CBID gives conditional use permit to leather business, gets update on police efforts

by Tina Alvey Dale (tdale@talkbusiness.net) 640 views 

The Fort Smith Central Business Improvement District voted to allow a conditional use for a specialty manufacturing business that will allow the owners of Keep it Gypsy to remain in business in downtown Fort Smith.

Carmen and Mark Geoates own the business, which produces hand-made leather purses, and have run the business in downtown for years. The couple moved their business to Brunwick Place at 101 N. 10th St. two years ago, said Brenda Andrews, Fort Smith senior planner. Recently, the couple relocated the business to another suite in the same complex.

“I did receive a complaint about smell from a neighbor located near their new suite. Part of the business when they make these leather purses, they use a machine (laser engraver) that makes designs (on the leather) and it makes a burning smell,” Andrews said.

The conditional use permit fits into the land use that is allowed in the C6 zoning district allowing specialty manufacturing. This conditional use allows for any type business that primarily makes products by hand in a small space, smaller than 4,000 square feet or less. It must have minimal or no impact to adjacent property owners, related to noise, odor, lights or hours of business, Andrews said.

In order to accommodate nearby business owners and continue making their product, the business owners have agreed to purchase a portable air filtration system. The system, plugs into an existing outlet and does not require an outside venting system. The system, which costs approximately $14,000, uses two filters, which cost $900 each, that must be changed every three to four months, Carmen Geoates said.

“It just plugs into a surge protector, and there is no smell. You just change out the filters, and that’s it,” Geoates said, adding the system is made by the same company that makes their laser engraver and will get rid of all smell produced by the machine.

Keep it Gypsy employs eight people and sells wholesale to stores, boutiques and business that then sell the purses to the general public. The purses and wallets are made by hand. The laser engraver is only used for decorative work.

Fort Smith Police Chief Nathanial Clark also reported on downtown security.

One aspect that is helping downtown security is Operation Community First, a police department effort that has officers making non-enforcement contact with residents of Fort Smith, Clark said.

All FSPD officers must make four non-enforcement contacts with businesses and residents a day, Clark said.

A non-enforcement contact is any positive interaction with the public that does not result in an arrest or that is not connected to a specific crime in any way.

The goal was to reach 10% of the city’s population before the first of the year.

“We have already surpassed that. We’ve made contact with 11,000 people and we still have two weeks to go. We are having very high visibility in the city,” Clark said.

Many business owners on Garrison Avenue have had positive things to say about the visits from officers, said Talicia Richardson, executive director of 64.6 Downtown.

CBID member Phil White asked if the police department would be able to provide a bicycle patrol officer for downtown or another representative of the FSPD on a Segway in the downtown area. Clark and Carl Geffken, Fort Smith city administrator, agreed that was still to be seen.

The FSPD currently has 19 officer positions unfilled.

“When the economy is good, this is not unique. It’s a little more difficult to get applicants,” Clark said, noting that the North Little Rock, Little Rock and Fayetteville police departments all have unfilled positions.

Once new officers are hired, it still takes months before they are able to patrol on their own, Clark said.

The FSPD representative on a Segway downtown is a civilian employee, Clark said. Because of such, he has none of the authoritative power of a police officer. There currently are no funds available to add more civilian positions to the department.

White suggested making some of the officer positions civilian positions instead.

“It is a balance. It is something we will have to look into,” Geffken said.

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