The Fort Smith Board of Directors at its regular meeting Tuesday (May 5) voted for an ordinance that will set a Planned Zoning District (PZD) for a portion of the Chaffee Crossing Historic District.
The ordinance will create a single set of zoning guidelines for the area that are still in congruence with the land use Chaffee Crossing Mixed-Use Historic District for an approximately 31.4 acre area roughly bound by Terry Street, Fort Chaffee Boulevard, Darby Avenue and Redwood Drive.
Daniel Mann, Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority executive director, said when the FCRA approved the PZD in April that the guidelines would make it easier and faster for business owners to get building permits from the city of Fort Smith. 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. Twelve property owners in the newly zoned area are for the PZD, Mann said.
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 bounded by Darby Avenue, Taylor Avenue, Roberts Boulevard and Terry Street that was changed from historic/mixed use to industrial/office in April 2019 and is now the subject of a lawsuit filed by property owners against FCRA and others.
At a neighborhood meeting on the PZD approved Tuesday, Rod Blake and Steve Beam, through their attorney John Alford, voiced opposition to the PZD saying they did not believe it should be approved since their request for a PZD in March was not approved by the board. Blake Properties and Beam Properties have properties in the historic area of Chaffee Crossing subject to a lawsuit. Both are “not zoned” as are a lot of properties in the warehouse district of Chaffee Crossing, said Dalton Person, lawyer for FCRA. While FCRA has control over the land use guidelines in that area, the city of Fort Smith has control over zoning.
When both property owners went to the Fort Smith planning commission with Planned Zoning District (PZD) applications in order to get their properties zoned – which is required for constructing improvements thereon, the PZD applications were approved.
On March 3, the Fort Smith Board voted down both requests by a vote of four to two with detractors pointing to the legal battle surrounding zoning in the area as a reason to not approve changes. At the time of the vote, two of the directors voting against the requests raised questions as to what would happen if the city approved the changes and then the court decided in favor of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. City Attorney Jerry Canfield said one possibility could be that a lawsuit could be filed against the city in the matter.
After the board voted against their PZD applications, Beam and Blake appealed the decisions to Sebastian County Circuit Court, both filing separate appeals April 2.
Alford addressed the board Tuesday night, saying the PZD up for vote should be denied or if passed, the directors should rethink and revote on his client’s request put before the board in March.
“Otherwise, my clients are concerned with whether they are being treated fairly,” Alford said.
Director Lavon Morton raised the fact that unlike the requests from Blake and Beam, none of the property in Tuesday’s request is involved in a lawsuit. City Attorney Jerry Canfield said the directors could not revisit the older request because too much time had passed since it was brought before the board and could not vote on changing the zoning in that area Tuesday night because it was not on the agenda. The item was requested to be put on an upcoming agenda.
The section of land in which Blake and Beam’s property lies is the subject of an amended and substituted complaint filed April 20 against the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority concerning a land use change plaintiffs say will harm the walk and shop concept of the historic are presented in the FCRA’s master plan.
An original lawsuit was filed May 17, 2019, in Sebastian County Circuit Court 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.