What a form-based code would mean for downtown Fort Smith

FORT SMITH, Ark – The City of Fort Smith’s proposed downtown form-based code on Tuesday was unanimously recommended by Central Business Improvement District commissioners to be voted into city policy. It will go before the city planning commission in January and then before the Fort Smith Board of Directors for a vote in February.

The proposed code has been drafted to develop downtown Fort Smith “into a walkable, mixed-use environment with shopping, employment, housing and civic use” through designated character areas that permit or prohibit certain kinds of development. It would follow big cities like Denver and Nashville, as well as smaller cities like Delray Beach, Fla., and Bellevue, Ky., in using the code to develop downtown.

The code divides the streets surrounding Garrison and Towson avenues into six character areas: Garrison, Cisterna, Civic/Medical, Warehouse & Industrial, Riverfront and Neighborhood.

The most prominent permissions and restrictions in the form-based code include:

• Parks, religious institutions, town homes, live/work dwelling units and open spaces such as greens and plazas are fully permitted throughout the district.

• Professional offices, retail sales, food and beverage establishments, breweries, hotels and all art, entertainment and recreational venues are permitted throughout the district except in neighborhood spaces.

• Cell towers, outdoor advertising, sexually oriented businesses such as strip clubs and adult video stores and vehicle sales, service and storage businesses would not be permitted in any of the six character areas.

Jayashree Narayana, principal of Dallas-based urban design firm Livable Plans & Codes, noted that the prohibition of auto and vehicle sales, service and storage in the CBID was a change from the version of the code proposed in October.

There are roughly six businesses in the district that fit the above descriptions, but they would be grandfathered into the code and allowed to operate as they have.

When asked if the proposed code would be seen as an “arm twist” by these businesses, CBID Chairman Bill Hanna said the proposed code could help improve the quality of the car dealerships in the district.

“There’s great-looking car lots, and there’s some really bad looking car lots. You’ve got to kind of factor that into your thinking, but that’s kind of the rationale behind us trying to limit the number of car lots downtown,” Hanna said. “They’re not all high-quality, and there’s broken cars sitting out there. That’s not the image we want for our downtown.”

Another change from the initial draft includes a building height standard change from five to eight stories. Buildings may be built higher with a variance.

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