The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (May 19) reversed its decision on zoning change requests in a controversial section of Chaffee Crossing. The area in question is part of legal action, as was the board’s original decision March 3 to not allow the zoning requests.
Two requests for Planned Zoning Districts (PZD) on Ellis Avenue in the historic district of Chaffee Crossing that will allow for warehouses and contractor’s storage yards, requested by Rod Blake of Blake Properties and Steve Beam of Beam Properties, were approved by a vote of four to three during the board’s regular meeting. Voting for the PZD were Directors Robyn Dawson, Kevin Settle, Keith Lau and André Good, while directors Lavon Morton, George Catsavis and Neal Martin voted against. In the original decision March 3, Good voted against the changes and Dawson abstained because of business interests in the area.
Because the motion on the ordinance only passed 4 to 3, the ordinance cannot be enacted until after a second reading of the ordinance at the next regular board meeting.
The section of land in which Blake and Beam’s property lies is the subject of an amended and substituted lawsuit 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.
In 2019, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority 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. Dawson and her husband, Steve, are named as defendants in the lawsuit.
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.
That original lawsuit was dismissed Nov. 14.
On May 5, the board passed an ordinance that will set a PZD that 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.
At that time John Alford, attorney for Blake and Beam, said approving the PZD request and not their requests was unfair. Beam and Blake also appealed the decisions on their PZD to Sebastian County Circuit Court, both filing separate appeals April 2.
Directors Lau and Settle requested the matter be reheard at Tuesday night’s meeting. Directors voting against the ordinance did so because of the ongoing litigation for the area. Morton reminded the board that area affected by the PZD request approved May 5 had no opposition by those in the district and no litigation against it.
“I just do not believe we need to get in front of the courts on this,” Morton said. “These properties are subject to litigation concerning land use. If we pass this, then the whole purpose of the lawsuit is for naught and the plaintiffs won’t get any relief no matter what the courts decide.”
Settle and Lau argued for the PZD request, saying that since the planning commission had approved the request, the board did not need to go against the planning commission or set a precedent that if a citizen were to file a lawsuit, the board would not do anything.
During Tuesday’s meeting, Good said there was no reason to rush through the zoning requests and the board should wait for the matter to play out in the courts. However, Blake and Beam addressed the board saying they could not make improvements on their property needed to rent the properties or develop it without the zoning changes, so waiting would be detrimental to their conducting business.