FCRA approves high volume of extensions, with once promised large shopping center project in limbo

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 181 views 

The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) approved five extension requests and two new sales. It also made a move to reclaim 40 acres of land set aside for low- to moderate-income housing and provided updates on the Interstate 49 bridge and Highway 255/Frontier Road projects.

FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen acknowledged the high number of extension requests and said Fort Smith Mayor Sandy Sanders had been in touch with some concerns over the volume.

“I talked to him quite extensively on that and I assured him that the Board was very concerned about the extensions as well. Each one of these has its own extenuating circumstances, but I can assure you and I assured him that we are very much on top of it,” Owen said at the FCRA monthly meeting on Thursday (Aug. 18).

The first of the extension requests came from the House of Restoration Church, which had its previous request denied by the Board in July. Since that time, Pastor Tashala Devrow was able to renegotiate with the FCRA after reducing plans for the building from the original $2.8 million and securing the promise of a $1.3 million donation. The Board approved the extension unanimously on the grounds that Devrow provides proof of the $1.3 million in funding by Sept. 1.

Secondly, TRCP Investments, the group behind the Chaffee Crossing RV Park, requested more time to negotiate an agreement with the city of Fort Smith to make planned property improvements “more financially feasible.”

“We did hire an engineer and set up a meeting with the city of Fort Smith … but of course it did not go well,” the group wrote in its extension request. “Everything they are requiring us to do will make the project cost twice as much as it should.” The TRCP representative presented ideas for cutting costs on its project and won approval of a one-year extension.

Thirdly, property owner Alex Fuentes received a one-year extension on his seven acres with the goal of building a Mexican restaurant and shopping center. Fuentes is the owner of El Zarape on Rogers Avenue.

Extension numbers four and five were each related to the same project involving Chaffee Crossing Development Group and Chaffee Crossing Real Estate. The developers had plans to develop two separate properties together as one, but Dr. Marion Smith of Chaffee Crossing Real Estate died before the project could come to fruition. Her husband inherited the stock from that company and has no interest in the project, which would be a large shopping center utilizing 90 acres along Highway 59 in Barling.

Donna Reed, Smith’s sister and partner on the project, is working with a group of investors to buy out Smith’s husband. As such, she requested “another six months to a year” to get off the ground. The FCRA approved a one-year extension.

Also Tuesday, the FCRA reached an agreement with Rev. Ulysses Washington of the Mission United Methodist Church to release hold on 30 of 40 acres set aside for low- to moderate-income housing. The original agreement was for Washington to be deeded 10 acres for development and another 10 acres once the development was complete, up to the 40-acre maximum.

The project never got off the ground, though, and Washington has since decided to relinquish control of it. Under the new agreement, FCRA will control 30 acres and Washington will be allowed to market the original 10. However, Owen said, there is already an interested developer for all 40 acres, and it made more sense from a financial standpoint for him to negotiate the 10 with Washington and the 30 with FCRA.

The FCRA was tasked with developing former military property under an initiative from the Department of Defense in 2000. At that time, it was required to reserve 40 acres for affordable housing. That stipulation will still apply, Owen said, “but we don’t have an organization willing to do it yet.”

“If we have someone come to us, we would find them some land somewhere else. Lend-A-Hand is not wanting to do it, though,” Owen added.

Owen offered updates on the I-49 bridge and the relocation of Highway 255 to Frontier Road as well as the widening of Frontier to five lanes. Concerning the I-49 bridge over the Arkansas River, Owen said engineering on the estimated $350 million project has been approved.

“The Highway Department has a policy that once they start the engineering on a project, they will complete it within 10 years, so some of the people in this room will be driving on that bridge in 10 years, and we couldn’t have said that three or four years ago,” Owen revealed to the Board. “It’s still at the top of the Governor’s priority list to get that done. That’s one thing that spearheaded this along, and our Highway Commissioner has been right on top of it.”

On the 255/Frontier Road project, Owen said the FCRA had received a minute order showing the authorized agreements between the cities of Fort Smith and Barling and the FCRA from the Arkansas State Highway Commission.

“The city’s participating, we’re participating, Barling’s participating, and we’re all going to benefit from it,” Owen said, adding that the intersection at Wells Lake Road and 255 will have to be reconfigured. “The city and the state will all have to be involved in that. Wells Lake will then connect with Frontier and both will intersect with the new 255. That’ll be a new intersection at the top of the hill. With ArcBest and ARCOM (the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine) opening next year, we’ll have an additional 1,000 people a day all out here at one time, so it’s sorely needed.”

Sales were light for the month with the FCRA approving one $15,000 purchase of a building at 7413 Buckhorn St., to buyer Humanity Salon and Spa for a planned two-story beauty treatment facility. The second transaction was $26,100 for 2.9 acres to be used as a single family development.

The next regular meeting of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority will be Sept. 15.