FAYETTEVILLE — The city will set up a trust fund to help people displaced because of climate change settle in Northwest Arkansas.
Dick Bennett, founder of the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice and Ecology and retired English professor at the University of Arkansas, offered the city $100,000 to establish an endowment. The trust fund would serve as a pass-through to nonprofits to help resettle people forced to leave their homes because of uninhabitable climate conditions around the world, according to city documents.
The City Council voted 7-0 Tuesday to start the fund.
Mayor Lioneld Jordan walked the item onto the council’s agenda. He said the city already adopted a welcoming plan and participates in refugee resettlement services with Canopy NWA and that climate change must be addressed.
“A lot of people are being displaced,” Jordan said. “We’re seeing all kinds of catastrophic climate change issues occur.”
The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says there is growing evidence to show climactic and extreme weather events are creating an increasing number of climate refugees, according to the legislation text the council adopted. Heat, droughts, soil erosion, wildfires, sea level rise and flooding all impact people.
City Attorney Kit Williams said individuals or groups could contribute to the fund, but the city legally could not put taxpayer money into it. Any grants associated with the fund would come to the City Council for approval, he said.
The city will look for the best organization to carry out Bennett’s wishes, Chief Financial Officer Paul Becker said.
Jordan said he has known Bennett for about 50 years and that he has acted as a mentor.
“He’s always been a compassionate and caring individual,” Jordan said. “I can’t thank him enough for this generous gift tonight he’s given to this city.”
In other business, the council voted 7-0 to grant an appeal of a rezoning request from Lewis Automotive, a Ford dealership on North College Avenue.
The request was to rezone about 5 acres at the southeast corner of Moore Lane and Deane Solomon Road on the west side of town from mostly residential multifamily up to 24 units an acre to a commercial zone. A portion of the acreage already was zoned as commercial. Williams Tractor sits immediately east of the site.
Planning commissioners previously denied the request, saying they had concerns over a commercial zone that allows parking in the front across the street from residences on Deane Solomon Road.
Suzanne Clark, attorney representing the Lewis family, offered the council a bill of assurance that would limit the use of the property to a car dealership. It also specified tree lines and landscape buffers along Deane Solomon Road and Moore Lane, and lighting that would not bleed into residences.
The dealership plans to move to the location and will ask to rezone the 7 acres it currently sits on at North College Avenue to a more modern commercial zoning, owner Matt Lewis told the council. He said he spoke with neighbors in the area of Deane Solomon Road and Moore Lane about plans for the site.
The council also approved by a 7-0 vote giving city employees one-time appreciation pay for working during the covid-19 pandemic.
Police officers and firefighters can receive up to $2,000. Full-time employees can receive up to $1,500, and part-time employees can get up to $750, said Missy Cole, the city’s Human Resources director. The cost will be about $1.8 million using the city’s allocation of federal American Rescue Plan money.
Current employees who worked from Nov. 1, 2020, to Nov. 28 of this year will be eligible. Employees who worked fewer days than that time frame will receive prorated amounts, Cole said.
Fayetteville’s City Council met Tuesday and approved:
• Rezoning about 9 acres near Double Springs and Dot Tipton roads to allow residential single-family homes up to eight units an acre.
• A $7.6 million contract renewal with CH2M Hill to manage the city’s wastewater services next year.
Additionally, Mayor Lioneld Jordan presented former council member Matthew Petty an award in appreciation of Petty’s 12 years on the council. Petty resigned in October, saying his professional work obligations were taking away from the time he could dedicate to serving.