Fort Smith Board approves temporary residential building moratorium

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,069 views 

Map showing darker areas where residential construction moratorium will be in place.

The Fort Smith Board of Directors passed an ordinance at its regular board meeting Tuesday (June 21) to enact a temporary moratorium on the issuance of new residential housing permits to avoid potential noise issues when fighter jets return to the Fort Smith Regional Airport.

According to a letter to City Administrator Carl Geffken from City Attorney Jerry Canfield, because Fort Smith was chosen as a potential site for a pilot training center to be housed at Ebbing Air National Guard Base, sound impacts, especially on residential uses, require study and, potentially, the additional sound regulations in the area.

“It is anticipated that the draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) associated with the increased military use of the airport will be available later in 2022. It is anticipated that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will require and participate in a new noise study for the Airport in the calendar year 2023,” Canfield noted in his letter.

Ebbing Air National Guard Base in Fort Smith, the home of the 188th Wing, was selected in 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 jets would impact the noise levels in the area, which could necessitate more building regulations in residential projects going forward. Those regulations could include sound proofing or proper windows.

The moratorium enacted by the ordinance will be temporary and effective until Dec. 31, 2023 or when Fort Smith Sound Impact Regulations – Fort Smith Regional Airport are adopted prior to that date, the ordinance states. Geffken said once the sound study is completed, which he said he was hopeful would be in September, regulations and changes to Fort Smith codes could be drafted and enacted, again hopefully, within two months.

“We are hopeful we can have everything in place by the end of the year,” Geffken said, which would mean the moratorium could be lifted.

The board requested developers be able to continue getting all the proper filings and approvals completed during the moratorium other than the building permit and that those who have done so will be able to “go to the front of the line” once it is lifted rather than have to wait to start the process for residential new construction projects in the area after the moratorium is lifted.

Director Kevin Settle said he thinks the public might not understand the large scope of the new mission at Ebbing Air Base.

“This is an opportunity that is beyond what we all think it is. It’s beyond scope. It’s beyond anything we even conceive of what will happen,” Settle said. “This is a $1 billion economic impact per year, not just one time. This is bigger than an automotive plant coming to Fort Smith. … This isn’t just Fort Smith. This is the state of Arkansas. I want everyone to understand, this is bigger than just Fort Smith. … Let’s not do something that hurts the opportunity Fort Smith is going to have and the future of our city and this state could have.”

The initial schedule has Ebbing receiving the Singapore F-16s in 2023 and the F-35s in 2024. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the federal agency managing the FMS, notes that the program provides “responsible arms sales to further national security and foreign policy objectives by strengthening bilateral defense relations, supporting coalition building, and enhancing interoperability between U.S. forces and militaries of friends and allies.”