Land use changes approved at Chaffee Crossing; highway relocation project moving forward

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,753 views 

In a move they hope will allow speedier development, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Board has approved a new planned zoning development (PZD) for a portion of the Chaffee Crossing Historic District.

The PZD provides all properties inside the boundary a single set of zoning guidelines and end-uses, which will make it easier and faster for business owners to get building permits from the city of Fort Smith, said Daniel Mann, FCRA executive director and CEO. The Fort Smith Planning Commission approved the PZD application Tuesday. It will go before the Fort Smith Board of Directors May 5.

Prior to voting on the PZD at its regular board meeting Tuesday (April 14), the FCRA approved adjustments to the FCRA Master Design Guidelines that bring it into agreement with the new PZD guidelines and city of Fort Smith Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). The PZD also identifies what types of business are permitted in the area, Mann said. According to the PZD, the area is to facilitate “the creation of a pedestrian-friendly environment to encourage the redevelopment of the historic core” of the district into a community or tourist destination.

The historic/mixed use designation would allow for restaurants, retail and office space and residential dwellings among other uses, but would not allow for warehouses, Mann said. The area included in the PZD does not include the area of the historic district the bounded by Darby Avenue, Taylor Avenue, Roberts Boulevard and Terry Street that was changed from historic/mixed use to industrial/office in April 2019.

A lawsuit was filed May 17 in Sebastian County Circuit Court concerning that land use change, which plaintiffs said would harm the walk and shop concept of the historic area presented in the FCRA master plan. The lawsuit was filed by Quentin Willard with Fort Smith Brewing Co.; 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.

The FCRA board’s vote last year to change land use in part of the “historic warehouse district” came after weeks of sometimes heated discussion on how to rectify an issue of some properties used in non-conforming ways. The change affected the area south of Darby Avenue in the historic area but left 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.”

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.

That lawsuit was dismissed in November.

Twelve property owners within the PZD boundaries agreed with the PZD, including three of the plaintiff’s in the lawsuit, giving the PZD support of a majority of the property owners, Mann said.

“We are very happy that 12 of the property owners agreed to the PZD. Some of them already had a PZD for their property. This will take the place of it,” he said.

Mann said Willard already has a PZD in place for Fort Smith Brewing Co. and did not want to change his PZD to the FCRA one, so his property has been left out of the boundaries.

Mann also announced at the board meeting that Arkansas Department of Transportation (ARDOT) announced April 10 it would advertise bids for the Arkansas Highway 255 Relocation project and begin letting contracts May 13.

“This is a very critical infrastructure project that will re-route Hwy 255 from a residential and light commercial area of Barling through Chaffee Crossing along Frontier Road,” information from FCRA noted.

FCRA, Barling and Fort Smith entered into a multi-party agreement with ARDOT on this project in 2017, Mann said. As part of that agreement, FCRA had to commit $2 million towards the construction of this project. Mann said he had been in contact with ARDOT about paying $1 million of that now with the beginning of construction and the remaining $1 million at the end of construction.

“We have the funds set aside, and we do have $1 million of it in the budget for this year. With the COVID-19 pandemic we asked that we be able to hold the other $1 million until towards the end,” Mann said.

FCRA is waiting on authorization of that request.

Property all along the highway has sold for commercial development and to Arkansas Colleges of Health Education for expansion of their campus, Mann said.

“We are very excited that this is moving along. This is really going to accelerate the development along that corridor,” he said.