Fort Smith Board to consider expansion and extension of new housing moratorium

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 2,679 views 

The F-35

An expansion and extension of a temporary moratorium on new residential construction near the Fort Smith Regional Airport is on the agenda for the Fort Smith Board of Directors meeting Tuesday (Oct. 24).

A proposed ordinance, drafted in response to the anticipated military needs at the Ebbing Air National Guard Base, calls for the expansion of the land area covered by a moratorium enacted June 21, 2022, for two more years or until December 2025. The expanded moratorium area allows for residential construction if the construction complies with sound attenuation standards and allows structures destroyed by fire to be rebuilt if the construction complies with sound attenuation standards.

The Board of Directors passed an ordinance June 21, 2022, 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.

“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,” Jerry Canfield, attorney for the city, noted in a letter prior to the June 21 vote.

It was announced March 15 that U.S. Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall signed the final “record of decision” to place a foreign military pilot training center at Ebbing Air National Guard Base located adjacent to the Fort Smith Regional Airport. Ebbing, which is home to the 188th Wing in Fort Smith, was selected on June 8, 2021, by then-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 ordinance states that the anticipated, expanded military use of the Fort Smith Regional Airport necessitated a now completed evaluation of noise especially as it affects expanded residential use of real property in the vicinity of the Fort Smith Regional Airport. The anticipated, expanded military use of the airport required a new noise study conducted pursuant to FAA guidelines in the FAA’s FY 2023 grant year for the Fort Smith Regional Airport, the proposed ordinance states. And it requires an additional Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) expected to be completed in 24 months.

“Additional City of Fort Smith regulations protecting new residential users of real property from the noise effects from the anticipated increased military use of the Fort Smith Regional Airport may be needed,” the proposed ordinance states.

The city wants to study and evaluate the impact of further residential development, appropriate zoning and noise regulations, and issues that will affect future growth and development of the area within its jurisdiction, according to information in the ordinance.

The original moratorium enacted by the ordinance passed in 2022 was set to expire Dec. 31, 2023 or if Fort Smith Sound Impact Regulations – Fort Smith Regional Airport are adopted prior to that date. At the time it was passed, City Administrator Carl Geffken said they were hopeful the moratorium could be lifted by the end of 2022.

If the ordinance is passed, the expanded moratorium will include an expanded area and be in effect from the date of adoption of the ordinance until Dec. 31, 2025, or, until Fort Smith Sound Impact Regulations – Fort Smith Regional Airport are adopted if that occurs prior to that date.

The map showing the expanded area of the moratorium doubles the area. The moratorium applies to new residential housing building permits. Building permits may be applied for and issued for demolition, repair, and remodeling. However permits applied for demolition and reconstruction or to enlarge existing square footage greater than 25% percent of the current gross square footage of the principal single-family structure are not allowed.

The moratorium shall not be applicable to building permits applied for and issued for non-residential housing uses, including, without limitation, commercial or industrial structures or residential accessory uses including decking or other non-residential housing uses.

The earliest planes and pilots from foreign nations could arrive at Ebbing would be in late 2024, which is part of the military’s fiscal year 2025 that begins in September 2024. Air Force officials have said the full complement of 12 F-16s and 24 F-35s from various nations could arrive in fiscal year 2026 at the earliest. Air Force officials have also said that pilots and F-35 planes from Poland will be the first to arrive.