Fort Smith Board approves zoning to make way for controversial Dollar General

by Aric Mitchell ( 1,626 views 

A planned Dollar General store that stirred controversy at a recent Fort Smith planning commission meeting has won approval to move forward from the city’s Board of Directors.

The Board — acting in light of a finished development plan that was not provided at the Sept. 12 meeting, and a 4-3 preference from commissioners — voted unanimously in favor of Cobb Brothers and Westphal Properties appeal to change zoning for the extraterritorial jurisdiction outside city limits from “Open-1” (allowing single-family residential) to “Commercial-Light,” or C-2. The zoning change effectively allows the developers to launch the project at the southwest corner of the intersection of Arkansas Highway 253 and Durham Avenue.

The 4-3 vote from planning commissioners fell one vote shy of resulting in a formal recommendation, but it did provide a starting point Cobb/Westphal was able to build on in spite of opposition from audience members at Tuesday night’s (Oct. 3) Board meeting.

According to a memo from Fort Smith Development Services Director Wally Bailey, the plan “meets or exceeds the UDO (Unified Development Ordinance) design standards” in six key areas. It utilizes brick on 51% or more of the exterior; features screening from Durham Avenue with adjacent 10-foot landscaping and from Highway 253 with a 20-foot wide parking lot; hosts a 6-foot tall privacy fence adjacent to Durham Avenue to screen the development from the existing four residences across the street; screens rooftop mechanical equipment; utilizes a monument sign adjacent to the highway instead of a pole sign; and shields exterior lighting to keep it from trespassing onto adjacent properties.

The developers have also decided to move the entrance to Highway 253, far south from the Durham Avenue intersection, and they will hide the trash receptacle on the south side of the building away from the residential area, along with the store’s loading area.

Even with the changes, residents were opposed. Many of the 15 who spoke out against it at the Sept. 12 meeting showed up Tuesday night, arguing that the land did not need to be developed further and that a Dollar General specifically would hurt property values.

Resident Tommy Tuck referred to Dollar Generals as “the unhealthiest stores,” citing the country’s diabetes/obesity problems and arguing that Dollar General contributes to it by selling “soda pops, potato chips, candy, and beer.”

The 9,100-square foot facility will move forward, but it is not clear when construction will begin (or finish). When it does, it will become the 12th location answering to Fort Smith zoning regulations, though it would not officially be a part of the city. Extraterritorial jurisdictions, or ETJs, give governments the legal ability to exercise authority beyond normal boundaries. In theory, ETJs protect property values by imposing some form of order to developments outside formal city limits.

Also Tuesday, the Board approved a request from Fort Smith Police Chief Nathaniel Clark to make purchases of approximately $750,000 worth of equipment from the department’s unexpended funds. Expenditures will include nine new police units and outfitting ($579,078), three outfitted Harley Davidson motorcycles ($75,600), and the rest in replacement TASERs and officer training sponsored by the FBI Law Enforcement Executive Development Association (LEEDA).