be known as the World Peace Wetland Prairie. The property fronts South Duncan Avenue between 11th and 12th streets in south Fayetteville, and will become natural parkland with benches and a pedestrian boardwalk.
Jennifer Creel lives across South Duncan Avenue from the entrance to the preserved site. She was one of several neighbors to lead the fund-raising campaign.
"(Raising the money) felt daunting, but I always felt at peace about it and real hopeful," Creel said. "Any time something would happen that was a set back, we'd say, that was just a set back and move on. We're just grateful to be able to preserve this beautiful habitat."
Developer James Mathias offered to allow the residents to buy the property after his original plan to build a 48-unit apartment complex on the site met opposition but later was approved for 36 units.
The property appraised for $278,000. Mathias requested $125,000 for the property to recoup the cost of purchasing the land, removing two rental houses and completing preliminary engineering on the site.
In September, Mathias set the May 1 deadline -- just a few days before his permit to build a 36-unit apartment complex expired.
Melissa Terry of Audubon Arkansas said the half-acre portion of the land adjacent to South Duncan Avenue will serve as an entry to the nature preserve. International species of plants will be grown in this area.
The federally delineated wetland 2-acre portion of the property, west and northwest of the entry area, will be restored to native wetland and prairie vegetation. Invasive species will be removed, and the emphasis will be on maintaining native prairie plants, Terry said.
The land will be maintained by the neighborhood, and Audubon Arkansas will help restore the land, Terry said.
Contributors to the site's purchase include Omni Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology, Arkansas Audubon, Fayetteville Natural Heritage Association and the neighborhood association.
The city's tree and trails task force donated its final $50,000 from a $450,000 settlement to the effort.
Alderwoman Brenda Thiel served on the tree and trails task force and represents the residents of the Town Branch Neighborhood Association.
"I always had confidence they would make this work," she said. "I've never seen a neighborhood so intent on acquiring a piece of property for their use and future residents' use."