Archive for Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Farmland plans are lagging, leaders say

February 27, 2008


Douglas County commissioners say they are frustrated at how long it is taking to get something done with the former Farmland Industries site.

They are critical of the city of Lawrence for letting the Farmland issue drag on.

The city and the county are lagging behind Johnson County in development of the Kansas Highway 10 corridor, commissioners said.

"Look at what's happening in Johnson County, and it feels like we are falling further and further behind," Commissioner Charles Jones said. "I just think that we are putting ourselves in a very, very poor position."

Commissioners Bob Johnson and Jere McElhaney agreed, although Johnson said he realizes the city "has several things on its plate."

Industrial development should be a priority, Jones said.

"There's nothing on anybody's plate right now that should be more important than industrial development," he said.

The former Farmland chemical plant is on the north side of Kansas Highway 10 near O'Connell Road. Farmland declared bankruptcy a few years ago and the 467-acre property has been in bankruptcy court. The site is just outside the city limits but two years ago city leaders asked the county to allow the city to prepare a redevelopment plan and submit a bid for the property to the court. City officials noted that the city eventually would annex the area. In July the city submitted a bid to the court. The amount of the bid was not released. Last fall a draft of a redevelopment plan for the site was released.

Several million dollars are in two accounts for administration and remediation of the property, and the accounts are being managed by the court. It was not clear this week how much was in the accounts. County commissioners said they fear the money in those accounts is being drained while the property remains in limbo.

There has been no action by the court on the city's bid and the city is at the mercy of the court, Mayor Sue Hack said.

"They set the speed. We don't," Hack said. "We've had lots of discussions with anyone who would listen to us and come help us process through this, but there's no way to move it along any faster."

Jones, however, said the city could be pushing for court action.

"There's some threshold at which the people controlling Farmland would make it end," Jones said. "Just find out, 'what is that threshold' and then let's talk about what we want to do. We've hired all these big-shot attorneys who we have spent a lot of money on, who have not moved us one inch toward a resolution."

Jones said he wouldn't mind if the county took the Farmland project back. Johnson and McElhaney said they think it was a mistake for it to go completely to the city.

"Working together, we'd have a better chance of getting it done," Johnson said.

Hack said she'd love to have either the city or the county or both own the Farmland property and be tearing down the structures, mitigating the environmental issues and planning the building of an industrial park. She said the City Commission has similar sentiments.

Jones said he'd like to see an incentive aspect for industrial development included in the joint city and county southeast area plan, which covers southeastern Lawrence and nearby areas outside the city limits.

Farmland should not be the only industrial site the city and county should be thinking about, Johnson said.

"I think Farmland is a significant piece of the future industrial development tax base, but it is not the answer," he said. "One of the things we need are industrial development sites that are more accessible to I-70."


MCwzMC 10 years, 2 months ago

Given that this property is a superfund site, what are the chances that the City grossly underestimates the cleanup costs?

introversion 10 years, 2 months ago

"One of the things we need are industrial development sites that are more accessible to I-70."


Queue ominous music

PART II: Roger Pine Strikes Back!

monkeyhawk 10 years, 2 months ago

I don't believe this is an opportune time for me to be speculating on toxic wasteland. I prefer to be prudent with my funds, and in times of economic downturn, my investors appreciate my caution. They are especially grateful when I don't venture into unfamiliar waters. So, I would have to pass on my purchase of this mephitical dump.

KU_cynic 10 years, 2 months ago

If the city or county ends up buying this site I predict it will turn into one of this community's greatest financial disasters. Let some private developer buy the site (if any will touch it) and then negotiate about financing for infrastructure or tax status, but for goodness sake do not acquire this property and then lock up city/county personnel and resources in "managing" it for decades.

And here's another question: What's to keep industrial development from expanding at or near the East Hills area or a little farther down the road? There seems to be plenty of room to work with, so why the focus on the blighted site?

There seems to be some kind of blind faith that government ownership/managing/subsidizing can turn this rancid sow's ear into a silk purse. I just don't get it.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

25 years of forgoing an economy of substance will likely keep Lawrence lagging. Building a bedroom community appears like not a wise choice..... some consistently wrong decisions were made.

There is space between East Hills an Farmland...what about that? It does no good to annex property then lay additional expense on taxpayers. In fact if land lay unimproved it does not increase our taxes so what is the government doing annexing property simply because developers request it? The government continues to approve more bedroom developments on the basis that some declared Lawrence a retirement community...based on what?

Does residential/ bedroom communities pay back or continue to expand the expenses of the community?

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Bedrooms cost all of us taxpayers too damn much money! For Example: Donovan Scruggs, Ocean Springs director of community development and planning, said the city's current budget. crunch can be tied directly to infrastructure expenses needed to serve new housing developments.

"If residential growth paid for itself and was financially positive, we would not be in a budget crunch," Scruggs said. "But with increased numbers of houses you have increased demand on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by single-family housing does not pay for the services, they require from a municipality."

Scruggs said there have been two studies done on impact fees. One 100-page study was on services for police and fire protection, administration and parks. A second study was done on infrastructure related impacts on roads, water and sewer etc ect.

The current proposal calls for the fees to be collected separately.

"We want. to make sure we tie the fees as closely as possible to when the demand is being generated," Scruggs said. "Water and sewer fees would be collected when the subdivision is constructed. Services more related to occupancy and homes being constructed would be collected later. For example, no one will have a need for a park until there are kids in that neighborhood."

While developers pay for onsite water, sewer and road infrastructure, Scruggs said it is costly to pay for offsite upgrades needed, such as enlarging lift stations and raising water towers.

"Now if we have to upgrade a lift station, it is paid for by the general fund revenue paid by each taxpayer in the city," Scruggs said. "Someone on the west side of town would have to pay for subsidizing the growth in demand caused by the development in the east part of town."

The eastern part of town is where the greatest residential growth is being seen. Scruggs said there has been so much growth in recent years that the city has to elevate its water towers to keep pressure at adequate levels. "That was a direct result caused by the growth," he said.

Scruggs said that impact fees are legal if they are done properly.

"Madison's impact fee program had problems," Scruggs said. "Ours will not have those problems. It can be done right."

Ocean Springs had 120 homes constructed in 2000, 90 in 2001 and is on track to have 120 homes constructed in 2002. If impact fees had been collected on the 310 homes built in three years, the city would have extra revenues of about $2.1 million.

In order for the city to have orderly growth, developers need to be responsible for a certain amount of the infrastructure. Most builders understand impact fees are for a purpose that improves their development."

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

So I have been hearing light industrial property is difficult to sell in any timely fashion. Building warehouses that may not meet required specs for interested parties seems irresponsible. Empty buildings may generate property tax but no community can live off property tax alone. Tanger Mall is a perfect example of failure... the city needs that million or so sales tax dollars that Tanger is failing to generate.

Keep this in mind. The city government is building a budget based on a projection of 3.5% increase in new tax revenue if the LJW is correct. If my memory serves me well this is a repeat of 2007. Lawrence did not achieve a 3.5% increase. History has revealed Lawrence is lucky to see a 2.5% - 2.7% increase in tax revenue with some degree of consistency.

The housing market is not receiving any great reviews of late in fact getting worse. Empty houses are worse than empty retail or light industrial. All empty structures are truly a drag on the economy. Impact fees or excise taxes are something that needs to happen. I wonder how much that new LINKS upscale living project, for those retirement folks, is going to cost taxpayers? with a new golf course in a community that ends the year in a drought consistently?

pace 10 years, 2 months ago

Hack should resign, she can't do the job.

Richard Heckler 10 years, 2 months ago

Republicans reckless behavior bringing in high dollar gasoline is also one aspect to keep in mind. One of these days commuters will begin to relocate closer to employment.

$4 dollar gas predicted in the near future:

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