University of Arkansas at Fort Smith students will have another option when it comes to housing, thanks to the approval of rezoning requests by the Fort Smith Board of Directors at its Tuesday meeting.

The first request changed the classification of 5601 Park Ave. from Residential Multifamily Medium Density (RM-3) to a Planned Zoning District (PZD). According to the request memo sent to the city Planning Commission, a single-family home will be absorbed into the surrounding PZD and used as student housing owned and overseen by Central Christian Church.

Pastor Tim Beasley said the church will operate two houses — one men’s and one women’s home — for students interested in low-cost living and participating in a discipleship program that includes weekly Bible studies, service projects and Sunday church attendance. 

Without any modification, the church is looking at housing eight students the first year. Going forward, Beasley said the houses could undergo minimal modification and hold 12 and 16 students between the two. He believes it is the first church-based ministry in the area that also offers a housing option.

“This is brand new for us, and it seems like it’s the right place,” Beasley said. “It’s convenient — it’s adjacent to our facility. If it takes off, if it works like a charm, who knows? We might end up with other stuff, but for now, it’s kind of a big question mark as to if it will work or not.”

A second request includes 2¼ acres at Park Avenue and North Waldron Road that is categorized as PZD, but the board approved a change to RM-3. This will allow it to be used for 13 duplexes and a single-family house as part of an already-approved development by Willowbrook LLC.

According to a memo sent to the Planning Commission, the board approved rezoning requests earlier in the year for the two entities, but they recently submitted new requests that are more compatible with the projects each desires to complete.

Beasley said the church originally had a strip of property it was not going to use further, and Willowbrook was going to demolish the house at 5601 Park Ave. to build additional duplexes in the area. He suggested the two organizations essentially trade comparatively-sized property.

“It was a pretty good scenario where they got a piece of property, which was better for them to build duplexes and a better layout,” Beasley said. “And we got a piece of property that squared up our footprint as well. It’s basically a land swap.”

Director of Planning and Zoning Wally Bailey said the two organizations are making a land transaction that will “work better for the community.”

Some residents in the area were concerned about the expansion when the first rezoning requests were made because of the possibility of increased traffic, but a report found it would have little impact on current homeowners. There has been no opposition to the changes.