Fort Smith trash collection again stirs disagreement

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 106 views 

Any assumption that passing an ordinance to give the Fort Smith Department of Sanitation leverage over residential trash collection methods would be easy were proven wrong tonight (July 9).

In a contentious meeting, the Fort Smith Board of Directors passed the ordinance by a vote of 4-3, meaning the ordinance is not yet law and will have to come back before the Board for a second reading at next week's regularly scheduled meeting.

At issue is the Sanitation Department's attempts to bring all residential properties that have had dumpsters into compliance with existing laws, which mandate that commercial trash collection methods cannot take place in residential neighborhoods. Director of Sanitation Baridi Nkokheli told the Board that when his department began to enforce the 37-year-old ordinance last year, there were about 120 residential units out of compliance. Currently, that number sits at around 60, he said.

In bringing the structures up to compliance, he said it became clear that some units that were multiplex units were not suitable for residential collection. The solution, Nkokheli said, was passing the ordinance that would have given him the leverage to make exceptions to the current law if it was found that a dumpster was a more suitable solution.

But residents at the meeting spoke out against the new ordinance and against enforcement of the laws by Nkokheli's department.

"It's a problem for the elderly who rent from us," said property owner Charles Click. "We also have people who place the carts near their front doors. We would like to figure out some way so we can have an option on four-plexes so folks that like that kind of stuff, fine. In our case, it don't work out well because you have front parking. You have four tenants plus their visitors."

He said such crowding makes it difficult for the visitors and residents to get in and out of the parking lot when residential trash containers are at curbside waiting for collection.

"I would like to ask that the code be amended so that owners of four-plexes would be allowed to provide dumpsters for their tenants."

Fort Smith resident David Harris said the problem of residential trash collection would only magnify once residents were provided with recycling containers, as well.

"You'll have eight containers out in front. It will be a little crowded for some of those drivers."

Gary Grimes, another Fort Smith property owner, said all he wanted was a common sense solution, and he did not think replacing dumpsters with residential trash cans was the solution.

Director Pam Weber agreed with many of the resident's arguments and also pushed for an appeals process, something that is not in any of the existing city codes and was not part of the ordinance voted on tonight.

But Director Keith Lau said the ordinance was meant to fix the problems and complaints expressed by residents and Weber.

"I see this as giving latitude to the existing ordinance," he said. "(Nkokheli) doesn't have the latitude to give help under the existing ordinance. We're talking about being able to give a dumpster to that property versus cans."

Weber did not back down from her original opposition to the ordinance.

"I think all citizens deserve an appeal, especially when they are dealing with their government."

Directors Weber, Philip Merry and George Catsavis voted against the ordinance.

In other business, the Board:
• Approved an amendment to the 2009 Unified Development Ordinance of the City of Fort Smith;
• Approved an ordinance ordering the owners of 4301 Wirsing Avenue to demolish the property's structure due to its dilapidated and substandard condition;
• Passed a resolution certifying local government endorsement of Answer Fort Smith's participation in the Tax Back program; and
• Passed a consent agenda totaling $1.297 million for various city projects.