Fort Smith directors reject hospice plan; call for action on Ben Geren Park

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 95 views 

In somewhat of a surprise move, the Fort Smith Board of Directors overturned the Fort Smith Planning Commission’s approval of a plan by Peachtree Hospice to build a 11,500-square-foot 12-bed hospice center at 9000 South Dallas.

Peachtree sought to buy the property owned by a former Presbyterian Church and surrounded by residential areas on three sides, with Fort Smith Public School and Boys and Girls Club property to the west. The property needed to be rezoned to transitional-2 from its existing residential-4-single-family-duplex zoning. The planning commission approved the request with an 8-0 vote and one abstention.

The controversy boiled down to those wanting to preserve the neighborhood and a Peachtree plan that sought to expand and provide needed hospice care.

Fort Smith attorney Greg Smith said voting against the Peachtree plan would send the “wrong message” that hospice care should be “shuttered away” out of sight. He said with cycling of the baby boomer generation, the demand for hospice care will grow and that Fort Smith should desire the reputation as a city not afraid to provide residential settings for people in their last days.

“This is the perfect spot for a hospice (facility),” Smith argued before the board. “This is part of life and we should not hide from the inevitable.”

Ray Fulmer, the attorney representing property owners opposed to the Peachtree plan, said the decision should be based on technical rather than emotional grounds. Fulmer pointed out that the transitional zoning request is technically only allowed for property between residential and commercial zones.

“This is a totally residential area,” Fulmer reminded the board. “According to the city’s own code, this is inappropriate.”

Wally Bailey, director of planning for Fort Smith, said technically the proposed Peachtree development is in the midst of residential zones, but the school and Boys & Girls Club property to the west likely would be commercial or a transitional zone if not used for the current purposes.

Several residents said the hospice would cause traffic problems and lower property values. Following those comments, City Director Gary Campbell reminded the audience and board that the same concerns were voiced when Arkansas Best Corp. sought to build its headquarters on Old Greenwood Road, but that those concerns never materialized.

Nevertheless, Directors Andre Good, Cole Goodman, Bill Maddox and Kevin Settle voted to oppose the Peachtree plan, with Directors Campbell, Don Hutchings and Steve Tyler supporting the plan.

• The Directors also approved allowing the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation to submit a bid to provide trash and recycling services to the city of Van Buren. Van Buren asked the department to bid on the contract, according to Baridi Nkokheli, director of the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation. Director Maddox was the only opposition vote to the request.

• The city board approved authorizing the use of industrial revenue bonds up to $65 million for a possible expansion project at Gerber Food’s Fort Smith plant. The possible expansion of a new cereal production line could add up to 37 new jobs.

• City Director Settle requested that City Administrator Dennis Kelly more aggressively pursue a possible “50/50” partnership with Sebastian County regarding ownership of Ben Geren Park. City and county officials met March 16 to discuss the possibility of a shared effort at the park, but little progress has been reported by either party since that initial meeting.

• City Administrator Kelly said the city is reviving the 9-11 memorial service. The event is tentatively scheduled for 10 a.m., Sept. 11, on the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith campus.