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Updated May 10, 2003
Aubrey's Notebook:
Subdivision Committee asks developer to come back
Concern voiced by members of neighborhood association
shows need for study of infrastructure, potential flooding, park possibilities before project goes to planning commission

Several members of the Town Branch Neighborhood Association waited from 8:30 a.m. until well after 11 a.m. to voice their concern about a 48-unit apartment complex proposed for 1121 S. Duncan Ave.

Several people left before the public hearing for their neighborhood began because they could not afford to lose a full day of pay. But the few who stayed were allowed to speak, and their thoughts caused the committee and members of the planning staff to reconsider the original schedule, which would have recommended that the project be moved to the Planning Commission in time for the April 14 meeting.

What came out was that a neighborhood has been developing a sense of being of no importance to the city of Fayetteville for many years. The proposed development simply has provided a catalyst to bring forth years of frustration over a perceived neglect and lack of respect from city government.

This neighborhood is home to some of the city's most loyal citizens. Not long before this development was proposed, Cliff Craft, often cited as the city's best-known hero of World War II, died. Craft's widow still lives in a home on 12th Street. Her back yard borders the proposed development. Her back yard has been flooded in the past and the paving of the wetland to facilitate the project easily could threaten her property even more significantly should an extended period of heavy rain occur, despite the best efforts of the developer to mitigate the flooding potential of the area.

The developer, James Mathias, is a member of a longtime Fayetteville family that owned a business in south Fayetteville for decades.

He bought the property in question less than one year ago and apparently had no way of predicting how unfavorably the neighbors would view the prospect of having the wetland acreage filled and paved over and a large apartment complex built there.

It is unlikely that the real-estate broker who sold him the property understood the potential effect of such a large project on the neighbors. Mathias bought the 2.46-acre tract with a pair of rent houses expecting people in the area to welcome development as an improvement rather than a threat.

However, many longtime residents of the Dunn Addition, represented today by the Town Branch Neighborhood, were stunned by the idea of the possibility of building apartments in a part of the neighborhood that had been recognized for generations as undevelopable wetland.

When a rumor went round that 48 apartments would be built on the 2.46 acres, they didn't believe it. Some laughed at the idea. Then one day in the fall of 2002 the first of two rent houses on the land was demolished. Not much later, the second and final house was demolished.

The neighborhood began to wake up. Sometime earlier, a neighborhood association had developed as people agreed to be a part of it. However, meetings hadn't been called because there was only routine concern to be voiced. Mostly people just talked to one another about the problems of speeders on South Duncan Ave. and Ellis and Hill Street. Some invited police officers to park in their driveways and watch for the speeders at night. They called the appropriate city office when a water line exploded and sent tons of water and debris through the blacktop or their yards flooded after a big rain. They called the appropriate department when excess stormwater ran into the sewer and sewage backed into their homes and yards. They hadn't developed the habit of complaining to high officials. Neither their aldermen nor their mayor had heard their complaints. They accepted the fact that problems existed. They tolerated and even mentored neighborhood kids in the afternoon because they were alone and unsupervised in one-parent homes. They tried to ignore the odor from the former Campbell Soup Plant because it represented the smell of jobs for some of the residents. They seldom mentioned the passing of the trains on the A&M Railroad a quarter-mile to the west, because it was a part of the neighborhood before most of them were born.

They accepted the fact that some residents were poorer than the rest and sometimes needed a ride to work or to the doctor's office or help with a bill. They seldom complained when a neighbor's yard wasn't mowed as often as theirs, because they knew that some people were retired and unable to pay for frequent mowing. They understood that some residents didn't fully understand the city, state or county rules and went directly to the offender rather than call officials when an illegal fire was started in an adjacent yard during a burn ban or with plastic, rubber, glass, metal or processed wood in violation of state regulations.

It was a quiet neighborhood of people who mostly minded their own business. They gardened and watched birds and occasionally held a garage sale or took a walk and visited with friends on the way. However, there had never been a need for a formal meeting until 2002.

When the meetings began, decades of unspoken frustration surfaced. The subdivision committee of the Fayetteville Planning Commission got a taste of that frustration April 3 when the proposed project in the Town Creek Neighborhood came before it in a public hearing.

The developer, the engineer who designed the plan of the project, the planning staff and the planning commissioners on the committee all must have felt the barrage of complaints and stories of past but still-unsolved problems was directed at them. However, it was more than that. These people saw the development plan as the last straw on the back of a camel of neglect and disrespect that they had felt for many years.

As the public hearing opened, one of the officers of the Town Creek Neighborhood Association invited Andrea Radwell, a doctoral candidate in stream ecology, to explain the federal regulations on stormwater runoff. She gave a brief, concise explanation of the newly instituted rules designed to protect the quality of our lakes and rivers and to protect people and their property from flooding.

Radwell made it clear that the proposed Duncan Avenue Apartments were typical of hundreds of such plans that soon would be coming before the city Planning Commission and that the problems of people living nearby and the potential for violation of federal regulations would exist with all of them. She was not attacking this development or this developer but trying to educate the public and public officials about the necessity of careful study before authorization of such projects.

A representative of the neighborhood presented a handout list of special neighborhood concerns and also read most of it aloud. Then, he introduced Mitch Woody, whose two houses are south and downstream from the land slated for development. Woody shared pictures of the situation created by water passing through his yard and pointed out that any increase in runoff could endanger his house as well as his yard. He said that he no longer believes there should be development in the west wet-prairie area of the acreage.

Then Wanda Peterson, who lives to the southeast on the south side of Town Branch on Ellis St. but grew up on Hill Avenue in one of the older, larger houses, known as the Moody House, presented photos of flooding in her yard in 1973 and said that the problem had never been solved.

Then Diana Smith, whose house is only slightly north of the point where traffic from the proposed development would enter South Duncan Avenue, spoke about the sewer backups and how Larry, her husband, once lost a finger lifting the sewer manhole to see what was backing up the sewer and described the waterline breaks that have broken her windows and damaged her roof as gravel and such blew over her house in the past two years. Then she questioned the destruction of the rent houses on the land proposed for development, citing the possibility that asbestos and lead paint may have been in the houses, creating a need for certified inspection before demolition. Smith also talked about the proximity of the driveway to her house and the dangerous intersection.

Don Hoodenpyle, who has lived for 35 years in a house on 2 timbered acres at the northeast corner of the intersection of 11th St. and S. Duncan Ave., described the sewage backing up into his house and the flooding that erodes his yard and the waterline breaks and related problems.

Then Jennifer Creel. whose husband is remodeling their house directly across from the entrance to the proposed development, got on the subject of putting in a park for the kids and that is up for negotiation with the park board and the developer.

Lauren Hawkins pointed out that the proposed development was inappropriate for the single-family neighborhood, including her view that the trailer parks in the area are actually collections of single-family dwellings and are a better alternative than apartment buildings for families that value shade trees and yards of their own.

Phil Biggers, who manages a trailer park directly north of the proposed complex, spoke up about the huge crawdads that come up in their chimneys in the trailer park and discussed sewage problems in the park.

The project has to come back to the subdivision committee instead of going directly to the planning commission on April 14 as previously announced.

The city engineers were instructed to look into infrastructure problems and discuss these problems with the neighbors before the upcoming May 15 meeting.

Members of the association pointed out that other developments were planned for the undeveloped wetland area between 11th Street and Sixth Street and that the potential for degradation of potential historic and archaeological sites should be studied before any development is approved in the Town Branch basin. Some members are seeking to convince the City Council to pass ordinances to require the planning commission to include all aspects of a development in its studies before approving large-scale developments.

Currently, zoning is the only big hurdle and in south Fayetteville zoning already allows single-family neighborhoods to include multi-family housing. So developers face no tough challenges unless a neighborhood speaks out.


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Aubrey James Shepherd
Fayetteville, AR © 2003, 2004, 2005

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