FORT SMITH — City directors have unanimously approved a moratorium temporarily halting residential building surrounding the Fort Smith Regional Airport in order to conduct a sound study and potentially modify area building codes in preparation for the Foreign Military Sales program.
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 in Glendale, Ariz. The program is expected to house aircraft louder than those the airport has now.
The Department of Defense could also pick the Selfridge Air National Guard Base in Harrison Township, Mich., for the Foreign Military Sales program if the city allowed construction with a negative impact on the pilot training program.
City Administrator Carl Geffken explained at the directors’ study session June 14 the sound study would keep the city from expanding building codes unnecessarily and thus wasting builders’ time and money.
“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.
Maggie Rice, director of planning and development, said Tuesday the moratorium area contains 5,945 acres, 2,297 of which are residentially zoned. She said the moratorium will be in effect until Dec. 31, 2023, or until Fort Smith sound regulations are established.
“The moratorium does not prohibit demolition, repair or remodeling of a residential structure, the addition of accessory structures, fencing or decks on residential property, commercial or industrial development, including hotels, additions to single-family homes as long as it does not increase the gross square footage by more than 25%, planning commission or planning department review of developments within the identified area,” she explained.
Two individuals who were planning to build large apartment complexes spoke about being impacted by the moratorium during the study session, with a third individual addressing concerns regarding his multi single-family house expansion during the regular meeting Tuesday.
Geffken said the sound study should be completed by September, and the city is already getting a company on board to draft any resulting building regulations.
The Planning Commission plans to expedite discussions of any drafted regulations in order to lift the moratorium as quickly as possible, Rice said.
“If it did not require Planning Commission approval — which it would not be for residents — then we could have that in place by the end of the year, assuming we get the information from the military environmental impact study. So we are looking to do it much faster than that,” Geffken said, referring to the 2023 end date.
At-large Director Kevin Settle said the Foreign Military Sales program is expected to have a billion-dollar economic impact per year, and he thinks the scope is beyond what the city can understand.
“Let’s not do something that hurts the opportunity that Fort Smith’s going to have, and the future of the city and the state will have,” he said. “When the governor is involved, when state leaders are involved, when the ambassadors of countries get involved, this is a big deal. And I know it is a small sacrifice. We’re all going to do our part. And I understand what we’re all doing together. This is what’s necessary to be done for the future of our city.”
“At the end of the day, we’re all going to benefit from this mission, and that mission is coming here in large part to what they found out about the citizens of this city,” Mayor George McGill said. “These other air bases, they have runways, they have all the other stuff, but I think one of the deciding factors was the people that they met in this city.”