(TB&P) — A lawsuit concerning land-use changes in the historic district at Chaffee Crossing was dismissed Thursday (Nov. 14). A lawsuit was filed May 17 in Sebastian County Circuit Court concerning a land use change that plaintiffs said would harm the walk and shop concept of the historic area presented in the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority’s master plan.
The FCRA and its board of trustees filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit June 21.
On April 18, the FCRA board voted to change land use in part of the “historic warehouse district” to industrial/office. The vote came after weeks of sometimes heated discussion on how to rectify an issue of some properties used in non-conforming ways. The board voted to change the area bounded by Darby Avenue, Taylor Avenue, Roberts Boulevard and Terry Street from mixed use: historic use to industrial/office. This will change the area south of Darby Avenue in the historic area but leave the area north of Darby as mixed use: historic.
The lawsuit states the land use change should be deemed invalid because it was of a violation of due process, the land use change is not shown to be in the public interest but rather was “arbitrary and capricious,” and was for the benefit of specific land owners rather than the public as a whole; and “taking with no public purpose is invalid.” The lawsuit was filed by Randy and Tina DeCanter with Old Fort Furniture; John Coats with JKC Cellars LLC and KRIJO Investments; Tasha and Alan Taylor with Truckin Delicious; Quentin Willard with Fort Smith Brewing Co. and QB Ventures and Micah Spahn with Fort Smith Brewing Co.
The revisions to the land use were needed to accommodate property developed by CBC Construction & Development, Beam Properties and Blake Properties, all of which have industrial warehouses in the area. However, at the same meeting where FCRA approved the land use change, the board approved swapping property with CBC Construction & Development so their warehouse would no longer be in the area in contention. Prior to the land use change, industrial warehouses were of nonconforming use in the specified area. This meant those business could not get approval from the Fort Smith planning and zoning department for any changes or improvements to their property.
During several meetings on the proposed change in land use, property owners who operate with a conforming use in the affected area raised objections to the change. They said changing the land use would harm the historic integrity of the area and not allow it to be a walking, shopping, dining, tourist-drawing and business area. The business owners contend this was the concept they were sold in the area’s master plan and changing the land use will cause property values to fall and keep other businesses from locating to the area.
An order of dismissal issued by Sebastian County Circuit Judge James Cox Thursday stated that the lawsuit “does not allege facts from which the Court could conceivably determine that the FCRA’s land use enactment was arbitrary, capricious or wholly inequitable.”
“When the FCRA ‘takes action in zoning (or land use) classifications, it is exercising a legislative function and is not subject to review by the courts of its wisdom in do so,’” the dismissal said, quoting from City of Conway v. Hous. Auth. of Conway. “’There it follows, it follows that the power of the court to review the action of the (FCRA) is limited to determining whether or not such action was arbitrary, capricious, or wholly inequitable.’”
The dismissal said in reviewing FCRA’s land use change, it was presumed that FCRA acted in a reasonable manner, and it was up to the plaintiffs to prove otherwise. It further said the plaintiffs did not show that was the case.
“Plaintiffs’ primary contention is that the land use change was not in accordance with their vision that the area would be a ‘walk and shop — tourist destination.’ Yet the Amended Complaint is void of allegation that the land use change had any effect on Plaintiffs’ ability to use their land as before,” the dismissal said.
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