Fort Smith Board approves FRCA dissolution push; gives OK to reuse of former Fianna Hills Country Club

by Tina Alvey Dale ([email protected]) 1,637 views 

Following in the footsteps of the Barling Board of Directors, the Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday (April 2) passed a resolution asking for the dissolution of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority (FCRA).

The board voted six to one to pass a resolution similar to one passed by the Barling board on March 27 that states the city is recommending the dissolution of FCRA, termination of indenture of trust, establish a winding up date and establish procedures for the distribution of trust funds and trust property to the beneficiaries. Director Jarred Rego voted against the resolution.

The resolution states that the “City of Fort Smith believes it would be in the best interest of the City of Fort Smith, its citizens, and all Beneficiaries that the Trust be dissolved as soon as practicable, which period shall be no longer than the date of December 31, 2025, and such dissolution is determined to be beneficial for the citizens of the City of Fort Smith.”

Director Neal Martin questioned a figure in the resolution that states there are approximately 250 acres of developable land remaining in the trust-controlled area.

“That is a different number than we’ve heard,” Martin said. “They (FCRA) say it’s over 1,000 (acres). We have documentation of about 489 acres on the map (Director) Cristina (Catsavis) provided us.”

City Administrator Carl Geffken said the approximate 250 does not include recent land sales or the Deer Trails Golf Course, which consists of about 120 acres. Martin said with that little acreage of marketable property left, the function of the trust is “really close to being done.” He and several board members stated that it is time for dissolution to begin and that it needs to move forward quickly.

Director Lavon Morton said it is time for all parties to work toward a dissolution plan.

“It is best for everybody if a representative of the FCRA and representatives of the beneficiaries and the (Fort Smith Regional) Chamber of Commerce all got in a room and walked through this,” he said.

The FCRA was formed in 1997 to oversee redevelopment of 6,000 acres of land released by the U.S. Army from Fort Chaffee as part of a Base Realignment and Closure downsizing. It has four beneficiaries, the Sebastian County and the cities of Barling, Fort Smith and Greenwood.

Barling is the first of the beneficiaries to pass a resolution regarding the dissolution of the trust, though Sebastian County Judge Steve Hotz included a draft of a similar resolution in the Sebastian County Quorum Court’s agenda package for the March 29 meeting in order to give members a chance to review the resolution for future discussion.

According to Jerry Canfield, attorney for the City of Fort Smith, termination of the trust can only happen if the FCRA trustees vote to do so. FCRA Executive Director and CEO Daniel Mann has said in a letter to the City of Fort Smith that dissolution could happen as soon as three years or it could take 10 years.

Also Tuesday, the board voted six to one for an ordinance amending the Master Land Use Plan and zoning change that will allow a 55 and older active lifestyle community at the location of the former Fianna Hills Country Club at 1 Essex Place. Director Kevin Settle voted against the ordinance.

Sam Seeger plans to invest $40 million in the property to build 104 units in an “upscale, high-end” active lifestyle community for those 55 and older. He said the main facility would have 90 units and 14 free-standing cottages would be built around the property. The facility will be similar to the Grand Village Retirement Center in Fayetteville and will be between 130,000 and 135,000 square feet and built on 13 acres adjacent to and including the former Fianna Hills Country Club in south Fort Smith, said Seeger, who is with Van Buren-based WCR Development.

Seeger, who was involved in the development of Grand Village, said the facility would have about 25 employees, with about half of those being part-time workers.

“This is not a nursing home, not an assisted living facility. It’s a retirement community. We are trying to build something nice. It’s a luxury, high-end retirement area, which is very much needed here,” Seeger said. “The difference absolutely is activity. This is for an active lifestyle. In assisted living or nursing homes, you have patients. We have residents. It’s almost like a country club. But it’s just for the residents.”

Seeger said he does not know yet how much each unit will cost, but pricing will be competitive.

“We cannot price these out of the market. We are not going to build something that doesn’t make sense,” Seeger said.

He said the project is early in the design work, but the units, while affordable, will be more expensive than other 55 and older properties in the city. Project completion is expected to take 18-24 months after construction begins. The next steps after the property is purchased is to finish architectural designs and hire an engineer.

Neighborhood residents both for and against the facility addressed the board prior to the vote with some giving impassioned pleas for the board to not take away a place that holds memories for residents of Fianna Hills.

The former country club has sat empty for seven years. Fort Smith-based Norris Group bought the former Fianna Hills Country Club building and 12 acres in April 2023 for $1.1 million with plans to open a social club and apartments, create space for commercial development and build a “55-plus active lifestyle center.”

David Millé was the former owner of Fianna Hills Country Club. He closed the club and golf course on Dec. 31, 2018. On-again and off-again efforts to buy the country club and golf course by a group of local investors and residents fell through in September 2020. Millé would sell parts of the golf course to homeowners immediately adjacent to the course, and he also sold some fairways to residential developers.