Archive for Thursday, May 3, 2007

County Commission clears ECO2 plan

May 3, 2007


It's been six years in the making - enough time that commissioners joked their hair has changed color.

The Douglas County Commission on Wednesday gave its unanimous approval to a plan that sets out a framework for balancing industrial developments with the preservation of open space throughout the county. The ECO2 plan- pronounced "Eco squared" - also is scheduled to go before the Lawrence City Commission next week.

"This plan represents literally hundreds of hours of community toil and discussion over the last six years," said Larry McElwain, a member of the commission that put the plan together.

The 41-page plan includes criteria for selecting both industrial-development sites and open spaces for preservation. It's based on the concept that for every public dollar invested in industrial developments, there's an equal investment in open-space preservation.

Commissioner Jere McElhaney said he was concerned about the tax implications. But as Chairman Bob Johnson noted, approving the plan doesn't require the County Commission to make any new revenue stream - only to commit to coming to the table and working to implement the plan as potential projects come along.

"You've built the bumblebee. Now we'll see if it flies," Johnson said.

Jones said, "My hair was jet black when we started this."

"So was mine," the white-haired Johnson said.

In other actions, the County Commission:

¢ Put off a vote for a week on whether to allow a special-use permit for a grass airstrip west of U.S. Highway 59 near Baldwin City. Jim Butell has been using the strip since 1999 without the required county permit, and only recently did the county learn it was in use.

Butell says he uses the airstrip for pleasure and to check on his property, but two nearby landowners requested that the permit be denied. Joe and Thea Richard, who bought an adjacent property from Butell in 2005, say they think it's a safety risk and allege that Butell is flying over their home to harass them.

County planning staff member Mary Miller told the County Commission the strip was up to FAA specifications. Johnson said he had no grounds to do anything other than support it; Jones and Commissioner Jere McElhaney said they were torn.

"It just disappoints the heck out of me when we have landowners ... that don't even try to put forth some effort to have good communication skills and a way to work together," McElhaney said.

¢ Scheduled a public hearing for May 23 on a proposal to create a "neighborhood revitalization plan" for a planned mixed-use development near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets in eastern Lawrence.

Developer Bo Harris is proposing to pay for about $3.5 million upfront in infrastructure improvements needed to get the project off the ground. He would be reimbursed for the amount via a tax rebate each year for up to 20 years equal to 95 percent of the increased property taxes collected from the district.

¢ Approved a petition to add 10 parcels of land to Rural Water District 2.


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