Opinions continue to differ over a duplex development project intended to provide off-campus housing for students at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith.
The originally proposed duplex development project, overseen by Keith Lau, was for six duplexes on individual lots in the 1000 block of North 49th Street. Lau's projections of its potential developmental impact have clashed with those of area residents following the Fort Smith Board of Directors on Tuesday voting in favor of an appeal of the project.
"What I got out of (Tuesday’s) meeting is that the neighbors just didn’t want it in their backyard. I don’t understand that," said Lau, who recused himself from the vote as Ward 1 director.
Roberta Parks, who lives in the 1100 block of North 49th Street and spoke to the board of directors prior to the vote, said 84 percent of residents were opposed to the construction of the duplexes. She also alleged at the meeting that many projections in the development plan do not account for traffic and other potential impacts on North 49th Street.
Lau, who said he is speaking on the issue as a developer and not a city director, cited a traffic statement from Hawkins-Weir Engineers, which states any additional duplexes "should have a minimal effect on the current traffic conditions for both Grand Avenue and North 50th Street." Engineers with Hawkins-Weir project the duplexes to have a peak directional volume of 48 out during a.m. hours and a peak directional volume of 32 in and 16 out during p.m. hours, according to the study.
"It is assumed that 50 percent of the traffic leaving the development travels on either 48th or 49th streets and 50 percent of the traffic travels directly onto Grand Avenue," the statement reads.
Parks said Friday she doesn't put faith in the study, as it doesn't show the impact on 49th Street.
“If his traffic study was about 49th Street, I’d be fine with that ... The math is valid, but it's valid for 50th Street," she said.
Parks also said she believes the rental properties will lower the home value of properties on the street. She cited data from the American Community Survey, which was cited in 2016 stating that ZIP codes that have a higher-than-average concentration of renters have 14-percent lower property values than the county they are in.
Lau said the residents need an appraiser or a real estate broker to provide proof that the duplexes would lower property value.
"Because (the duplexes) aren’t built yet, we can’t have a new appraisal," Parks said. "It’s hard to get an appraisal based on speculation of what they look like."
Ultimately, Lau wants to build the duplexes so UAFS students can have an off-campus housing option "that caters to a cut above student housing that's provided by the University." He pointed out that other cities in Arkansas, like Fayetteville, have this kind of development for their respective universities.
Parks alleged that the examples she has seen in Fayetteville have not been in residential zoning districts for single-family homes. However, the three addresses in question are zoned as "Residential Single Family — Duplex," according to a memo in reference to the Tuesday board meeting.
But Parks on Tuesday pointed out that the Unified Development Ordinance definition of "duplex" in Fort Smith is "a building on a single lot that has two attached independent dwelling units," whereas the definition for Extraterritorial Zoning Ordinances is defined in the Ordinance as "a building designed for and/or occupied exclusively by two families living independently of each other." Ward 3 Director Mike Lorenz on Tuesday voted against the appeal, expressing concern that changing the definition of "duplex" would set a precedent for developers.
Lorenz on Tuesday also said curbing the project would hinder development. Ward 2 Director Andre Good, who voted in favor of the appeal, said he did so because of the differing definitions and potential conflicts, but that he is not necessarily against the eventual development.
The appeal voted upon Tuesday was the second filed to the city by area residents. City officials amended the first development plan after the first was filed, the meeting memo states.
Lau said he still plans to build three duplexes on the properties. He also said the 10 amendments made to the plan after the first appeal was filed aren't going to apply anymore.
"I can do it with the exact same floor plan, and I can actually add even more guest parking out front, which we’re planning on doing," he said.
Parks on Tuesday said she is in support of expanded off-campus housing for UAFS students, but not "at the expense of existing neighborhoods."