In the late 1970s and early 1980s a man named Andres Duany and his architectural partners formulated the principles of new urbanism. These principles seek to end suburban sprawl and urban disinvestment by developing mixed-use, smart growth communities that encompass all aspects of life within walkable neighborhoods.
Those outside the economic and community development realm may not realize these principles have been the core foundation of Chaffee Crossing development over the past 10 years.
In 2008, a Master Land Use Plan was adopted that has amazingly become a reality. Four ‘nodes’ were identified that could become the centers of concentration with homes, shopping, workplaces and recreational spaces a short distance from each other. Those are exactly the areas we see being developed with the highest density today.
Housing is a leading indicator of the momentum and overall success of a development. Home builders seem to have an uncanny knack of knowing how and what an area will become. Their willingness to take a risk to build in Chaffee Crossing is an indication of how Fort Smith regional developers view the true growth of the River Valley.
Residential developers at Chaffee Crossing have been encouraged to use Duany’s concepts. We are now seeing the emergence of a smart growth community. Some characteristics of this style include front porches, rear entry garages, sidewalks, trails and greenspaces. Today there are 20 single and multi-family residential neighborhoods in Chaffee Crossing, totaling approximately 1,775 units. Driving through Chaffee Crossing, you may recognize some or all of these characteristics.
Another example of new urbanism in practice is the Chaffee Crossing Historic District. Over the past year, the Chaffee Crossing Historic District has transitioned from an area associated with tourism to a district with retail and commercial potential. This is due to aggressive marketing, the appeal of rehabilitation tax credits and significant investments in several warehouses.
From this activity came the idea to create a Planned Zoning Development or PZD that will guide future development between Terry Street, Darby Avenue and Taylor Avenue. The goal of establishing the PZD is to set a standard for the types of businesses that will locate in this area and establish design guidelines. This long-range planning will give the entire area a unified look that will be appealing to both investors and consumers.
The biggest prompter of this effort is the $3 million project planned by Diades Investments. The investor group purchased five warehouses on Ellis St. that will become a pizza restaurant, a steakhouse, museum space, HSA Engineering office space plus additional commercial and retail rental space. In an adjacent warehouse, Old Fort Furniture and Fort Smith Brewing Company owners have renovated warehouses to become a furniture store and a microbrewery.
During PZD planning, a natural discussion arose about creating mini-districts within the Historic District. Those include the Warehouse District, the Legacy District, the Enterprise District and the Memorial District. Each area will offer a niche for certain types of businesses, but all of the districts will flow seamlessly together. More details will be made available once the PZD application is approved by the Fort Smith board of directors.
In the very near future, another traditional neighborhood development will begin on the campus of Arkansas Colleges of Health Education. When completely developed, the 227-acre campus will include the medical school campus, student housing and residential neighborhoods, retail and commercial space, recreation areas and other features that will make it a community within the Chaffee Crossing community within Fort Smith and Barling. All of this planned growth will create a highly attractive quality of life package and a fundamentally solid tax base for the entire region.
As people from outside the Fort Smith region begin moving in to attend the new Arkansas College of Osteopathic Medicine or start new jobs at the ArcBest Corporation headquarters, they will bring new ideas and demand different types of services and products based on influences from other market experiences. The type of development they find in Chaffee Crossing will be appealing and adaptive to their demands.
It is our hope that this will inspire older neighborhoods throughout the city to find ways to revitalize with shops and quality of life features that will also attract home buyers and entrepreneurs. It takes vision, cooperation and communication among property owners, but it is worth the effort.
By Ivy Owen
Ivy Owen is the executive director of Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority in Fort Smith. He is on the board of the National Community Development Council, a member of the Board of Directors of the Southern Economic Developers Council, the I-49 International Coalition, the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, the River Valley Regional Intermodal Transportation Authority, the Fort Smith Trolley Museum, and the Chaffee Crossing Historic Preservation Organization.