Fort Smith directors consider building moratorium to aid in F-35 decision

2022-06-19 11:52:13 By : Ms. Qing Chen

FORT SMITH -- City Directors are considering temporarily halting residential building surrounding the Fort Smith Regional Airport to conduct a sound study and potentially modify area building codes in preparation for the Foreign Military Sales program.

The program is expected to house aircraft louder than those the airport currently has.

Ebbing Air National Guard Base -- which is at the airport -- was selected last year as the Air Force's preferred location for a pilot training center for Singapore and other countries participating in the Foreign Military Sales program. The proposal would accommodate up to 24 Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II aircraft and move 12 General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcons from the Singapore air force, currently at Luke Air Force Base at Glendale, Ariz.

City Administrator Carl Geffken explained at the directors' study session on Tuesdaythe sound study would keep the city from expanding building codes unnecessarily.

"So in order to make sure that we don't waste builders' time by trying to put in triple paned glass or putting in extra sound insulation that's not needed," he said.

Geffken said the moratorium wouldn't impact residents building up to a 25% addition to their home. He said the city would use the study as part of its environmental impact statement for the Foreign Military Sales program. The Foreign Military program could pick the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Mich., if the city allowed building that had a negative impact.

City Attorney Jerry Canfield said the moratorium would expire no later than Dec. 31, 2023, and could expire earlier if regulation information is received and the city modifies the building codes.

"It does not apply to the residential uses in areas other than the moratorium area," he clarified. "It does not apply even in the moratorium area to accessory residential uses, or to commercial or industrial uses. The ordinance especially recognizes that the Planning Commission and Planning Department, together with developers, may continue to work on developments but any developments and any approvals must be conditioned on the possible regulations, and on the requirement of those building permits being issued during the moratorium period."

Ward 4 Director George Catsavis asked if the city is trying to purchase properties that would be impacted by the moratorium.

Geffken said it was considered, but it would deplete the city's treasury, and the temporary moratorium is a more prudent solution. He said less than 10 projects are far enough along in the process that they will still be able to get built during the moratorium, adding he doesn't think it will impact Fort Smith from being selected for the Foreign Military Sales program.

At-large Director Neal Martin asked if the sound study results will affect homes in the area in any way.

Canfield said it depends on what code regulations the city develops.

Two individuals spoke about being impacted by the moratorium during the study session.

John Alford, a legal representative for Massard Commercial Park Development, said Massard was planning to develop duplexes on 20 acres of the land, which was expected to bring $25 million-$30 million worth of residential housing to Fort Smith. He said Massard will lose money if unable to go forward with the development.

"Building costs -- I know for raw materials -- has just skyrocketed in the last couple of years," At-large Director Robyn Dawson said. "However, in residential building, if your client is permitted to build after the moratorium and it is at a higher price -- which most likely it will be -- would he not just pass that higher price onto the customer of the home? So it didn't impact your client directly, it would actually be passed on to the buyer."

"We're talking about rents and affordability," Alford said. "There is competition throughout the city. There's a project I think you all may have approved not too long ago that is going to be building a multiphase of different types of housing. So if they're allowed to start their project now and we have to wait a year -- it's all about the lease of rents and affordability."

Dawson asked what Alford's suggestions are that wouldn't impact the military sales program.

He suggested trading property with the city or compensation that would allow Massard to build warehouses on that land instead.

Kyle Parker, president and CEO of the Arkansas Colleges of Health Education, said the school's plan is to building 146 apartments for students in some of the moratorium area. He asked whether the city could contact other city planning departments that have F-35s and see what building codes they have and implement those without doing their own sound study.

Ward 2 Director Andre Good reiterated he's concerned any residential development might cause Fort Smith not to be chosen for the program.

"I would just encourage the city to actively and quickly work in that direction to try to do something that would accommodate," Ward 3 Director Lavon Morton said. "I think that's fair."

"Right now, we need to know the data and the facts in order to make an informed decision before I ask the board to spend millions of dollars, potentially," Geffken said. "Because that's relocation, be it residential, commercial or industrial."

The moratorium is on the directors' agenda for consideration at their next regular board meeting on Tuesday.

Print Headline: Directors consider building moratorium around airport

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