Fort Smith Board approves zoning change for Casey’s store, but more votes required

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,037 views 

This aerial photograph shows the location of the planned Casey’s General Store at South 46th Street and Rogers Avenue in Fort Smith.

It will take a few more votes to make it certain, but a plan to build a Casey’s General Store to be built on the corner of 46th Street and Rogers Avenue, was approved by the Fort Smith Board of Directors Tuesday (Nov. 6).

The ordinance, which would change the zoning the parcel of land from RSD-2 (residential single family duplex low/medium) to C-2 (commercial light), was approved by a vote of 4 to 3 with directors George Catsavis, Kevin Settle and Tracy Pennartz voting against. Because the ordinance was not voted for by at least five directors, it will require two more readings with majority for votes before it is adopted.

Once adopted, the ordinance will pave the way for the Sister of St. Scholastica to sell the parcel of their land at the northwest corner of 46th Street and Rogers Avenue to Casey’s General Store for construction of a convenience store and gas station. A convenience store is already located directly across 46th Street from the property in question, and a strip mall is located across Rogers Avenue. The Fort Smith Planning Commission voted to recommend the zoning change at their meeting Oct. 9.

However, Fort Smith attorney John Alford, representing property owners at Free Ferry Heights and along South 46th St, appealed the rezoning at Tuesday’s board meeting.

“St. Scholastica has been a center point for Fort Smith for 100 years. To see it start to be carved up for common uses, especially a convenience store is very sad,” said Alford, stating that is very important to consider the land as it is situated and how it is going to be developed.

Alford’s argument against the rezoning and subsequent building of a Casey’s General Store included concerns of increased traffic, no buffer from commercial to residential zones, noise and lighting pollution and possible drainage issues that could lead to environmental issues.

“The addition of a twenty-four (24) hour convenience store will increase the noise and lighting pollution in the area in addition to traffic. Have you ever noticed all of the beer signs posted on the existing convenience store at South 46th and Rogers Avenue? It is clearly a violation of the City sign ordinance. Is this what the City wants commercial property to look like on the main thoroughfare in the City?” Alford noted in his appeal letter.

“I think it comes down to NIMBY, not in my backyard, but I don’t think they are considering the buffers already in place,” said City Director Keith Lau, who voted for the zoning change.

He said Trinity Junior High purchased their building and the retreat building and the land used for their football field and track has been leased to the school for 50 years.

“Trinity is not going anywhere. There are no plans to develop the land behind them. There is already a buffer with the apartment complex and Trinity,” Lau said. “If that corner of Fort Smith is not a commercial property, then we don’t have commercial property in Fort Smith.”

Lau also said the appeal to the board only presented opinions.

“It will affect property values; it will cause drainage issues; there will be environmental issues. There was no evidence given, nothing from professional engineers, no traffic studies from engineers, nothing from an appraiser,” Lau said, who went on to say the appeal process to the board for something of this nature needs to be changed.

“I think there needs to be some sort of guidelines to control what has to happen for an appeal, otherwise it just gets too emotional and it looks bad for us on the board,” Lau said.

Before an ordinance comes before the board for rezoning, an application is first taken to the city’s planning department, which studies it. The application is then sent to all the departments involved. It is then presented to the planning commission, which has to vote to send it on to the Board of Directors, Lau said.

“It goes through a long process, and then if there’s an appeal, we can just get caught up in the emotional side. I would like to try to put requirements on appeals to the board of directors,” Lau said.