Residents Raise Support to Keep Pratt Property Undeveloped

Pratt Place Inn & Barn, a historic hotel and event venue, is located on the Markham Hill property which Fayetteville residents have been fighting to maintain since 2018.

Fayetteville residents have been trying to stop the Specialized Real Estate Group from developing on the Markham Hill property, home to Pratt Place Inn, since 2018 and have created a petition and attended city council meetings to try and voice their opinions.

In 2018, Fayetteville City Council members rezoned the historical 144-acre Markham Hill property, said Andrew Garner, planning director for the City of Fayetteville. The property was rezoned to add 80 hotel rooms to Pratt Place Inn, 5,000 square feet of event space, 12,000 square feet of restaurant and commercial space and 521 dwelling units. 

The subdivision committee submitted plans Oct. 31 for 26 single family homes to be added to the property.

Council members unanimously approved the proposals for new developments while preserving 40% of the property by keeping 60 acres of open space untouched, Garner said.

The Specialized Real Estate Group, a development company, bought the Markham Hill property in 2016 after a family descendant who owned the property went bankrupt, Orton said.

“I think that if we all had known what was going on, a conservationist group would have bought it to preserve it.”

Fayetteville resident Lisa Orton, 62, has been petitioning for the complete preservation of Markham Hill since August 2018, she said. Orton grew up next to Markham Hill and wants the area to remain a quiet, wooded area of town, similar to how it was when she grew up there.

“I’d like Fayetteville to remain as small as possible with as many trees as possible and to be special in that way,” Orton said.

Orton organized the 509-member Facebook group “Friends of Markham Hill” on Aug. 29, 2018, to communicate with people who want to preserve the property. She also organized a petition to send to city officials, she said. As of Nov. 7, the petition has 4,108 signatures of its 5,000-signature goal.

Garner thinks the commercial developments on the property, including 80 additional hotel rooms, will bring in more revenue to the city and it will allow people to experience the trails and nature in the Markham Hill area, he said.

“There's certainly more potential for more tax revenue,” Garner said. “It’s also an opportunity to unlock some of that open space, and having development and open trails means that more people can go and enjoy it.”

Orton thinks that Markham Hill is important to preserve because of the historical significance and the ecological importance, she said. The history of Markham Hill dates back to 1900, when the Pratt family settled there. 

The Waterman-Archer house on Markham Hill has been listed in the National Register of Historic Places since June 1999, according to the National Park Service.

Orton thinks that preserving Markham Hill will meet two of Fayetteville’s Vision 2050–Guiding Principles: a naturally beautiful city and ecosystem preservation, according to Orton’s petition on Change.org

The City’s vision provides the framework for the future planning. It should guide future policy, projects and plans, decisions and actions, and operations looking forward to the year 2050, according to the Strategic Planning Final Report of 2017.

Orton’s petitions and attempts to appeal rezoning have failed and she thinks that city officials do not listen to the residents’ opinions, she said.

“It's very frustrating for more and more citizens of Fayetteville that the city officials just think they’re ignorant and don't know any better,” Orton said. 

City officials took public input into account and tried to balance what residents want with the development, Garner said. 

“The council debated it quite a bit last year,” Garner said. “They had neighborhood meetings, they certainly listen to the public. That's part of the process.”

The last time Markham Hill has seen development was with the Pratt Place Inn built in 2008, and the original building was built in 1895, Garner said. City officials have submitted the residential development plans for Markham Hill, but nothing has been built yet.

Orton hopes that her efforts will be enough to save Markham Hill from development, she said.

“It would be a miracle and we've always been the underdog,” Orton said. “But that doesn't mean you give up.”

Abby Zimmardi is a staff reporter for the Arkansas Traveler, where she has been a staff reporter since April 2019.

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