The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (Jan. 7) approved an ordinance to make a portion of Fort Chaffee Boulevard – a section also part of legal action – in the historic warehouse district a Planned Zoning District.
The area changed is at 7717, 7718, 7800, 7801 and 7900 Fort Chaffee Blvd., owned by Steve and Roberta (Robyn Dawson). Robyn Dawson is a Fort Smith city director, at large. The proposed zoning to a Planned Zoning District (PZD) will allow for property to be used as an event center with associated parking and a contractor’s shop and storage yard. The contractor’s shop and storage yard area is restricted to a 63-foot by 106-foot area and will be screened by a white, opaque fence.
A neighborhood meeting concerning the zoning change was held Oct. 21 at the Fort Smith Public Library. At that time, some neighboring property owners spoke against the change, raising concerns regarding the appropriateness of the land use contractor’s shop and storage yard, a memo from the planning staff included with board information on the subject said. The item was tabled at the Nov. 12 planning commission meeting pending the outcome of a lawsuit regarding the Chaffee Land Use Plan change that deals with the area surrounding the property.
A lawsuit was filed May 17 in Sebastian County Circuit Court concerning a land use change that plaintiffs said would harm the walk and shop concept of the historic area presented in the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority’s master plan. The lawsuit was filed by Willard; Randy and Tina DeCanter with Old Fort Furniture; John Coats with JKC Cellars LLC and KRIJO Investments; Tasha and Alan Taylor with Truckin Delicious; and Micah Spahn with Fort Smith Brewing Co.
On April 18, the FCRA board voted to change land use in part of the “historic warehouse district” to industrial/office. The vote came after weeks of sometimes heated discussion on how to rectify an issue of some properties used in non-conforming ways. The board voted to change the area bounded by Darby Avenue, Taylor Avenue, Roberts Boulevard and Terry Street from mixed use: historic use to industrial/office. This will change the area south of Darby Avenue in the historic area but leave the area north of Darby as mixed use: historic.
The lawsuit alleged that the land use change should be deemed invalid because it was of a violation of due process, the land use change is not shown to be in the public interest but rather was “arbitrary and capricious,” and was for the benefit of specific land owners rather than the public as a whole; and “taking with no public purpose is invalid.”
The revisions to the land use were needed to accommodate property developed by CBC Construction & Development, Beam Properties and Blake Properties, all of which have industrial warehouses in the area. However, at the same meeting where FCRA approved the land use change, the board approved swapping property with CBC Construction & Development so their warehouse would no longer be in the area in contention. Prior to the land use change, industrial warehouses were of nonconforming use in the specified area. This meant those business could not get approval from the Fort Smith planning and zoning department for any changes or improvements to their property.
The lawsuit was dismissed Nov. 14. However, Nathan Mendenhall, attorney for the plaintiff’s in the lawsuit, said Dec. 19 he had filed a notice of appeal on behalf of his clients regarding the lawsuit.
“It is to say we have the right to an appeal,” Mendenhall said, noting they have three avenues available to them – appeal, to ask for a reversal of the decision and to refile suit. “My clients want to proceed, to exhaust the avenues available in order for our claims to be heard.”
On Dec. 10, the Planning Commission held a public hearing to consider the subject zoning application. At that the planning commission voted 5 in favor with 1 abstention and 1 opposed to recommend the change.
Director Lavon Morton, Ward 3, questioned whether any subsequent owners of the property would be limited to the area restricted for a contractor’s yard. Colby Roe of Daily and Woods, the city’s legal counsel, said the PZD would not be affected if the land use is changed through legal action. Morton said he had given the ordinance a great deal of thought and believes it will be “positive for the city.”
“I don’t believe it will affect the retail business in the mixed use district,” he said.
The board approved the ordinance with a vote of five for, one abstention (George Catsavis, Ward 1) and one recusal (Dawson). Catsavis said he believed the board should table the ordinance until the lawsuit was determined.