Fort Smith administrators file another application to rezon the Next Step shelter project

FORT SMITH — City managers have again delayed the rezoning of Next Step Homeless Services to build a homeless shelter community downtown to gather community feedback.

The new location at 815 S. Sixth St. is near the Oklahoma border, which is surrounded by several industrial businesses.

Administrators last spoke to Next Step in February when the organization decided to withdraw its application to rezon 1400 S. U St. from heavy commercial to a planned zoning district to place the shelter there. They heard various concerns from the community regarding the potential decline in property values ​​and the increase in the number of homeless people coming to the area to use Next Step’s services.

Susan Tucker, chair of Next Step’s board of directors, said the decision was made to withdraw U Street’s location request due to negative feedback the group had heard from the community.

“We’ve seen miracles happen where people have a step up and a real opportunity to improve their lives,” Tucker said. “This first step starts with housing. The Next Step council decided to withdraw our appeal on this project. You should know that it was not a unanimous decision of the council. There were people who felt that our clients deserved proud of where they lived in. But as we talked about it, we decided we didn’t want to put our customers in such a hostile environment.

Tucker noted that Next Step never received any complaints from neighbors at its location at 123 N. Sixth St., and that the group expected to have the support of the city and surrounding community when it launched. the rezoning project.

Next Step executive director Sharon Chapman told the trustees’ study session on Jan. 25 that the U Street shelter would have provided single-family housing with a maximum of 30 homes on the 3.85 property. acres. People using the service would likely be drug and alcohol free and grapple with mental and physical health issues before finding employment and becoming independent, she said.

“We had 88 people last year in our transitional housing program that we have, and we’ve had a 75% success rate in getting those people out of homelessness, which for us means that when they left us, they had permanent housing and they had an income,” Chapman said.

“And they usually had savings, because we have a savings program with our normal program. So we’ve been providing housing in Fort Smith for over 15 years, and I believe we know what we’re doing and we know how. to do so in a safe and responsible way for our community and add value around our community with the programs we have in place for our various accommodations.”

Rezoning applicant Galen Hunter said the project at 815 S. Sixth St. is essentially the same as that submitted for the U Street location.

Maggie Rice, director of planning and zoning, said on Tuesday that the Planning Commission held a meeting regarding the rezoning of approximately 4 acres in March, which was approved by an 8-to-1 vote. She said that a Kansas City Southern Railroad representative was on hand to express concerns about litter, safety, foot traffic and vandalism, and asked Next Step to build a fence along the perimeter of the property to address these concerns.

Ward 3 Director Lavon Morton asked that the item be tabled so that the directors can discuss the matter in a study session with Next Step, Hope Campus, the police department and neighboring businesses.

Administrators did something similar when Next Step proposed the U Street location, asking more than 70 questions ahead of the January 25 study session.

“It’s a really complex issue, and as I’ve said before, we’re looking at making a decision that has 30 to 40 years of ramifications,” Morton said. “I really think we need to hear all the comments that came out of that Planning Commission meeting, and I think we all know there was also a neighborhood meeting on a conditional use application the last week where there were additional amendments to this comment.”

Deputy City Administrator Jeff Dingman said the next study session coincides with a Planning Commission meeting, so the next available regular study session is April 26.

Chief executive Robyn Dawson said she disagreed with the filing of the article, noting that Next Step has twice been submitted to the Planning Commission for approval, and that directors have already extensively discussed discussed the project. She said she doesn’t think there is a place in Fort Smith where shelter can be without resistance from neighbors.

“We asked Next Step to go back and reconsider an area that was not residential. We asked them to consider an area where they found – and we actually asked them to consider the area they found. They chose. They jumped through all the hoops that the city put there for them, they met all the requirements,” she said.

Morton said the proposed area already has several issues the city should address.

“Next Step has a proposal that doesn’t create more problems than there are now, but companies need to hear this advice on what we’re willing to support to try to help them solve these problems. while supporting what Next Step is trying to do,” he said.

The filing of the decision was approved by a 4-2 vote, with directors Morton, George Catsavis, Kevin Settle and Neal Martin voting in favour, and Dawson and Jarred Rego opposing it.

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