The city of Fort Smith's Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee on Monday (Oct. 21) got their first look at not only a detailed draft vision statement, but also how the city's trajectory may not be in line with the vision they've developed during the previous several months.
The draft vision statement highlights four areas in which the comprehensive plan is intended to take the city:
• Retaining and enhancing community character and quality of life;
• Promoting sound growth and development;
• Growing and diversifying the city's economy; and
• Uniting the city's people, institutions and government.
The presentation, presented by Planner Brian Traylor and Principal John Fernsler of Wallace, Roberts and Todd Design, highlighted trends the city is on versus the vision being presented by the committee, Traylor said. Data came from economic consultants, as well as government data, he said.
QUALITY OF LIFE
A lack of deliberate actions in response to livable neighborhoods with safe and convenient access to jobs and recreation was an area that was highlighted, as was a limited diversity of housing choices and being auto-oriented to schools, parks, shopping and community facilities.
Commercial development is also spread throughout the city, "contributing to continued obsolescence and deterioration along corridors, neighborhoods and activity centers," Fersnler said.
He said the continued development in areas on the outskirts of the city, such as Chaffee Crossing, are not only an increase on citizen's commute times, but also an extra expense to the city when water lines and other utilities must be run versus developing unused land within already established parts of town, which could actually lead the city to "be profitable" when recruiting development.
PROMOTING SOUND GROWTH
The first item to be highlighted included the lack of "new housing, retail and entertainment attractions that would support day and nighttime activity and a vibrant urban lifestyle," the prepared PowerPoint presentation read.
Traylor said much of that could be attributed to not realizing "potential with the river." Traylor also highlighted much of the undeveloped land in the city, which is in the area of the river. And while he said the potential was unrealized, he also understood that portions of the area were in the flood plain or zoned as industrial, which limits growth potential.
GROWTH AND DIVERSIFICATION OF ECONOMY
WRT highlighted what they said was a "limited focus on maintaining the trained and motivated workforce and the technology infrastructure necessary to attract new employers," while also highlighting again the lack of development along the river and in downtown.
Among the items to be highlighted by Traylor was the amount of "leakage" that happens within the Fort Smith MSA, or dollars that flow out of the Fort Smith region and to other areas.
General merchandise was among the highest, with $272.9 million flowing to other areas, though where the money is flowing is unknown. In all, the leakage taking place in the Fort Smith MSA is estimated to be $812.8 million, according to WRT.
UNITING PEOPLE, INSTITUTIONS AND GOVERNMENT
The presentation highlighted the limited leverage of the growing diversity in the city, with Traylor specifically highlighting the fact that without the growth within the Hispanic community, which accounts for 16.5% of the Fort Smith population, the city of Fort Smith "would have declined in population."
In order to address the discrepancies within the vision and the trends, WRT will host two community forums on Nov. 18 at 5:30 p.m. at the River Park Events Building's East Room and Nov. 19 at 11:30 a.m. at the Rose Room of Creekmore Park.
The forums will allow the community to take part in "chip games," which will allow participants to visualize an array of future development choices.
"Chip games help the community visualize the impacts of current development trends and future population projections," Traylor's presentation read. "They encourage discussion about the tradeoffs of different land use types. Also, they can be used to explore new development as well as plan for redevelopment, transportation, and open space."
Galen Hunter, co-chair of the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee, did call a meeting preliminarily scheduled for next Monday, Oct. 28, so the committee could discuss issues presented and contribute to the visioning process.
"I think the committee is looking for ways to actually contribute more input to the project," he said. "You know, the first part has been very public and hasn't lent itself to that, and now that we have some of this baseline data, I think we want more than just a chance to receive it, but a chance to absorb it and then give some input back to the consultants on it."