Fort Smith Board hears update on Chaffee redevelopment, rejects effort to regulate Airbnb sites

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 189 views 

The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) is down to its last 1,800 marketable acres, FCRA Executive Director Ivy Owen said Tuesday (Dec. 13) at the Fort Smith Board of Directors study session.

The authority formed in 1997 to begin the process of converting deeded military property to industrial, commercial, residential, and recreational use. It was a response to the federal Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) Commission, which recommended in 1995 a permanent closure of Fort Chaffee, then an active U.S. Army post with around 72,000 acres.

The federal government opted to lease 65,000 acres to the Arkansas Army National Guard for training purposes, returning the remainder to civilian authorities for reuse, thus creating a need for the organization.

The FCRA began actively marketing the property 16 years ago and has sold off 4,405 acres leaving 2,595 acres altogether – 1,754 is marketable and the other 841 are “wetlands,” Owen said. During that span, FCRA’s land sales have amounted to just over 275 acres per year, placing a potential decommission date in about 6-1/3 years, or as Owen told Talk Business & Politics after the study session, “a minimum of six years to maybe eight and a half.”

The FCRA’s future would then be up to the cities of Fort Smith and Barling as well as Sebastian County to decide.

“We’re past the halfway point,” Owen said, adding that after the land is sold, the group’s remaining function will be “aggressive marketing instead of controlling the development; making sure what’s coming out of the ground is what we intended to come out of the ground; and targeting the transition back to the city of Fort Smith, the city of Barling, and the county.”

Owen continued: “Because there’s going to come a time – and there’s no set standard on when that is – but when an audit says that our physical assets are low enough and don’t justify us being out there any more, then the cities have to make a decision that that’s it.”

Asked to describe that process, Owen said an auditor would “come in and do an assessment of our acreage that we have left from what we have sold, the contractual obligations we have, employees that we have under contract to be employed – all of that – and then they’ll make the decision whether it’s time to cut the umbilical cord.”

According to the FCRA, the land at Chaffee Crossing has brought in $1.208 billion in capital investments, attracting businesses like Umarex, ArcBest, MARS PetCare, and Glatfelter, while also landing the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE) and its inaugural facility, the Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine (ARCOM), which opens to its first class of 150 students in August 2017. In all, Chaffee Crossing now supports more than 3,000 jobs in the Fort Smith metro region as well as a number of trails, commercial/retail businesses, educational institutions, churches, and residential neighborhoods.

Also Tuesday, Fort Smith Interim Utilities Director Bob Roddy of the consulting firm Burns & McDonnell briefed city directors on a required ordinance from the city’s $480 million consent decree for violations of the federal Clean Water Act.

The city must have a Fats, Oils, and Grease (FOG) Program to ensure proper collection and disposal of such wastes separate from the city’s wastewater system. To do so, the city must grant itself the legal authority for tracking of nonresidential “FOG Generators” – entities like restaurants that create fats, oils, and grease as a product of their doing business. Food processing industries would be excluded from the requirement because they are already covered under existing pretreatment programs, Roddy said.

The program would require such businesses to obtain a permit, install a FOG control device if one is not already present, maintain it, track the amount of FOG waste, keep proper records on collection, and submit to inspections and enforcement. The city will not initially impose fees or fee schedules to the FOG Program, but the ordinance, if passed, would allow it the option moving forward.

“We did not include that because we wanted an ordinance that would be as business friendly as possible,” Roddy said.

Lastly, the Board was unwilling to pursue regulations for short term rental housing like the kind popularized by Airbnb. Fort Smith Development Services Director Wally Bailey said his department had received a complaint about one house being used as an Airbnb, but that was not enough for City Director Keith Lau.

“I have no interest in pursuing it. I would have to see a clear, definable problem and not just somebody saying, ‘I don’t want someone doing this in my backyard,'” Lau said. Directors Don Hutchings, Andre Good, and George Catsavis agreed.

There are seven houses in the Fort Smith area signed up for Airbnb with an average weekly market value of $302 per week, according to the official website.