Amid pushback from area residents, the Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday voted in favor of an appeal against a duplex development for housing at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
The proposed development includes six duplexes on individual lots in the 1000 block of North 49th Street. The appeal the board voted for states the duplex development is in violation of current zoning requirements, is a commercial use of residentially zoned property, is not consistent with covenants designed to maintain the quality and integrity of the neighborhood and would increase traffic, noise and crime in the area.
The board voted 4-2, with Ward 1 Director Keith Lau, who is overseeing the development, recusing himself. Ward 4 Director George Catsavis and Ward 3 Director Mike Lorenz voted against the motion, but Catsavis said after the meeting he intended to vote for the appeal and only voted against it because he did not understand the resolution.
Roberta Parks, who lives in the 1100 block of North 49th Street and spoke on behalf of other area residents at the meeting, said 84 percent of the residents in the area were opposed to the construction of the duplexes. She brought several residents from the area with her, who all stood in support after her address to the board.
Among other things, Parks alleged that many projections in the development plan are for North 50th Street, not North 49th Street. She also alleged that the general area of the proposed plan has an average of more than 7,000 vehicles per day, as opposed to the 63 vehicles owned by residents on North 49th Street.
Parks also took issue with the definition of "duplex" in Fort Smith, which in the Unified Development Ordinance is "a building on a single lot that has two attached independent dwelling units." She also pointed out that the definition for Extraterritorial Zoning Ordinances is defined in the Ordinance as "a building designed for and/or occupied exclusively by two families living independently of each other," which Developmental Services Director Wally Bailey confirmed.
"If these structures aren't allowed to be called duplexes outside the city, how can they be called duplexes inside the city?" she asked the board.
Lorenz said he is concerned that changing the definition of "duplex" would set a precedent for developers, and said curbing this project is hindering current development.
"(The development) is predominantly on Grand Avenue," Lorenz said.
Ward 2 Director Andre Good cast the first motion in favor of the appeal.
"My issue where I change my initial vote for today is the fact that there are two different definitions, for one, and all of the great information Roberta pointed out on the conflicts," Good said. Good added that he is not necessarily against the development plan itself, as it would expand housing for UAFS and help businesses on Grand Avenue.
The appeal voted upon Tuesday was the second appeal filed to the city by area residents. In response, city officials amended the original duplex development plan to include provisions such as limiting four people to each unit, the elimination of parking spaces for more landscaping and keeping traffic from passing between 48th and 49th streets. The recommendations were partially made from feedback residents in the area gave to Lau and his agent Brett Abbott, according to a memo from Bailey to City Administrator Carl Geffken.
Lau declined to comment on the resolution or the future of the development project following the vote.
Parks said she and other residents are trying to find a way to rezone the neighborhood so it doesn't allow for duplexes. She also said at a town hall following the board meeting that she would like to see officials make the city definition of "duplex" more specific.
"That's not just important for us, but for the whole city of Fort Smith," Parks said.
Parks said she is overall in support of expanded housing at UAFS, but not "at the expense of existing neighborhoods."