The Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (May 3) approved zoning for an estimated $50 million residential development that developer Mark Rouse said will be unique to the city and could provide homes to foreign military pilots and their families expected to arrive in mid-2023.
The 43-acre property is on the north side of Interstate 540 through Fort Smith with the Ebbing Air National Guard Base at the Fort Smith Regional Airport adjacent on the south side of I-540.
Ebbing was selected June 8, 2021 by acting Secretary of the Air Force John Roth to be the long-term pilot training center supporting F-16 and F-35 fighter planes purchased by Singapore, Switzerland and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. The first 12 F-16s are expected to arrive at Ebbing in June 2023. It is estimated the center would be home to 345 U.S. military personnel and bring to Ebbing or Selfridge an estimated 180-plus members of the Singapore unit and around 300 dependents – 825 total.
In an interview with Talk Business & Politics prior to Tuesday’s board meeting, Rouse said the “Treetop” homes are vertical, 2-3 story homes with rooftop terraces. They are only built on hillside lots with “good views and a lot of trees around them,” he said.
Phase 1 will include 46 lots for the treetop units and 37 duplexes, with the development cost estimated by Rouse at around $50 million. Future phases, on which construction could begin in early 2023, will be a mix of townhouses and apartment. He said they are estimating that about 60% of the treetop homes will be acquired by the foreign military families.
“We think a lot of the air force people from the other countries will want to be here. I mean, logistically, it’s just a few minutes from the airport, and it overlooks, those (treetop) units overlook the airport, and they can see everything that’s coming and going over there,” Rouse said.
Rouse said he has had “incredible success” with a similar treetop home development in Fayetteville near Mt. Sequoyah. Those homes are around 2,000 square feet and sell for around $450,000, he said. He said prices might be a lower in Fort Smith, but not by much. He also said the quality, unique styles and modern amenities in the treetop units, townhouses and duplexes means the development will not become a low-income residential area – something about which neighbors have expressed concerns in recent community meetings about the project.
“This will be the complete opposite of low income, or low rent. This is going to be a very upscale development. This is something Fort Smith has not seen,” Rouse said. “This is going to be a big development for Fort Smith. And it’s an infill project for the city, which is something you don’t really see a lot of anymore. You know, a lot of these projects are going out east to Chaffee Crossing, but this is right in the middle of Fort Smith.”
Increased traffic was another concern expressed by those who live near the planned development. Traffic studies by Fayetteville-based Traffic Engineering Consultants (TEC) and the Little Rock office of Halff Associates suggest existing streets can handle the extra traffic. TEC prepared the report for Rouse, and Halff reviewed the TEC findings for the city of Fort Smith.
“Based on the results of the analyses conducted, no traffic control or geometric roadway improvements are necessary as a result of the proposed site for traffic to continue operating at acceptable levels-of-service both now and for many years in the future,” noted the TEC report.
After several rounds of questions and responses about drainage and traffic, the board vote 6-0 to approve Rouse’s zoning request.