Archive for Wednesday, October 23, 2002

s plans on business parks, open space

October 23, 2002


— Larry Wilson farms nearly 1,000 acres south of Eudora, and he wouldn't mind selling some of it to bring businesses in and keep development out.

And if the Douglas County Commission wants to step in and help drive the push to build business parks and preserve open space, Wilson said he wouldn't stand in the way.

"The most ideal spot is right where I'm sitting," said Wilson, whose home on the family farm is near the County Road 1061 exit of Kansas Highway 10. "I'm just an old dumb farmer, and I don't know what's going on. I just happen to have some ground in the right spot.

"And I'm ready to retire."

Much of the land Wilson farms  plus hundreds of acres elsewhere in the county  soon could be on commissioners' radar screens, as the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and one of its appointed committees get ready to drive for economic development and land preservation.

ECO2, a committee formed more than two years ago to quell discord between advocates of business-development and open-space preservation, is putting the finishing touches on a plan that would create a county-appointed committee to carry on ECO2's goals of balanced development.

The plan should be finished Nov. 6, and then go to commissioners for review and possible adoption soon thereafter.

"We could do this in two weeks," said Kelvin Heck, ECO2 chair and a commercial real estate broker.

When it gets there, commissioners also could have the chamber's conceptual map of possible sites for four future business parks. The map was requested jointly by Commissioner Bob Johnson and Lawrence Mayor Sue Hack, in an effort to jump-start discussion about the county's future.

"It's not in any way a final product or even an endorsement from anybody, but just general ideas to begin the discussion," said Craig Weinaug, county administrator. "I see it as being a long discussion  not only of where they will be located, but also how any infrastructure for any potential site would be financed."

ECO2 members originally had envisioned asking voters to approve a 1/4-cent sales-tax increase to generate $22 million over 10 years. The money would be used equally to promote development of business parks and to preserve open space. But the committee put off that request indefinitely, given the slow economy and opposition from commissioners.

Instead, committee members now want the county to step in and appoint a board that would establish strategies for development and preservation and solicit proposals for projects deemed desirable.

"The government has an obligation to address market failures, and the economics right now are just not going to create industrial space," said Commissioner Charles Jones, an ECO2 member. "People who have money would be better off investing in Johnson County. If we want to have those opportunities, we would have to have government intervention. It won't happen any other way.

"It's the same for open space. We need to have government intervention."

Wilson said he wouldn't mind hearing from the government. He's already heard from people interested in developing some of his property just off K-10 into a business park, and he'd like to see it include bike trails, park areas and other features that would help the area thrive.

"They could do it," Wilson said. "The developers just hate to give up the ground in open spots, because it costs so much to get in. If the government would help the developers, I'm sure they would be agreeable to it."

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