FAYETTEVILLE -- City planners and engineers hope to take on more than $22 million in transportation projects and rezone more than 600 acres along the "backbone" of town next year.
Staff will ask the City Council on Tuesday to reaffirm its support of the 71B Corridor Plan before getting started on the work. The council adopted the plan in 2019, but several members who served at the time no longer do.
Jonathan Curth, development services director, said staff wanted to make sure the council still supports the plan before taking on such a labor-intensive effort.
If approved, staff will start work on a number of transportation projects and initiate a rezoning plan for the corridor. Curth and Public Works Director Chris Brown presented to the council what they hope to accomplish in the coming year during an agenda-setting session last week.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan said the effort to transform the corridor started in earnest about six years ago.
"This highway is the backbone of this city," he said. "This will change the face of this city forever."
Sarah Bunch, a representative of the northeast part of town on the council and chairwoman of the council's Transportation Committee, remarked on the scale of the planned effort. The corridor runs through three out of four wards, and it's already taken years of dedicated work to get to this point, she said.
"It is just going to change the city once we get it done," Bunch said. "I feel that strongly about it."
Business and property owners along the corridor have received notice of the city's plan but have differing feelings about it.
Most everyone can agree College Avenue needs some work -- as long as the work doesn't negatively impact businesses, said Grant Feltner, owner of Feltner Brothers restaurant.
Feltner said he was concerned for the well-being of businesses during and after planned construction along the corridor. Workers at those businesses pour their hearts and souls into what they do and shouldn't be penalized for something they have nothing to do with, he said.
Construction could cause potential customers to take alternate routes, Feltner said. Having fewer curb cuts as the plan calls for could make it harder for drivers to find specific businesses, he said.
Businesses need to be involved in the planning process, Feltner said.
On the flip side, having more residences along the corridor could mean more people visiting nearby businesses, he said.
"It's got to be a win-win for the city and for the business owners," Feltner said. "If you're going to make it hard for people to get in and out of places during construction and after, that doesn't do the businesses any good."
Impeding traffic also is a concern for Brooke Shock, owner of the Geek Realms shop. The city has done drainage and street work near her business before, and when it did, customers stopped coming in, she said.
Shock said she'll be watching how the planned work impacts businesses around her. Beautifying the stretch could help bring back activity to long-vacant lots and generally make the corridor more inviting -- or, it could push out small businesses like hers, she said.
Geek Realms opened a new store in Springdale a couple weeks ago. Shock doesn't want to close the Fayetteville location, but if the work cuts off her flow of customers, she may have to consolidate and move the whole operation to Springdale, she said.
"We're mostly bracing for impact," Shock said.
Getting a facelift
The Arkansas Department of Transportation transferred ownership of U.S. 71B between the north and south Fulbright Expressways to the city in 2020. That change enables the city to make changes and take on projects along the corridor without having to get the state's approval first.
One such change has already happened. The city this year renamed Archibald Yell Boulevard to Nelson Hackett Boulevard, overhauling the intersection at College Avenue and Rock Street, reducing the number of traffic lanes from four to three and adding traffic signals and crosswalks.
The city has its eyes on four more projects next year.
The largest is extending Rolling Hills Drive into the Fiesta Square shopping center and connecting Appleby Road and Plainview Drive to a roundabout within the center. Design is about 60% finished and the city is still working on acquiring right of way for the project, Brown said. The project's start date depends on when the city acquires all the right of way it needs, he said.
Construction could take up to 15 months, and the estimated cost is $8.8 million, coming from a transportation bond issue voters approved in 2019.
The next largest project would involve work on College Avenue between North and Sycamore streets. Certain sections would be widened, others narrowed, with new sidewalks, lighting and bus stops. Medians with artistic installations and signs are planned intermittently throughout.
The estimated cost of the project is $7.3 million from the bond fund, with federal aid covering $4.8 million. The city has almost finished getting the necessary right of way and has asked the state Department of Transportation for authorization to request bids for contractors. The city needs the state's permission because of the federal aid, Brown said.
Construction should start early next year and take at least a year.
A third project would realign the College Avenue and Millsap Street intersection. All of the lanes would be realigned to match up better, Millsap west of College would get a left-turn lane and the signal timing would be changed with the addition of pedestrian crossings. A new road being called Hemlock Drive would connect Millsap Road north to the roundabout at Sain Street, making it easier for Razorback Transit buses to navigate the area, Brown said.
Estimated project cost is $4.3 million. The city has received a total of $1.6 million in federal aid for design and construction and will ask for another $2 million in aid in 2025. The rest would come from the transportation bond issue. Construction should start late next year.
The final project would add a westbound left-turn lane to North Street at College Avenue and change traffic signal timing with crosswalks and pedestrian signals added. Cost is estimated at nearly $1.8 million in bond money. Construction should start early next year.
The second component of the plan for next year would involve rezoning. College Avenue is generally five lanes of traffic with no sidewalks along many sections, and redevelopment could help make the stretch more user-friendly and safer, Curth said.
A few redevelopment projects have started without city involvement over the last few years. Mixed-use use developments are planned south of the Northwest Arkansas Mall and west of Lewis Ford. Apartments are planned on Sain Street near Mud Creek, and land south of Township has been rezoned for multifamily units.
The common thread among those projects is the addition of housing. The projects will bring about 600 residential units along College Avenue, Curth said. The city hopes to get more housing along the corridor as properties change ownership and are redeveloped over the years, he said.
"In lieu of this owner-developer initiated piecemeal process, staff is recommending moving forward with a holistic study of the corridor and revisiting all of the zoning designations therein," Curth said.
In addition to housing, the rezoning likely would involve increasing development density, establishing maximum setbacks for buildings and encouraging a wider variety of land uses in general, Curth said. Developing the rezoning plan would involve talking to residents and property owners, holding public meetings and releasing a study.
Staff would focus on two segments of the corridor to rezone. The first segment is North College Avenue from North Street to Springdale. The second is South School Avenue from 15th Street to the south Fulbright Expressway.
North Street to Springdale is a 4-mile stretch with 900 addresses and about 400 acres of property adjacent to College Avenue. Fifteenth Street to the south Fulbright Expressway is about 2 miles with 150 addresses and about 200 adjacent acres.
Public meetings for the rezoning plan should start sometime during the second quarter of next year, Curth said. The Planning Commission would review the plan sometime in the third quarter, followed by City Council review and a vote, he said.
On the web
To learn more about Fayettevilles 71B corridor plan, go to: