story by Ryan Saylor
The Fort Smith Planning Commission passed a set of planned zoning districts Tuesday (March 11), both of which faced opposition from residents in neighborhoods surrounding the proposed districts.
The PZDs, one located along Massard Road and another at the site of Fianna Hills Country Club, must still go before the Fort Smith Board of Directors for final approval on April 1.
The Fianna Hills PZD is necessary for developer Lance Beaty with Fort Smith-based FSM Redevelopment Partners to turn the aging country club into a four-story facility that will revitalize the property at a cost of about $20 million.
At issue for many in attendance were the guest suites to be included in the new facility. The suites, Beaty said, would only be available for use by members and their guests and would not be available for use by the general public.
Resident Jerry Rusnick asked specifically how such a rule, which is written into the PZD ordinance, would be enforced. According to Planning Director Wally Bailey, Beaty's application for the PZD included information stating that a governing body at the Fianna Hills Country Club would enforce such requirements, though he said should the PZD regulations not be followed, the city would have the option of pursuing legal action against Beaty's company after initial attempts to resolve the situation non-legally.
Sebastian County Justice of the Peace Danny Aldridge, whose home is the second home along Essex Drive leading away from the country club, said he did not want the PZD approved because of what it could do to his home value, as well as his contention that his view would be obstructed by the larger building. Aldridge also argued that permitted uses within the UDO could open the facility to other uses beyond what Beaty has proposed should the development ultimately fail.
"The PZD has many permitted uses that is spelled out and has a number that's conditional and some that are (not)," he said. "And it is dually noted that the country club and the golf course are permitted uses. But also in there, a permitted use that they've asked you to do is have a group home for a family and defined by the city's own people, that is a residence that can house up to eight mental or physical state custodial inmates. Now I do not want that kind of facility two doors down from my home. If that was in there as a conditional use, where it would have to come back to you, it would be different. But it's not. It's a permitted use."
Bailey addressed the issue, stating that "group homes" are permitted in all city residential zones, adding that the city is complying with federal law and the homes are not permitting the housing of criminal offenders but instead handicapped individuals.
While there was opposition to the PZD, with about half of the more than 50 in attendance raising their hands in opposition to the project, the other half of those in the room raised their hands in support of the project.
Resident John Higgin pointed out that if the PZD was not approved and FSM Redevelopment Partners is unable to move forward with the project, there is a chance the current owners could close the country club, leaving the golf course open to residential two zoning, which would permanently alter the golf course in a way he said was worse than any construction at the site of the current clubhouse.
Another resident, Champ Hinton, said he lives right next to the country club and was in favor of the development.
"I'm for these guys 100% and I totally understand what they're doing. I don't see how the city could put any objection to a $20 million facility that's going to be outstanding in the state run by a golf company that's a national organization that doesn't run anything but prestige courses," he said. "I think it will be a benefit to the city and I know it will be a benefit to Fianna Hills. And it will supply 75 to 100 jobs. That sure won't hurt. We need those in the city."
The commission approved the PZD in a vote of 9-0.
The other PZD approved Tuesday night included far less detail on the planned development to take place at 4401 Massard Road. The property, which is zoned for multi-family use, is proposed to be turned into an office and retail park.
According to property owner Cliff Cabaness, president and CEO of Trinity Multifamily, he has received a lot of interest from individuals more interested in the property for commercial use.
"Some high end medical and commercial (businesses) have made contact," he told The City Wire, though he added that no contracts have been signed for any construction on the property.
Many of the residents who spoke in opposition to the plan have said the noise of a commercial and office complex would disrupt the neighborhood north of the facility.
Resident Tim Post insisted that the Massard Road area was more residential than commercial. He was among a group of 42 residents who presented a petition to the commission asking that it restrict the types of businesses to be included businesses that he said would "not have any weekend or evening disturbance."
Restrictions included within the PZD include limiting building heights to no more than three stories to comply with Federal Aviation Administration regulations (the PZD is in the flight path of Fort Smith Regional Airport), making all buildings have a pitched roof with no visible equipment on the top of the facilities, allowing a buffer between any development and the neighborhood of a few dozen feet and limiting any convenience store development to the south of the PZD and making sure any lighting only bleeds onto Massard Road and not into the neighborhood adjacent to the site.
The commission passed the PZD with eight votes and one abstention.