The Central Business Improvement District (CBID) and Fort Smith Housing Authority (FSHA) presented two projects for the consideration of the Fort Smith Board of Directors at the Tuesday (Aug. 28) study session totaling approximately $1.6 million for first-phase plans.
CBID representative Jayne Hughes revealed that “approximately $500,000” of that total would go for phase one of the Fort Smith Railroad Relocation Project. Under the plan, the Pioneer Railroad Maintenance Yard would relocate its maintenance facility from the downtown area to an area “between Wheeler and Towson (Avenues) just off of South R Street,” Hughes said.
Phase one would require the purchase of land for the new maintenance facility, relocation of the maintenance yard, and landscaping of the current location in downtown Fort Smith.
Hughes told directors, when asked about the timeline for the relocation, that she was “hopeful that we can have a large portion of it done in 12 months, and that’s aggressive. We would certainly have dirt moving.”
Hughes added that CBID also plans to eventually relocate truck routes that run through the downtown area.
“This attracts mixed use development to the downtown area through the riverfront,” said Fort Smith Administrator Ray Gosack. “It would also improve the gateway entrances to the riverfront. And those are two very important elements of our comprehensive plan.”
Hughes and CBID commissioners have previously expressed interest in bringing a “splash park” to the areas of North A and B Streets to benefit from the truck route and rail maintenance yard relocations.
In July, the city began a $2.1 million water and sewer improvement project on the riverfront.
Following Hughes presentation, FSHA Executive Director Ken Pyle brought a $1.1 million plan before the board to create streets, drainage, and sidewalk improvements for two planned construction projects of Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved housing.
The FSHA plan received “pushback” when presented to a small but hostile audience on Aug. 20, but no opposition was in attendance at the Elm Grove Community Center on Tuesday.
Pyle acknowledged the opposition, but added that “in the end, there were a number of folks, who’d been pretty vocal come up to us afterward and say, ‘We see what you’re doing, and it’s a good thing.”
The FSHA decided to make the 36 units for its Bailey Hill Redevelopment Project available as “single-family housing units” similar to its homes at Clayton Heights, which total $164,000 per unit with infrastructure costs included. (About $93,000 of that price will go for the actual home construction, according to Housing Development Officer Mitch Minnick.)
Pyle said 70% of the homes offered would be “income restrictive.” Current voucher assistance numbers show an average of $320 per month available to those eligible for the program.
Also Tuesday, Fort Smith Utilities Director Steve Parke addressed the board regarding limitations in the city’s policy for hearing and settling tort claims stemming from excavation work performed by the city in February 2009 to replace a sewer main near the home of Fort Smith resident Harve Walker at 12 Northwood Drive.
The work, according to Parke, could not “be ruled out as a possible contributing factor” for foundation settlement to Walker’s house as a result.
Parke recommended compensation at a “$10,000 maximum” to pay for the damages, but in order to make the appropriation, the board will have to address its current damage claims policy.
In a memo to the directors, Parke wrote, “In the case of Mr. Walker's claim, the 1960's subdivision planning was accepted by the city with the location of the sewer mains, lot lines and easements identified. The proximity of Mr. Walker's house to the sewer main is in accordance with the original subdivision layout. However, there are many instances where buildings have been constructed such that they encroach into established easement areas or placed over sewers thereby creating conditions which excavation for sewer repair or replacement would undoubtedly threaten the structure.”
Parke said the current draft “would not accept a claim for foundation settlement in that type of situation. There are instances where the city has allowed encroachments to easements and construction over sewer mains by permission. These situations have been addressed through agreements or covenants which clearly state that the owner recognizes that the city is not responsible for, and is held harmless from, any damages related to the proximity of the building to the sewer main.”
Gosack said that the “do-right thing” is for the city to pay the claim.