The future of a unique piece of Douglas County landscape will be up for discussion at tonight’s City Commission meeting.
Commissioners are being asked to give feedback on a proposal to preserve a 256-acre tract of forest land that is part of an area known as the Baldwin Woods.
Members of the county’s ECO2 committee are looking for funding from city and county commissions to purchase a conservation easement that would ensure the native timberland is never the site of development.
But the price tag may prove difficult for city commissioners to swallow. It is estimated that it would cost about $450,000 to purchase a conservation easement from the private owners of the property, which is between Lawrence and Baldwin City.
“It is a beautiful piece of property, but we don’t have any money for it in the budget,” City Manager David Corliss has said.
But leaders of the ECO2 group — which was formed to promote business park development and the preservation of open space — are hoping commissioners will keep an open mind.
“My hope is that at a very minimum that city and county officials would sit down with the property owners and see if there is anything creative that can be done to get this project done,” said Larry McElwain, chairman of the ECO2 committee. “We would hope there would at least be some discussion.”
The property currently is owned by area residents Ray Wilbur and Cathy Dwigans.
Commissioners also will be discussing changes to the overall ECO2 plan that was adopted two years ago. The committee is asking the city and county to approve several changes in the factors the committee uses to determine whether a piece of property is suitable for industrial development.
In the approved version of the plan, property that is close to Interstate 70 is given a higher transportation score than property near Kansas Highway 10, U.S. Highway 59 or other major highways. The proposed changes would treat property that is along a divided state and federal highway equally from a transportation standpoint.
“I think this will give us more opportunity to fairly look at sites throughout the county,” McElwain said.
The changes potentially could change the score the vacant Farmland Industries property receives from the ECO2 commission. When the Farmland property — which is along Kansas Highway 10 — was previously scored it ranked the near the bottom of potential industrial sites in the county.
But the site of the former fertilizer plant has drawn strong interest from community leaders as a site that could be converted into a state-of-the-art business park.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets.