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Fort Smith seeks citizen input, service

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

Citizens with a desire to help shape the future of Fort Smith are being sought by the Fort Smith Board of Directors, according to Tracy Winchell, communications director for the city.

Winchell said three vacancies will open up on the Fort Smith Planning Commission by the end of April. She said the city is also forming a Comprehensive Plan Citizen Task Force that will be tasked with updating the city's 11-year-old comprehensive plan.

Citizens do not necessarily need a planning background to participate in either group, Winchell said.

"The objective is to get a large pool of applicants that absolutely represent a large and diverse segment of our community," she said. "There may be some continuity from the last time we did the comprehensive plan, but maybe have some new blood, also."

Wally Bailey, director of Planning and Development for the city, echoed Winchell's sentiment.

"I don't feel that anybody should feel that they need any specific education or qualification," he said. "The most important is a concern and a desire for the city of Fort Smith to continue to grow in an orderly and proper manner."

Regarding the planning commission appointments, Winchell said prospective applicants must live in the Fort Smith city limits, be registered to vote and be capable of passing a basic background check.

She said felony convictions could prevent a candidate from being able to serve if selected.

BIG DECISIONS
Bailey said the planning commission, which is made up of nine members, meets twice every month — once for a study session and another to cast votes on behalf of citizens and property owners.

"The decisions they make can really make a significant difference in the appearance of the city or how a neighborhood is affected, positively or negatively," he said. "The biggest issue for planning commissioners is to sometimes have a desire to make tough decisions and sometimes say no to folks there in front of them wanting something or sometimes not wanting something."

He said the Comprehensive Plan Citizen Task Force will be a committee of 20 to 30 individuals meeting for 18 months in order to decide the city's long-term development plans, similar to the last time a comprehensive plan was developed for the city in 2002.

"We are anticipating having at least one meeting a month," he said. "I've worked on the one before and I can tell you with that we met once a month."

While the last comprehensive plan was used by the city for a little more than a decade, Bailey said the goal this time around is to have a plan with more long-range goals.

"Basically, the comprehensive plan is setting development and growth policies for the city for the next 20 or 30 years," he said.

In a press release, Mayor Sandy Sanders said he would like to see involvement from all citizen groups.

"We need your voice. Our younger residents, especially, have a stake in what Fort Smith should look like in the decades to come," Sanders said.

REGULATION FRUSTRATION
Dave Hughes, executive director of the Greater Fort Smith Association of Home Builders, said he understood the need for a review of the comprehensive plan.

"There's been a tremendous change in our local economy in the last decade," he said. "Overall, I think it is a good idea for any public policy to be reviewed on a periodic basis."

But Hughes expressed frustration at what he perceived to be overlap between the planning commission's work and the comprehensive plan.

"This is the type of micromanagement we're very concerned about," he said. "It's just one more obstacle to getting development done."

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Bailey had a different assessment, saying the work of both groups was essential to the future of Fort Smith.

"We went from almost no regulations that govern the appearance of the city to have some regulations," he said. "When you go from that extreme to 180 degrees the opposite, there will be some gnashing of teeth."

Citizens interested in applying for the Planning Commission may find out more about by visiting this link of the city’s website. Information for the Comprehensive Plan Citizen Task Force is also available at this link. Bailey said the deadline for the citizen task force is Feb. 8.

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