The former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant isn't the only industrial project in town surrounded by questions.
The other prime industrial/business park area that economic development leaders have their eye on - the area surrounding the Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Lawrence - now is being questioned by planning commissioners.
"The conversation has been whether that site is really financially feasible, and I believe our general inclination is that it is not," said Planning Commissioner John Haase.
At a planning commission study session last week, commissioners directed staff to reduce the amount of industrial space that is shown around the airport on a key land use map that will be used to plan for new streets in the city.
Haase said he raised concerns about the area because he thinks major stormwater drainage improvements will have to be constructed in North Lawrence before new industrial projects can be undertaken. Otherwise, the new development will worsen flooding problems in North Lawrence, he said.
A North Lawrence drainage study conducted by the city determined there are about $40 million worth of drainage projects that need to be done in North Lawrence. Mayor Mike Amyx, though, said it would be a mistake to believe that all the projects must be completed before any new growth can happen in the area.
"We don't have to say no just because those improvements aren't in place right now," Amyx said.
Amyx said the area around the airport is important because it provides easy access to Interstate 70, which many industrial businesses have said is desirable.
Economic development leaders have pushed for the site as well. The airport area and the Farmland site were identified as the top two areas for future economic development by the Lawrence-Douglas County Economic Development Board. The board has set a goal of bringing about 1,000 acres of industrial ground online within the next five to six years.
Mike Maddox, chairman of the board, said the community lacks large lots of 100 acres or more to offer to companies that could bring jobs to the city.
"If there is a larger industrial opportunity looking at the community, we really don't have a very good place to put that opportunity," Maddox said. "That's kind of the crux of the problem."
Maddox said the area around the airport potentially could provide around 500 acres of industrial development.
Haase said that he was concerned that the area might be too expensive to provide sewer service to, in addition to his drainage concerns. He's once again pushing for the southeast area, a little more than 600 acres east and south of Kansas Highway 10 and O'Connell Road, to largely be developed into a business park area.
Economic development leaders, though, say that does nothing to provide the community with land that has easy access to I-70. But Haase said the property would fill that need if the community were able to get a state commitment for an eastern bypass project that would go from Noria Road to I-70. That project would require a new multimillion-dollar Kansas River bridge. It likely would face stiff competition for state funding from Johnson County interests who may want a Kansas River bridge to tie in more directly with the massive redevelopment of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant near De Soto.
Because planning commissioners were meeting in a study session format, no vote actually was taken on the idea to reduce the area around the airport. Planning commissioners are expected to take that subject up at one of their two December meetings Dec. 18 or Dec. 20.