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Fort Smith Board uncertain on vote for Fianna Hills Country Club

story by Ryan Saylor
rsaylor@thecitywire.com

A unanimous vote by the Fort Smith Planning Commission to approve the planned zoning district (PZD) at the site of the Fianna Hills Country Club does not guarantee a similar vote at the April 1 meeting of the Fort Smith Board of Directors – the last hurdle to jump in order to get the planned redevelopment of the country club off the ground.

The 9-0 planning commission vote was unusual on projects such as the Fianna Hills PZD, which saw a room divided almost evenly among those in favor and those opposed to the project.

Commissioner Vicki Newton said her vote in favor of the PZD all came down to extending the life of the country club, which will see a planned $20 million upgrade by Fort Smith-based FSM Redevelopment Partners should the PZD receive final Board approval.

"I think we’ve all heard the rumors that have circulated for months now regarding Fianna," she wrote in an e-mail. "I do know that the club has basically outlived it’s economic life as such. Something has to be done as I know the owners are pumping their own money into it. Now, that aside, strictly from a planning commission standpoint, it meets all the requirements for a PZD, which allows the developers to expedite their plan and yet be very specific. I was curious to hear what the neighbors had to say as I know there was some opposition. And all of that was more or less self serving, i.e. ‘my house, my view’ not what would be detrimental to the whole neighborhood. After hearing and reading the plan that was developed, I firmly believe this is a viable option and needs to be explored. I think there are many other obstacles ahead for this development team, but to not look to the future for Fort Smith and the needs of the city would be a failure on our part."

Brandon Cox, another commissioner who voted in favor of the PZD, said he voted for the development because he did not want to "be the commissioner to stop a multi-million dollar project that improves the same intended use," adding that restrictions were included in the PZD to create the best possible outcome for developers and the neighborhood.

"The additional restriction provided from the planning commission study session imposed maximum traffic counts for future uses that can’t exceed 5% over the approved PZD traffic counts," Cox wrote. "As well, limiting the parking available to the number of spaces presented in the PZD will in turn limit the density of any future use. My final decision to support the PZD was based on three primary factors:
· The contingent assurances described above and provided within the PZD should protect the residents;
· A high quality and innovative development with a large investment in FS that appeared to meet the UDO requirements;
· The neighborhood was clearly split on the development of the project with just as many supporting as opposing."

All Fort Smith City Directors were asked via e-mail whether they would vote for or against the project and why, whether they had concerns about the project, and whether there were any circumstances which could cause them to change their mind. Following are their responses:

CITY DIRECTOR KEITH LAU, WARD 1
"I haven't received the board package on this item and would like to reserve official comment until I have had time to review. My first blush position is I support the development. It is a planned $8.0 mil dollar development, creates jobs, increases property values, recommended by the city planning staff, was unanimously approved  9-0 by the planning commission and its business friendly. ... There would have to be a huge compelling reason not to vote in favor of the PZD. I will have my official position Sunday (March 30) after review of the package."

CITY DIRECTOR ANDRÉ GOOD, WARD 2
"I will tell you that we, board members have been getting email responses and request about the FHCC project and the (PZD). I personally like the idea, but need to educate myself on some of the particulars like 'factor C' that the emails reference and familiarize myself with the zone change will allow."

CITY DIRECTOR MIKE LORENZ, WARD 3
"I have not made a decision on this vote at this time. I have heard many citizen concerns about this project and likely will hear more in the coming days. Making the best decision for all citizens will take research and listening to citizen comments in the coming days. My only concern is to protect the property values and citizens best interest in the Fianna area and all of Fort Smith. I am supportive of a revitalized Fianna Hills Country Club but have concerns with the other uses allowed in the PZD as presented."

CITY DIRECTOR GEORGE CATSAVIS, WARD 4
"I am leaning toward approval of the (PZD) and to this project. (M)y understanding (is) it will create more jobs and also a better tax base for the city with the planned improvements. I really have no concerns about the project as proposed."

CITY DIRECTOR PAM WEBER, POSITION 5 AT-LARGE
"I have received numerous phone calls and emails on the subject of the rezoning of Fianna Hills County Club. I have not made a decision on how I will vote at this point - I am still researching the question. I have several questions that I will be seeking answers to on Monday (March 17). Please understand that this zoning request will have long term impacts on the Fianna Hills neighborhood and that I take any vote I make on this issue with lots of thought considering the current impact and the impact of the rezoning in twenty years."

VICE MAYOR KEVIN SETTLE, POSITION 6 AT-LARGE
"I have heard from many citizens about the proposed PZD at the Fianna Hills Country Club. What most citizens want is that longevity of the FHCC to stay open, which I agree with. For the most part, I am would agree that the FHCC upgrades and members suites would be great addition to the FSM area.

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"The concerns that have been brought to my attention by many citizens in the Fianna Hills area are the other potential developments that are being asked in the PZD. These other potential developments are something that I am going to research and get a better understanding on how they could affect the existing homeowner property values.

"We will not receive our final BOD packet for this subject until March 28 for our April 1st meeting, which this subject will be on the agenda."

CITY DIRECTOR PHILIP MERRY, POSITION 7 AT-LARGE
"Please know that I am continuing to gather input from multiple venues and certainly from those in the FHCC area.
 
"I have gotten viewpoints from multiple sides on this PZD. Support for the decision has been received. Support to oppose has been received. And this a.m. (March 14), I received citizen input to approve the improvements to the country club setting and 'member suites' portion of the PZD but to vote 'no' on the other items that would fit in such a zone change (office setting, medical facilities, etc).
 
"I am deliberating and listening and taking notes, rest assured. I support the club and member suites concept and as for other zoning potential uses with this change, I am continuing to listen and learn on the subject."

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Comments

Do We Really Want Growth?

Fort smith needs business and job creation so what is the problem with an upgraded golf course? The city golf course is said to be in a state of disrepair so why hold up this important growth project?

Nimby

Aren't the neighbors the ones protesting? The city government gets the blame, but it's the citizens who elect them and fight against change.

Nimble and Quick

Good comment Nimby but the real question that needs to be asked is---- Are the City Managers and their 1000 person city servant staff getting the information out to the public to make good informed decisions? Has the public been informed that property values around a quality Golf Course usually go way up in communities that have a pro style golf course where the golf pro elite come to play and usually bring thousands of visitors to watch them play on TV that stay in motels and eat in restaurants? Try to buy a home or home site near where the big boys and big girls (golf pros) play and see what the market price tells you. This will be a boom to the Fort Smith Economy that we desperately need and people are not being informed of the benefits of the project by city leaders and those who do not read The City Wire may not be aware of all the facts. City Leadership should be involved to get all the facts out to the people because this project is good for FORT SMITH and everybody will be a winner!

road blocks

The 'road blocks' that seem to get set up against "everything" are set up as a defense. Defense against what? No one really knows. The defense is a reaction of fear not a response of reason. This is the "fort mentality" at work.

3 days to vote, what's the rush

BOD will receive their packet March 28 only 4 days before the vote on April 1. Directors, please don't get railroaded on April fools day. Postpone your decisions until you cut out the hidden pork in the plan.

What the ones against this are not seeing is

eventually nothing up there on that hill and the overall effect that will have on their home values.

$20M Upgrade, More Jobs, More Tax Revenue to Name A Few!

As a Fianna Hills resident, I don't get it, what's the problem? A $20 million upgrade to Fianna Hills Country Club, bringing more jobs, more tax revenue to the city and more activity to the club. Personally, I think Lance Beaty has proven himself as one with vision and the ability to follow through.

Facts And More Facts

A certain County elected JP who lives a few doors from the Fianna Hills Country Club entrance was front and center in the push to spend an extra 3 million dollars of Taxpayer money to get the Water Park built even though he knew that the Contractor had been investigated by the FBI and employees charged with paying millions in bribes to get Construction Contracts. So spending an unnecessary 2 or 3 million dollars of Taxpayer money was not a problem but now he thinks that the Golf Course Project will devalue his property so he objects? The real facts are that the project will most likely cause his property value to rise along with all others in the area but he can't see the forest thru the trees because some of the most expensive property in any city is the property that borders a quality golf course. Its appears to be Ok to spend millions of tax dollars extra on a crony project but a real project that will add 20 million dollars in jobs and materials along with maybe a hundred million dollars in economic impact to Fort Smith for a generation is not Ok because he thinks it may shrink his own wallet. Agree that Lance Beaty has done more for the growth and job market in Fort Smith than all the elected that pretend to want economic growth.