A developer’s offer to purchase more than 300 acres of land at Chaffee Crossing is still on the table, although it was not approved by the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority’s real estate review committee, he said. The authority’s full Board of Directors will have the final say next week.
Cliff Cabaness of Cabaness Farms, LLC, had offered to purchase 310 acres, much of it wetlands, in Barling, to the east and west of U.S.-49 for $202,800 — 268 acres at $600 per acre and 42 acres at $1,000 per acre. The plan is to donate a portion of the land to Russellville-based Equestrian Zone, a nonprofit that provides therapeutic horseback riding and hippotherapy for children and adults with disabilities, and to use the rest for nature trails, hiking and horseback riding.
The committee did not vote to reject the offer Thursday. Rather, committee member Charles Peacock’s motion to accept the offer died for lack of a second, meaning it was not accepted.
Committee member Paul McCollum said that it comes down to the committee having to consider highest and best use for the property. He said he had concerns about selling the property, which is near U.S.-49, to someone at that price knowing that down the line, it could be worth more money.
Cabaness said he first met with Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Ivy Owen in 2016 about possibly purchasing the land. After the offer was not approved Thursday, Cabaness said in the meeting that it would be his last visit. However, he later told the Times Record by phone that he talked with Owen after the meeting Thursday and that he decided he will keep his offer on the table for the full Board of Directors, adding that the engineer said that the development would be cost-effective. He said he wants it to be a win-win for everyone and used for the betterment of the community.
“I believe this will end up being the very last piece (of land) and you people will end up continuing decades from now holding a piece that is undevelopable and you just bypassed close to a quarter of $1 million today to meet your annual budget, put this on the tax roll and do what needs to be done,” Cabaness said during Thursday’s meeting. “So let’s go on the record saying that you guys are rolling the dice and it will be a long time before this thing happens … I believe you tried to do justice in the beginning of these negotiations, but you’ve made a grave error. I’m in the business of development, and there will be no more negotiation. This is my last meeting, guys. I’ve spent thousands of dollars and many hours of time. I do believe that you have the community’s best interest at heart. This makes zero sense.”
While Owen is the leader of the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority, he is not a voting member on its Board of Directors or any of the committees. Real estate decisions first go through the real estate review committee, which then provides a recommendation to the Board of Directors to make final decisions.
“It’s a very depressing, gloomy site to walk over and try to drive through to try to show somebody," Owen said of the land Cabaness offered to purchase. "I’ve been here 10 years and we’ve had it for 10 years and we’ve only shown it twice and both times it was turned down … this property is going to take really some preparation, some money,” he said.
Owen said his needle was right in the middle as to whether the committee should approve the purchase, but when pressed by committee member Paul Beran for a “yes” or “no” answer, he said, “I would have to vote yes.”