Fort Smith Board OKs controversial rezoning issue, approves Riverfront park plan

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 93 views 

The Fort Smith Board of Directors entertained a light agenda, but not one without conflict at Tuesday night’s (March 15) regular meeting from the Fort Smith Schools Public Service Center.

Taking center stage was a contentious zoning request put forth by businessman Mark Goodson with approval from the city’s planning commission to turn property at 5500 Massard Road into a mini-storage facility.

Additionally, the Board approved 2016 funding for the HOME Investment Partnerships and Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Programs as well as the proposed Master Plan on the in-development Riverfront Park along Riverfront Drive.

Ron Yates and a meeting room filled with detractors showed up to voice their disapproval following a March 1 vote in which City Directors approved Goodson’s request to move the land’s zoning from Commercial-2 (“C2”) to the more restrictive Planned Zoning District (“PZD”) for the specific purpose of mini-storage units as well as boat, truck, trailer, and RV storage, on approximately 15.3 acres of land.

The prior vote failed to get the five directors needed to pass with suspension of the rules. (Director Don Hutchings was absent from the March 1 meeting.) That meant the full ordinance would need to be read on two more occasions before it could pass.

Yates requested the Board to reconsider its vote from the last regular meeting, noting that the mini-storage facility could create a disturbance because it is located too close to a residential area “and would be open 24/7,” he said.

Of those in attendance against the zoning change, three others spoke out. Bill Hansen was concerned the facility would “look pretty rough” and devalue some of the property in the area as did area resident Diane Fagen, who said she “totally empathize(d) with the people who invested in that property” and would now have to share space with a potential eyesore.

Jim Post, in urging City Directors to consider a revote, remarked that “the character of the neighborhood” was at stake and that since the area was developed as residential, Goodson’s request was “totally out of line.”

Defending the facility, Goodson reminded City Directors that C2 – the current zoning – meant that a number of businesses could be in the area with no special steps required, including “convenience stores, hardware stores, lawn and garden stores,” among others. Ultimately, directors did do a revote, but sided with Goodson and the Planning Commission 5-2, with Directors George Catsavis and Tracy Pennartz dissenting.

Also Tuesday, the Board approved CDBG and HOME funds disbursements for 2016, noting that the programs would allocate $767,897 and $308,315, respectively.

This $1.076 million allocation makes Fort Smith No. 2 in the state behind Little Rock ($1.8 million) for receipt of funds from both programs. Rounding out the top five are Springdale (No. 3 at $830,595), North Little Rock (No. 4, $738,767), and Pine Bluff (No. 5, $628,766).

Fort Smith’s CDBG funds will be spread across 20 line items, with the largest portion going toward Fort Smith Housing Assistance ($231,801), while HOME funds will go primarily to the Crawford-Sebastian Community Development Council for help with downpayment assistance and housing construction for low-income families.

Finally, the Board approved a proposed Master Plan from Crafton Tull & Associates on the 51-acre, $35 million Riverfront Park. The city’s Parks and Recreation Department will begin the development with two new adult soccer fields (360-by-240 feet) on the southern portion of the parcel that runs along Riverfront Drive.

It will be partially funded from the 1/8-cent sales tax allocated to the department (around $7 million over the next several years). The largest expense of the park is an indoor recreation center estimated to cost $26 million. Parks and Recreation Director Doug Reinert acknowledged that such a facility would need to consist of partnerships with schools, hospitals, and other entities outside of city government and did not have an estimate of when it might come to fruition. (Link here for more detail on the proposed park.)