FCRA meeting deals with parking lot conflict; votes against sale of golf course

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,107 views 

In what started as a largely attended and contentious meeting of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Board of Trustees, board members accepted offers for purchase of two parking lots, the offer to purchase land for a housing development in Barling and to not sell Deer Trails Golf Course.

The board approved Loyd Sumpter with Rival Commercial RE offer to purchase Building 139 and the parking lot located at Ward Avenue and Fort Chaffee Boulevard for roughly $120,000, $90,000 for the building and $30,000 for the 0.6 acre gravel parking lot. Sumpter intends to turn the building, which is leased to Arkansas Tech University for a nursing program, into retail space. He agreed to honor ATU’s 12-month lease agreement.

The parking lot is a public lot used by many in the Historic District at Chaffee Crossing. The purchase agreement included that the purchase contract must include that the parking lot will remain public and a stipulation be put in the deed that if the property is sold, it has to continue on as a parking lot.

Sumpter said as the owner of the parking lot, he would renovate it to city code, including landscaping, and maintain it as he has done with another gravel parking lot he purchased in 2021. He gave his word to the board he would continue to operate the lot as public parking.

Many of those in attendance at the meeting voiced concerns, often loudly, that selling the lot would hurt their business, as customers now use the lot. They also raised concerns as to why a private individual would want to purchase a public lot if the goal was to keep the lot public. Some members of the audience were asked to leave the meeting for being disorderly after saying the board was attempting to “quiet the public” by not allowing members of the audience to voice their concerns over the sale of the parking lot.

Fort Smith Brewing Co. posted on Facebook earlier this week regarding the parking lot.

“The Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA) is in the process of abusing their authority again by selling public parking to a third party without notifying the city or surrounding businesses that benefit from the public parking,” the post noted, adding that Fort Smith Brewing customers have used the parking lot for more than five years.

“When Fort Smith Brewing bought their property they were informed they could not purchase the parking lot because it would forever remain public for all the businesses in the area to use,” the post said “Fort Smith Brewing was never afforded the opportunity to buy all or some of the parking lot to secure space for customers.”

The post also raised concerns about whether the parking lot, though it remains a public lot, will charge for parking and whether the free events the brewery hosts in the parking lot, including drive-in movies, would have to stop.

When asked by the board, FCRA Executive Director and CEO Daniel Mann said there had not been other offers to purchase the parking lot in the past, though an unofficial email had come in and was sent to the board Thursday morning by Quentin Willard, owner of Fort Smith Brewing, with a proposal to buy the two buildings next to his building, Buildings 213 and 214 (both 9,040 square feet) and the parking lot for $110,000. Mann said Willard had never made a formal offer to purchase the lot.

“This city (Fort Smith) will not recognize these lots. They do not want them,” said Trustee Scott Archer. “So if nobody buys them, who is going to take care of them when FCRA goes away, which it will?”

The board agreed that they wanted the contract for sale before final approval.

Sumpter has previously purchased several old barracks buildings in the historic district, which he is renovating to create mixed-use buildings with retail space on the first floor and residential apartments on the second that will be the Barracks at Chaffee Crossing. He said he has already purchased $2 million worth of property at Chaffee and put in $1 million in capital improvements

The board also agreed to accept the offer from Sumpter to purchase a parking lot on Ellis Street for $90,000 with the same stipulations as the other and the purchase of .6 acres on Ellis street that will not be used for a parking lot for $30,000.

After tabling the issue for two months, the board rejected an offer from RSMJ, LLC to purchase the 119.26-acre Deer Trail Golf Course at Chaffee Crossing for $9,000 per acre. Fort Smith Attorney John Alford, on behalf of the prospective buyers, said they would agree to extend the lease to the golf course for a minimum of seven years.

“This would allow the property to be operated as a golf course and control how the property will be used if the golf course closes,” Alford said.

The group wants to make a residential development of the course in the event the golf course closes. Entities within the group own the surrounding property. Though the surrounding property is zoned as industrial, they want to rezone it and also develop it as a residential subdivision. However, before they do that, they want to ensure the golf course could never be made into an industrial development.

“If you do not approve this offer, we are asking that you permanently deed restrict it as a golf course now and assure it will remain a golf course or greenspace,” Alford said.

David Shepherd, a member of the Deer Trails County Club board, who leases the land as a golf course, said Royal & Ancient Deer Rails Country Club and Golf Links was created by the military in the late 1940s.

“It features historically significant stonework, reputedly constructed by POWs. It has been in continuous operations serving the military and community at large for going on 75 years,” a memo to the FCRA board said.

Shepherd said the golf course continues to operate in the black and at no point has depended on public funds. He also said the course sees around 9,000 players annually and 17,000 visit the restaurant a year.

“That’s 25,000 a year annually who use this facility. There are only two public courses in Fort Smith, Ben Geren and this one,” Shepherd said, noting the course has saved the board more than $2 million since the board took over the lease of the course eight years ago.

The course employs nine people. The restaurant employees between seven to 12. The property is in a planned zoning district designated for recreational use.

“I have said it before, this course is an amenity to the people who live here and to those in Fianna Hills, since that course closed. One hundred to 150 people play here a day. It needs to stay a golf course,” said Trustee Janie Glover.

The board did not discuss deeding the property as a golf course because that item was not listed on the agenda.

Though the board did deny the sale of the golf course, they did approve the offer from Beam Properties to purchase 24.16 acres on H Street for $12,000 per acre for a residential subdivision against the recommendation of Mann. Steve Beam is one of the members of RSMJ and a contractor who has developed several acres in Chaffee Crossing.

Mann argued that the offer was below market value, but the board agreed that since no other offer had been made on the property and Beam owned the surrounding property and had invested in the improvement of the property in the area, the price was fair. Beam said he has developed the area surrounding the property with single family homes and duplexes, noting 155 front doors in Barling.

“We will finish out that development with 60 more lots (of single family homes),” Beam said.

Mann brought up acreage that is not included in the offer and that it will make those areas less marketable. Beam said though those areas were undevelopable, he would purchase them for $1,000 an acre for areas in the floodplain and $3,000 an acre for the other.