A 1.6-acre land purchase that would have helped the Sisters of St. Scholastica raise needed funds has been cancelled. Casey’s, which had planned a fifth store in Fort Smith at 46th Street and Rogers Ave., decided to not buy the property after a legal challenge by adjacent landowners.
Just hours before the Fort Smith Board of Directors approved amending city’s 2019 Unified Development Ordinance in regards to meeting notice requirements and the city’s Comprehensive Plan in a move directors thought might help the Sisters of St. Scholastica sell land for a Casey’s General Store, Casey’s decided to not buy the property.
The Board passed an ordinance in late 2018 to change the zoning on a 1.6-acre parcel of land at 46th Street and Rogers Avenue from RSD-2 (residential single family duplex low/medium) to C-2 (commercial light). The change was needed in order for Casey’s General Store to purchase the land from St. Scholastica Monastery in order to locate their fifth store in Fort Smith.
Residents in the area and lawyer John Alford appealed the board decision of the zoning change in January 2019. They said the city did not give them adequate notice about meetings by the board and the planning commission regarding the change. On Dec. 27, Circuit Judge Gunner Delay agreed with the residents and blocked the zoning change.
“Petitioners asserted that the rezoning was arbitrary, capricious, or without a rational basis because: (1) the City failed to provide certain landowners with notice of the requested zoning change as required by the (Unified Development Order (UDO)); (2) the City failed to consider the pertinent factors set forth in the UDO prior to rezoning the subject property; and (3) the City failed to amended the Comprehensive Plan contemporaneous with the rezoning and amendment to the MLUP map,” stated a letter from Colby Rowe with Daily and Woods, the city’s legal counsel, that was included with meeting documents.
Delay ruled the city is required that because the 1.6 acres is part of a 17.8-acre tract owned by St. Scholastica that all residents within 300 feet of that entire tract had to be notified of the neighborhood meetings and the planning commission meeting prior to the zoning change. Delay also said the UDO requires a change to the city’s Master Use Plan whenever it changes the Comprehensive Plan.
City directors opted Jan. 14 to change the city’s Unified Development Ordinance rather than seek an appeal on the decision. Planning Staff, at the direction of the board of directors, proposed amendments to clarify the Comprehensive Plan’s role as a policy document versus a regulatory document. Additionally, the amendments require both the neighborhood meeting notices as well as the public hearing notices be sent to property owners within 300 feet of the petitioned property. Previously, there were different notification areas for each type of meeting.
The board voted to approve those amendments at its regular board meeting Tuesday night. But the changes won’t help the Sisters of St. Scholastica. At around 11 a.m. Tuesday, Kevin McClaflin with Morrison-Shipley Engineers notified Travis Brisendine with Morrison-Shipley, who then notified Brenda Andrews with the City of Fort Smith that, “due to the ongoing rezoning issues associated with (St. Scholastica) site, Casey’s General Stores decided to cancel the purchase agreement and will no longer be pursuing this site.”
Talk Business & Politics made several attempts to contact the Sisters of St. Scholastica about their plans for the land.