Farmers Turnpike annexation request
City commissioners moved ahead on plans for a new industrial park near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike, saying it was a key piece of ground to attracting new jobs to the city.
"I care about this land," Mayor Mike Dever told a full City Commission room. "But sometimes you have to give up something to gain something. To gain a reputation where we can be a place where jobs can grow and develop, we have to have locations to offer."
On a 4-1 vote, commissioners gave preliminary approval to annexing approximately 155 acres of property just north of the Lecompton interchange on Interstate 70.
Commissioners heard more than an hour's worth of public comment from both opponents and supporters of the annexation, which is the first step in turning the property into a business park.
Opponents - which included a neighborhood group near the site - argued that the city was opening itself up to a costly extension of city water and sewer service to the site, which is about 1.5 miles outside the city limits.
"I think under the city's financial circumstances, it is ludicrous to expend such funds," said Ron Schneider, a Lawrence attorney who is representing the neighborhood group.
But the development group - which includes Lawrence businessmen Duane and Steve Schwada - assured the city that they were not asking for an extension of water and sewer service to the site. Commissioners also were told by City Manager David Corliss that the city could require the developers to pay for the extension of water and sewer service to the site when it becomes necessary.
"No public money is being asked for and none is being granted," City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said. "That is the understanding I'm moving forward with."
The neighborhood group, though, is fighting the annexation on a separate front as well. Schneider said he will file a lawsuit in Douglas County District Court today contending that Douglas County commissioners erred earlier this year when it found the island annexation did not impede the growth of any other city in the county.
City Commissioner Boog Highberger was the lone commissioner to vote against the annexation. He said the request was premature, in part, because an area plan had not yet been completed for the property. Highberger also said he believed the developers were trying to circumvent the development process by bringing the annexation request to the city.
In 2004, the group had tried to obtain industrial zoning from the county commission but failed to win unanimous approval from the county commission. The issue needed unanimous approval from the County Commission because residents filed a protest petition. Earlier this year, a similar request was filed with the county but it has been on hold after it appeared the project may lack the necessary votes at the County Commission.
City commissioners on Tuesday did agree to place specific wording in the annexation ordinance making it clear that the city wouldn't be obligated to extend city water and sewer service to the site.
Developers have said they believe they can find users for the site - such as a distribution center or warehouse - that would not need city water and sewer service. The developers also have said they're prepared to have an on-site water storage system to accommodate a fire sprinkler system.