The Fort Smith Board of Directors voted to authorize implementation of the five-year sales tax program for streets, bridges and related drainage improvements on Tuesday night (Oct. 2).
The resolution, which passed unanimously, will implement the 2013 sidewalk program.
The board also heard complaints on the planned Housing and Urban Development (HUD)-approved development at Bailey Hill and on a $210,000 engineering contract for site remediation of the Zero Street Pump Station with Hawkins-Weir, Inc.
The five-year sales tax program for streets, bridges and related drainage improvements will cost $38.5 million for 2013 and $135 million from 2013-2017. The sidewalk program will be paid for separately out of building permit assessment fees, according to Fort Smith Director of Engineering Stan Snodgrass.
“Determination of projects is based on numerous factors including citizen input, interdepartmental requests, pavement rating of streets, rating of sidewalks and input from the Board of Directors,” Snodgrass wrote in a Sept. 27 memorandum.
As part of the extensive projects planned, the city will update its aerial survey and photogrammetry services for the city limits of Fort Smith, which have not been addressed since 2003.
“This project will provide current aerial mapping data that will be utilized extensively on street and drainage projects,” Snodgrass said.
The board also heard criticisms from two citizens over items on its consent agenda, which included conveyance of the Bailey Hill Reservoir property to the Fort Smith Housing Authority (FSHA) for the purposes of building a new affordable housing development and authorization of an agreement with Hawkins-Weir, Inc., for engineering services for the Zero Street Pump Station Wet Weather Improvements site remediation.
Ultimately, the board approved the two items with votes of 5-2 and 6-1, respectively, but not before hearing the opposition.
Fort Smith resident Ben Terbieten, who lives at South S Street close to where the Bailey Hill FSHA development would be located, said he believed “that it will be detrimental to the neighborhood.”
“I think the infrastructure that’s in place in the neighborhood cannot handle the additional traffic ... and frankly, I do not want it against my property line. He’s (FSHA Executive Director Ken Pyle) told us that it will improve the property value, but everyone that I’ve spoken to hasn’t been in favor of it at all. I think also that he wants $1.6 million from the city to advance this project along with the land. I think we’d be better off leaving it as the green space that it is,” Terbieten said.
The $1.6 million refers to a $1.1 million request by Pyle at the board’s Aug. 28 study session. It would be used to create streets, drainage, and sidewalk improvements for two planned construction projects of HUD-approved housing.
The Bailey Hill Subdivision would account for $434,950 of those monies, while the remaining $659,580 would go to the FSHA’s North Point Annex project.
Tuesday night’s agenda did not deal with the funding, but did convey the Bailey Hill Reservoir land to the FSHA for use in the Bailey Hill Subdivision project.
Fort Smith Directors George Catsavis and Philip Merry voted against the action.
“I don’t think the city should pay for the infrastructure for that project when other developers are forced to pay for their own infrastructure. It’s not right, and that’s why I voted no. I’m not going to use the city’s money for a developer when the consensus has always been for developers to pay their own infrastructure. Why’s this different? No one can tell me,” Catsavis told The City Wire after the meeting.
Merry was concerned more about Terbieten’s objections.
“I was sensitive to the speaker’s concern out there and was hoping maybe we could — I would liked to have voted to table. He mentioned the sentiments that not just he but many in that area had concerns, so in my mind, I was hearing what might be a neighborhood concern, so I wanted to hear more from them.”
Merry continued: “It wasn’t a vote against Ken or the Housing Authority. I’m all for Ken. I think they do great work. But I would have liked to find a way to please or placate that before we did this. I do not feel like I had the benefit of the sentiments from those it’s going to directly affect, so that’s why I voted the way I did. I would have voted to table if I could have told from the energy of the table that they’d be willing to table, but I could see that it was a loser. But that vote was so he (Terbieten) could see that I was listening to him.”
Following Terbieten’s comments, Fort Smith resident David Harris scolded the board on the Zero Street Pump Station.
“This is required because you, the board, have decided to put these facilities on a site that’s been contaminated, and all that contaminated soil is going to have to be removed and replaced with clean soil to the tune of $3 million when you could have selected a site just a few blocks to the east that wouldn’t have needed it. I find it interesting that a few months ago, we were all in a tizzy about the true-up being here and we lost that money. Now there’s a difference of another $210,000 because you’ve selected a site that requires a lot more work,” Harris said. (Harris’ reference to the “true-up” controversy refers back to a 2009 dispute when Van Buren rejected a $253,000 true-up charge from the city of Fort Smith for changes in water usage.)
Catsavis did not speak about the true-up reference, but he voted against the $210,000 contract with Hawkins-Weir, citing that he “agreed with David (Harris)” as the reason for dissent.