Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) Executive Director Ivy Owen found himself at the head of the table following pointed remarks he made to Talk Business & Politics in an interview last week.
TB&P posted the story Wednesday afternoon (Aug. 30). By noon Thursday (Aug. 31), everyone at the meeting had read it, but did not have the chance to discuss.
Owen began the meeting by owning the remarks but stating he had “gotten a little unwound.” Nevertheless, he stood by the comments and said they were “pretty much verbatim quotes” of what he’d said regarding criticisms of CIP committee members — and others within Fort Smith — had leveled toward the Chaffee Crossing development.
Owen said “what was said was said,” and there was little point rehashing it before launching into his real purpose for the day — asking the capital improvement plan (CIP) committee for streets, bridges, and drainage to consider measures for the widening or improvement of Wells Lake Road to deal with impending traffic surges in the wake of expansion from developments like the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education (ACHE), ArcBest, and ERC Properties.
At one point in the meeting, Brown said the city had “transferred a lot of money” from one end of the city to Chaffee Crossing, claiming it was “draining the rest of the city.”
Owen responded: “You know what that is? Growth. I swore I wasn’t going to get into this, but since you brought it up, I will. This didn’t just happen five years ago. This didn’t just happen 10 years ago. This didn’t happen 20 years ago. This happened 23 years ago. So it’s not like we’ve been sitting around not doing anything for 23 years. The city’s known about it. The city administrations have known about it. Everybody’s known about this, that it’s going to happen. I’ve been there 10 years, and we haven’t stopped. So it ain’t something that just came up a year and a half ago. The city — any city, not just Fort Smith — if that property weren’t there by virtue of BRAC, and the city had to grow, where would it grow? It’s not going north. It’s not going west, and it’s not going south, so it’s got to go somewhere east. Sometime along the line that property at the military was going to become available because they weren’t using it. In any other situation, you would have had to annex it. And in the annexation, you’re going to have to spend money — you’re going to have to pay utilities and you’re going to have to do all the stuff that you’re doing for us now. So it’s not draining one part of the city to put out a check. If you look at it that way, God bless you.”
Ultimately, Owen and Chaffee Crossing developers were able to walk out of the meeting with peace of mind something would be done to address the issue. While a long-term fix is still a bit more distant given the street fund’s limited revenue and other needs throughout the city, a $1.4 million resurfacing was discussed and won unanimous support from committee members with the recommendation FCRA chip in 50% (or $700,000) to the project, which could begin as early as next summer.
The resurfacing would focus on a 7,000-foot stretch of road starting just north of Massard and running up to Zero Street/Frontier Road. As ERC Chairman Rod Coleman described it, previous and ongoing development was “turning the road into gravel,” causing traffic disturbances that would be helped out in the short term by a resurfacing fix. The road is also a popular location for cyclists throughout the community, and if the Fort Smith Board of Directors signs off on the project, it would include a sharrow to support such enthusiasts.
The committee decided to vote after Owen, Chaffee Crossing developers, and other FCRA representatives had left the meeting. David Armbruster — the CIP committee member who had suggested at an Aug. 3 committee meeting the FCRA “put the brakes” on developments at Chaffee Crossing — acknowledged Wells Lake Road had a resurfacing need after driving the area. Brown voted yes with committee members, but immediately addressed a remark Owen had made in the Talk Business & Politics interview that “other interests” were influencing the CIP’s scrutiny of Chaffee Crossing’s contributions.
Brown alluded to Owen’s comment there were “outside influences prodding” CIP members. While Owen did not directly state those influences were coming from downtown business developers, Brown said Owen had indicated there were people “pulling strings about the downtown area and trying to influence our decisions.”
For the record, Brown said, “I have not had communication with anyone other than those in this room and maybe one or two average joes. No one from downtown or anywhere else has approached me or discussed with me any sharing of dollars. Anybody that knows me knows I wouldn’t talk to them about that in the first place, and I don’t think anybody in this room would either, and I just want to make it public that I have not been influenced by anybody else, and I really take insult to that.”
“I just want to look out for the taxpayers,” Brown added.