Grants, sex and forums on Fort Smith Board agenda

story by Aric Mitchell
amitchell@thecitywire.com

The Fort Smith Board of Directors listened to Outside Agency Review Panel recommendations and revisited available land use for sexually oriented businesses at the Tuesday (Nov. 13) study session.

The session, which took place at the Main Library on Rogers Avenue, also found city directors appearing to favor monthly town hall meetings rather than returning to televised citizens forums at the end of each regular meeting.

On the topic of outside agency funding, the panel received $387,000 in requests from 27 applications. From that number, 26 will likely receive a disbursement from the 2013 budget — a total of $162,000 in awards.

The awards will be divided equally among three key areas — recreation, arts and humanities, and social and community services — for a $54,000 award in each category.

The five largest awards will go to Fort Smith Boys and Girls Club ($16,000), Lincoln Youth Service ($15,000), Fort Smith Regional Art Museum ($10,500), Fort Smith Symphony ($10,385) and Girls Inc. ($10,000) pending board approval.

Agency awards will be approved when the final 2013 Budget document is presented to the board for consideration on Dec. 4 unless adjustments to the panel's recommendations are made prior to that date.

SEX BUSINESS
As for sexually oriented businesses, the topic of discussion on Tuesday was whether to consider a plan for increasing the available land use from the 1.4% that city directors approved in May by a 5-2 vote.

Wally Bailey, director of development services for the city of Fort Smith, presented a rezoning plan that would up the allowable land usage to 4%.

“While we cannot say for sure how a court will rule with regard to the required land area, we do feel more comfortable that an amendment that would permit 4% versus 1.4% could put us in a better position should a legal challenge occur,” Bailey said.

Director Kevin Settle wanted to know why the issue was being revisited now after “four members of this board were very adamant to leave this at 1.4%.”

Director Pam Weber referenced “the casino maps” – a reference to a casino ballot item rejected by the Arkansas Supreme Court on grounds that changes to the ballot title were improperly made after signatures had been collected – and stated that she “wondered why we couldn’t do something like that for sexually oriented businesses.”

From that point, Weber said she called Bailey to ask about changes.

Settle suggested on Tuesday that revisiting the issue had something to do with “the court case in Clarksville,” a reference to last week’s ruling by the Arkansas Supreme Court that X-Mart Adult Superstore could challenge the city’s ordinances regarding sexually oriented businesses as too restrictive.

“If we’re going to revisit this, let’s revisit it to the 5%,” Settle said. (Five percent is the lowest number that cities have been able to legally justify.)

Bailey added that if the board were to consider allowance of Industrial Zoning (I-1), the allowable land usage could move up to “as much as 14%.”

“If we add I-1, that changes it significantly. Most of the industrial land in Fort Smith is zoned that way,” Bailey said.

Sexually oriented businesses would still be subject to “land buffers,” however, which according to Fort Smith Municipal Code Section 14-155 restrict these businesses from locating within 1,000 feet of churches, schools, public parks, hospitals, licensed day care centers, businesses geared towards children, residential areas, other sexually oriented businesses, playgrounds, public libraries, recreational areas or facilities, walking trails and childcare facilities.

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These buffers make for “a dynamic map and a dynamic issue,” Bailey said — one the board may still need to revisit at a later time regardless of what happens when this topic comes up next Tuesday night (Nov. 20).

TOWN HALL MEETINGS TO STAY
Finally, the board addressed the town hall meeting situation, and it appears that things will stay as they are following the revelation that just two participants — Elizabeth Mayo and Rosemary Wingfield — made 18 of the 36 appearances when citizens forums were televised.

Since the change in format, the number of appearances has fallen to 14, but the number of citizens participating in those appearances remains fairly consistent at 12 (versus 15 under the old format).

“A couple of weeks ago when I and others thought this was worth discussing, it was not to call a vote at that time,” said Director Philip Merry. “Now that I see what the variables are, I think things should remain as they are, but I am hopeful we will continue looking for new ways that are user-friendly and that will encourage others to feel better about coming forward.”

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