At its regular board meeting Tuesday (Feb. 2), the Fort Smith Board of Directors tabled for 90 days a decision on whether to allow alternative use for a portion of former Fianna Hills Golf Club property to allow for negotiations to keep the golf course.
The subject property is located within the Fianna Hills subdivision located north of Roxbury Lane. The 1.6-acre replat area includes three lots and a portion of the golf course. Mickle Wagner Coleman, on behalf of Fianna Properties, filed the application to replat the property. The plat complies with the applicable standards of the city’s unified development ordinance (UDO) subdivision standards and the area and bulk requirements for the zoning district in which it is located, noted Maggie Rice, director of development services, in a memo to City Administrator Carl Geffken.
Approval of the preliminary plat will allow portions of the existing Fianna Hills Golf Course to be platted with adjacent residential lots creating three larger residential lots. The planning commission unanimously approved the replat request.
John Alford of Alford Law Firm, attorney for the Fianna Hills Property Owners Association, filed an appeal of the planning commission’s approval of the replat. Aaron St. Amant with Morrison-Shipley Engineers, in an email to Brenda Andrews, senior planner for the city, said the “re-platting is a departure from its original configuration at the time of subdivision platting and, as such, would not conform to the original intent as an amenity for the surrounding community.”
Sebastian County Quorum Court member Danny Aldridge, who lives in Fianna Hills, requested the 90 days Tuesday night in order to bring parties together to negotiate ways to keep the golf course and other amenities of the country club even though Mark Moll, attorney for David Millé, owner of Fianna Hills Country Club and golf course, said golf courses are not profitable now and that around 800 have closed across the country in the past two years. Millé closed the Fianna Hills Country Club and golf course Dec. 31, 2018.
Aldridge agreed that times are changing and the city needs to keep up with those changes. He said replatting the golf course is not the answer.
“Once one lot that is on the golf course is sold, it interferes with the normal play and the days of country club golf course in Fianna is over,” Aldridge said.
Aldridge promised he would keep the board apprised of any headway made toward purchasing property and keeping the golf course and would come back in 90 days to tell the board if an agreement has been made or if more time is needed. He said ideally one entity could buy and run the restaurant and bar, another could own the golf course, and another could own the tennis courts and pool with “all making money and contributing to the general fund of the city of Fort Smith” through taxes. Aldridge also noted that golf courses can be profitable if marketed and run properly. He said Ben Geren Regional Golf Course made “$300,000 in excess of expenses” in 2020.
Director Kevin Settle moved that the board table any decision on the property for 90 days.
“I disagree that this is more than just a plat. This is about a neighborhood that has been developed. This is about the city of Fort Smith. This is just bigger than three houses,” Settle said when moving for tabling the issue.
Director Neal Martin seconded. The motion passed with five for tabling the decision. Director André Good voted against the motion. Director Robyn Dawson abstained from the vote because of personal interest.
GOLF COURSE HISTORY
On-again and off-again efforts to buy the country club and golf course by a group of local investors fell through in September. Millé said in a letter to property owners Sept. 21 that he did not believe the investment group could make it work. He began working to sell parts of the golf course to homeowners immediately adjacent to the course.
The group of local investors – Fianna Golf LLC – had an agreement with Millé to buy the property for $1.1 million by Sept. 15, but that deal fell through when Fianna Golf wanted more time to conduct due diligence. With the deal seemingly dead, Fianna Golf held a meeting in early September with attendees agreeing to make a second attempt to buy the club and course. Millé noted in a letter dated Sept. 21 to Fianna Hills property owners that the club and course was no longer for sale.
“This is to inform you that I have taken the property off the market as a golf course and I am offering it to the individual property owners as before. I believe this is the best way to protect the value of our homes and our property as I live in the neighborhood too,” he noted.
Millé alleged that Fianna Golf has not been able to raise enough money to “meet the bank’s criteria,” and it would likely close in a few years if they were to buy it. Failure to keep the club open could require a property auction and that “could result in large apartment complexes being built throughout our neighborhood!”
At the board meeting, Millé said the property owners should thank him for not selling them the property.
“I’m doing them a favor by not selling to them because they do not understand the magnitude of upkeep the golf course involves,” Millé said.
Settle said because of the zoning restrictions, an apartment complex could not be built in the area without approval of the city’s planning commission and the board of directors.