Emotions ran high Tuesday (March 19) when the real estate review committee of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority met with invited guests to discuss how to keep peace in the historic area at Chaffee Crossing.
The committee met March 11 to discuss changing the area bounded by Darby Avenue, Taylor Avenue, Roberts Boulevard and Terry Street from mixed use: historic use to industrial/office. They were also to discuss revision to the historic area plan. A proposal would change the area south of Darby Avenue in the historic area with the area north of Darby remaining as it is.
The revisions to the plan would be needed to accommodate property development by owner Carroll King. The change was broached at the February meeting of the committee but was tabled in hopes alternatives to changing the land use could be found. King needs the change in order to use his property for industrial warehouses. The change was also suggested in order to make other existing business owners whose property does not fit within the standing land use.
At that meeting many other business owners in this historic district voiced concerns about additional warehouses in the area and changing an area to industrial that had been designated in the FCRA land use plan as zone that would keep the historic integrity of the area and become a walking, shopping, dining, tourist-drawing and business area.
The committee decided at the March 11 meeting to have a series of discussions with the interested parties and attorneys and a representative of the city of Fort Smith before making recommendations. King’s zoning request would have to be approved by the Fort Smith Planning Commission before he can do anything with the property. As it stands now, his request does not comply with the FCRA land use for that area.
Property owners on both sides of the issues gave their opinions on the issue and thoughts on how it could be resolved, though neither side came to an agreement.
“We feel like a lot of warehouses have been moving in here,” said Quentin Willard with Fort Smith Brewing Co. “We’re tired of you putting warehouses in. What are we going to do about it? We’re just going to have to solve this problem.”
Willard and other Chaffee property owners on that side of the issue say the warehouses distract from the plan of having a historic district conducive to retail, dining and tourist draws. Those on the other side of the issue say they purchased their property with the understanding it would be used as a warehouse even though that did not fit the land use plan.
“I signed a contract on the property in December of 2017. To this day, partly because of my neighbors, I still cannot get a business license. … I’ve been out at Chaffee for well over 10 years. I moved from my old location to this new location. I’ve been doing the same business for over 40 years. All these guys in this room are operating their business daily. I can’t operate mine the way it’s supposed to be operated. I can’t even occupy the building with the business,” King said. “I’m on high center here unlike all the rest of you in this room. I would like to see something done quickly.”
Members of the FCRA committee were asked how the property was ever sold to King considering his contract with the authority specifies what he will do the property and that a warehouse is nonconforming to the land use. No member of the committee could or would answer that question.
Willard and other business owners said they would be willing to buy King’s property in the historic area if he would consider moving his warehouse to an equal or better property in Chaffee Crossing. King said he would be willing to entertain that idea.
Wally Bailey, director of planning and zoning for the City of Fort Smith, said another possible solution would be for the trust to develop a form-based code rather than land use zoning for the area. A form-based code is a land development regulation “that fosters predictable built results and a high-quality public realm by using physical form (rather than separation of uses) as the organizing principle for the code. A form-based code is a regulation, not a mere guideline, adopted into city, town, or county law,” according to formbasedcodes.org.
Changing to form-based code would take approximately six months to a year, he said.
Another suggestion was to allow those property owners already in business in the area that are non-conforming to the land use to be granted a conditional use of sorts to be able to continue using their business as in the contract they signed when the purchased the property, but to not allow any new property owners to have a non-conforming business.
“Let’s say the land use stays as it is. The issue we have is we have some property owners who already own their property that No. 1, we don’t want to kick out. We like them. And we don’t have the money to purchase their property back,” said Galen Hunter, committee chair. “We don’t want to expand the number of non-conforming uses, but we want to be respectful to those who are already there. … (If we could do this), we’re not increasing the (non-conforming) uses beyond where we currently stand, and anything in the future would meet the current land uses, which would stay the same.”
After some heated discussion, the committee agreed to write down suggestions made, send it to the committee members and invited parties and set another meeting at a later date.