The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (June 16) approved controversial zoning changes in Chaffee Crossing and tabled a decision on recycling changes.
The board had the final vote on the third and final reading of two ordinance that approve two 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.
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. The vote is a reversal of the board’s decision on the property March 3, when the ordinances were denied. In the original decision March 3, Good voted against the changes and Dawson abstained because of business interests in the area. The area in question is part of legal action, as was the board’s original decision March 3 to not allow the zoning requests.
Because the motion on the ordinance only passed 4 to 3, the ordinance had to be read three times before being enacted. At each reading, the vote count for and against the ordinance remained the same.
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 businesses 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 another ordinance sets 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.
Another action item on the agenda, recycling, also brought opposing views among the directors. A resolution, based on a proposal by Director of Sanitation Kyle Foreman, would change the city’s recycling vendor for household recyclables in the city to Mack Recycling. The resolution also would make a change in recycling for residents, limiting curbside pickup to mixed paper only. This would include paper products such as mail, office paper, newspapers, etc.; cardboard and chipboard, such as cereal boxes, toilet paper rolls, paper towel rolls, etc.
For other recyclables — plastics No. 1 and 2 (water bottles, milk jugs, detergent bottles), tin, metal and aluminum — will be accepted free of charge from residents at the landfill. Material would need to be sorted by the resident into the appropriate bins at the landfill. No. 3 through 7 plastics would no longer be accepted because there is no market for them and they only take up 8% of the city’s recyclables, Foreman said.
Recycle pickup also would move to every other week as would yard waste. Large 96-gallon receptacles would be available to residential customers for both recycling and yard waste to help with the new schedule, Foreman said. The changes in recycling would mean that instead of the city paying about $600,000 a year for recycling, it would take in about $28,000 in revenue from recycling, Foreman said.
While directors agreed that moving recycling to every-other-week pickup, there was disagreement on limiting what recyclables would be picked up curbside.
“This is a watershed moment … I don’t want recycling to be one of those things 20 years from now we realize was a bad decision like the sewer decision was,” said Director Kevin Settle. “We need to discuss how do we encourage more recycling from our citizens?”
Settle said he believes requiring residents to bring recycling to the landfill and to sort it themselves would discourage recycling and lead to the landfill filling faster and costing the city more money. He suggested an option could be to have sorted recycling bins for curbside pickup.
Rather than vote on the issue Tuesday night, the board voted to table the resolution until recycling changes could be discussed fully in a study session either June 23 or June 30.