Fort Smith Director and real estate developer Keith Lau ran into a setback on Tuesday (June 5) with his fellow city Board members when they voted 6-0 to send his duplex development plan back to the city’s planning commission to reconsider parking and any other issues that might be of concern to commissioners and neighborhood residents.
Also Tuesday, the Board approved $38 million in Industrial Revenue Bonds for Silgan Plastic Containers’ new Fort Smith manufacturing facility.
According to project architect Brett Abbott, each of the six duplexes at 1001, 1011, and 1021 North 49th Street will contain two units, with around 1,402 square feet of heated living space per unit (or 2,804 per duplex). Each unit will contain four bedrooms and a “common space”
living area with a kitchen. The lower deck will include covered parking for all tenants, personal storage, and an area to keep trash and recycling bins out of sight.
On May 14, Lau won a 6-2 vote to proceed with the four-room “single-family” duplexes technically allowed under the neighborhood’s “RSD-2” zoning. However, more than 40 residents signed a petition against the development (approximately 83% of area households), citing traffic concerns, falling property values, and parking concerns.
They also felt the duplexes were more in line with “multi-family” housing, though the city’s Unified Development Ordinance of 2009 defines it otherwise and Lau’s attorney, Josh Carson, told the Board Lau had “no interest in multiple leases per unit,” adding that if he were to change his mind about that, it would go against what the planning commission approved and not be allowed. Real estate agent Dave Adams of Weichert spoke in favor of the development, calling Abbott’s designs “beautiful” and “fantastic for the city of Fort Smith.”
“It’s modern, unique, and attractive, and with the rental rates as high as they are, it will attract quality people.” Adams also said the duplexes close proximity to Grand Avenue would assure the neighborhood did not suffer the traffic problems feared. “Grand (Avenue) will collect that traffic.”
To the point of rental prices, Lau hasn’t released those yet, but told Talk Business & Politics in an earlier interview they would be in line with Sebastian Commons housing. Lau said he wants to build the duplexes on North 49th because he already has property there, but it’s
difficult to upkeep it because the price points don’t allow him to keep the best tenants.
“They park in the yards, don’t cut their grass. You’ll notify them, and they still won’t do it. With these, we’ll have lawn care, and they’ll just be professionally managed and cared for.”
Even so, resident Roberta Parks, speaking against the plan on Tuesday, noted Lau’s development would allow for 16 residents per lot while the remainder of the neighborhood averages 2.4, and as such, “would not fit the personality of the neighborhood.” Director Tracy Pennartz made the motion to refer the request back to the commission, emphasizing parking as a major concern. Director Andre Good, while praising the plans, felt the area “wasn’t right for it” due to many of the concerns voiced. Director Mike Lorenz said he was not against referring it back for further consideration, but added he was not against the development.
The matter wouldn’t have come before the Board since the structures are allowed by zoning. However, Lau’s development plan called for variances consisting of 25-30-foot setbacks for front and side yards. Another variance asked the commission to consider reducing the 10,500
minimum square foot/four dwellings per acre lot size requirement to 9,600 square feet and 4.6 dwellings per acre. Getting final approval will make the difference between Lau being able to build six duplexes or only three.
THE SILGAN BONDS
Also Tuesday, the Board voted unanimously on the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds for Silgan Plastic Containers. Repayment of the $38 million will be the sole obligation of Silgan. It will help the company realize 50% savings on normal property taxes for a period of 10 years and enable it to build and grow its 100,000-square foot operation that will result in 150 new jobs over a three-year period paying an average hourly wage of $20 per hour.