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Changes To Chaffee Historic District Angers Business Owners

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — Last week, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Board of Directors voted to change land use in part of the historic district, and ...

FORT SMITH, Ark. (KFSM) — Last week, the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority Board of Directors voted to change land use in part of the historic district, and local business owners who are upset at the sudden change are speaking out.

Fort Smith Brewing Company owner Quentin Willard says business owners like him chose to open a business in the Chaffee Crossing historic district because they were sold on the idea of a walking, shopping and dining district.

Willard says that dream is starting to fade away.

"It was a realization that they didn't care about us at all," Willard said. "They didn't care about our property values, they didn't care about our investment, they didn't care about this becoming a commercial walking retail area."

Winery owner John Coats says the area's history is what drew him in and believes allowing industrial-office use will have a negative impact on business.

"How it will affect us long term? I can't imagine it being good but we're going to do the best we can with it because we just love the area out here and want to see it develop into the vision that the FCRA had originally," Coats said.

The land-use change is already affecting business decisions.

Premier Heating and Air owner Kraig Koren was planning to open up three new businesses, including another brewery, inside an old building. But now renovations have stopped and he's looking at other locations outside of Fort Smith to expand his business.

"It was heartbreaking, as you can see, I've got my building up for sale," Koren said. "We're ready to move. It's a shame when a local veteran feels stabbed in the back by its own community."

Willard and others say they are not giving up hope.

"We're just hoping that they could reverse the decision, or something can come about this so we can get back on the right track and create this cool commercial property, this cool commercial area that was originally planned for the city of fort smith," Willard said.

Business owners say this will affect the city as a whole and that's why they plan to do whatever it takes to fight this decision.

5NEWS reached out to the Fort Chaffee Authority Board of Directors and an attorney issued the following statement:

“When properties were purchased from Chaffee Crossing, those contracts stated that the buyers could use their property as intended.  The agreements did not state anything about surrounding properties and even gave Chaffee Crossing the authority to change the land use plans.  Chaffee Crossing amended the land use plans to make all existing property owners’ use of their land compatible with the master plan. There will be no noticeable changes from the land use amendment. There have been warehouses in this area, known as the Warehouse District, for approximately 15 years.  The property owners north of Darby Street, including the brewery and furniture store, purchased their properties when there were already warehouses just to the south.  Now those warehouses are compatible with Chaffee Crossing’s land use plans, and all existing property owners can continue to use their properties as they originally intended.”