Entrepreneur proposes land buy at Chaffee Crossing for equine therapy expansion

by Aric Mitchell ([email protected]) 2,537 views 

Image of equine therapy from The Equestrian Zone.

For one family in Greenwood, Ark., giving up on their daughter with autism was not an option. Children diagnosed with the condition seldom show emotion, and moments every parent lives for – like having your little one wrap their arms around your neck and tell you they love you – are far less common than they are in more traditional parent-child relationships.

For close to a decade, traditional therapies failed, leading the parents to seek alternative therapies. Their search for alternatives led them to Equestrian Zone in Russellville, Ark. The nonprofit organization began their little girl with one of 11 donated horses. The parents knew they were on to something when they brought their daughter to the facility one day and watched her place a kiss on the animal.

“After eight years, can you imagine what the parents’ hope is for this child?” said Barbara Durkee, fundraising chairwoman of Equestrian Zone.

The organization’s purpose is to treat special needs and conditions like autism, cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, and Down syndrome with equine-assisted activities. Durkee shared the organization’s “success stories” with the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) in a June 15 meeting at Chaffee Crossing.

Her purpose: to speak on behalf of Cliff Cabaness, a longtime resident of the Fort Smith region, who recently moved back to the city of Barling. Cabaness launched Auntie Anne’s pretzel shop in the early 1990s and has deep ties to the region. He is hoping to purchase a large parcel of the FCRA’s remaining land – 253 acres for the proposed amount of $151,800 – with at least 60 acres reserved for the Equestrian Zone’s expansion.

June 15 marked his third meeting with FCRA representatives. While saying he hoped the process could have been further along, he commended the real estate review committee for carefully considering “best use” for the area, much of which is located north of Flightmasters and the Barling Lagoons in a flowage easement or flood plain — difficult parcels for buildings or development.

Justifying the $600 per acre asking price, Cabaness said he has bids from two companies to add “road repair, privacy fencing, the shale, the topper, that sort of thing.” With the bids incorporated, his overall price would be $298,800-$327,800.

“The fencing will be clean and crisp and allow for no dumping of materials — washers, dryers, etcetera. And the fencing is not to make it exclusive to us, but to keep it safe, clean, and without trash,” he said, adding that his overall cost basis would be $1,181-$1,295 per acre when factoring in the clean-up and development.

“I’m very vested in the area. I want to clean it up and I’d like it to look like mine across the street,” Cabaness said, referencing a previous 90 acres he purchased that now features a “revitalized” equestrian facility, a house, five remodeled barns, and 3,900 feet of iron and rock fencing.

In addition to Equestrian Zone, Cabaness hopes to attract area riding clubs to the Chaffee Crossing property.

“I’d like to generate tax revenue for the city of Barling immediately and get it back on the tax roll with the improvements. I’ve got a personal investment. I would love to partner with this 501(c)(3) and bring traffic that has not been able to ride in this area, to buy fuel and meals while they’re here.”

Cabaness believes his vision will be “a fantastic opportunity for the kids, this organization, as well as the Barling community.”

The FCRA isn’t saying no despite the fact Cabaness’ proposal would remove more than 10% of the development’s remaining 2,000-2,500 acres and would be a relatively private use. The FCRA was created in 1997 to find industrial, commercial, residential, and recreational use for 7,000 acres deeded by the federal government as part of the Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) commission decision two decades ago.

FCRA board and real estate review committee member Dr. Paul Beran told Talk Business & Politics after Thursday’s meeting the review committee does have reservations — hence the two previous meetings — but they’re not ready to reject.

“The committee wanted to consider the greater use of that much land and whether or not a private individual buying it for a relatively private use that doesn’t really have a lot of economic development opportunity in the traditional sense, was consistent with the charge of the committee,” Beran said. “So we just wanted to review the documentation from the incorporation of Chaffee from FCRA and make sure that we are operating in the best interests of the community and the people in following the guidelines that were set for us to use.”

Cabaness said on Thursday he would be willing to put the Equestrian Zone use “in writing.” If approved, the nonprofit would start with at least 10 horses on 20 of the 253 acres with an additional 40 acres reserved for expansion.