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Archive for Friday, July 2, 2004

Redevelopment of Sunflower site takes step forward

July 2, 2004

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— The Johnson County Commission took a "baby step" Thursday toward transfer of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant to Kessinger/Hunter and Co.

A predevelopment agreement between the county and the Kansas City, Mo., developer commits Kessinger/Hunter to acquiring the property from the county if a satisfactory transfer is negotiated with the Army. The agreement also commits the developer to cleaning the plant to residential standards and developing it in accordance with the county's "Community in a Park" land-use plan. And it requires Kessinger/Hunter to pay costs the county incurs in the transfer process.

Kessinger/Hunter attorney John Petersen characterized the deal as a "baby step" that would be followed by more substantial and detailed agreements. But it was important, he said, because it allows the developer to begin direct negotiations with various state and federal agencies involved in the transfer.

Kessinger/Hunter has proposed a mix of commercial, residential and park uses for the site where propellants for bombs were manufactured from 1942 through 1989. The site will require tens of millions of dollars be spent on removal of hazardous waste from the manufacturing process. Officials said the cleanup cost would be borne by Kessinger/Hunter and cleanup could take as long as seven years.

It is envisioned the developer would acquire the site for the estimated $45 million to $60 million it would take to clean it.

The deal was almost tripped up by objections from De Soto officials alarmed that the predevelopment agreement did not commit Kessinger/Hunter to handing over title to the Sunflower water treatment plant that De Soto has leased for the past six years.

Petersen said the developer intended to make the transfer, but that it should come in later agreements.

But De Soto City Attorney Patrick Reavey said the city needed formal assurances it would receive the title to gain financing to upgrade the World War II-era plant. Commissioners responded to his argument that the water plant was a public safety issue for the city.

"The credibility of this board has been raised as to this document," Commissioner Doug Wood said. "Are we here to serve the public interest of citizens of Johnson County or corporate interest?"

In private negotiations that followed, a letter was drafted stating the city would receive title to the water plant if the county and Kessinger/Hunter don't reach a final transfer agreement by March 1, 2005. The commission approved the letter and the unchanged predevelopment agreement.

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