A majority of City Commission candidates have concerns about development occurring near the Lawrence Municipal Airport.
At a forum Monday hosted by the North Lawrence Improvement Association, five of the eight candidates said they were concerned about allowing development on prime farm ground near the airport.
“I believe wholeheartedly in protecting prime farm ground,” commission candidate Aron Cromwell said. “Ask yourself what would be the highest and best use of that ground if oil prices are $10 or $20 per gallon in the future and food prices are out of control.”
Candidates Mike Amyx, Price Banks, Dennis Constance and Gwen Klingenberg also expressed concerns about development on the property near the airport. A Lawrence development group has submitted plans to build a business park on about 150 acres near the airport, but those plans have been hotly contested by neighbors.
Candidates James Bush and Lance Johnson both said they would want to know more about the proposed project before saying whether development on the property would be appropriate.
The issue has become broader in recent days after a Lawrence-based aviation firm — DAR Corp. — expressed an interest in building a facility to construct prototype aircraft on the airport grounds.
The company has asked the city to perhaps spend several million dollars to extend water and sewer service to the airport to accommodate future development at the airport. That idea also created concern for some commissioners.
Banks, Constance and Klingenberg said the proposal raised questions about whether the extension of utilities to the airport would put prime farmland near the airport under too intense of development pressure.
“It creates the question of whether we would be fueling the drive to develop on top of all that prime ag ground,” Constance said. “And once you lose that, you can’t replace it.”
Both Johnson and Bush, though, said they thought the city needed seriously to consider helping DAR expand at the airport.
“When I first heard about DAR, my initial response was that this is a great opportunity for the community,” Bush said of the project.
In other news from the forum:
• Cromwell pledged, if elected, to donate his City Commission salary — after taxes — to area social service agencies. Commissioners are paid about $9,000 per year.
• Most candidates said the city’s economic situation was not yet serious enough to consider layoffs of city employees. Most said they supported leaving some vacant positions at City Hall unfilled, but only Lance Johnson spoke about seriously examining layoffs.
“In my business we have to make tough decisions,” said Johnson, who owns a civil engineering company. “I’m going to look at that. City Hall won’t be immune.”
• Candidate Tom Johnson did not attend the forum, which attracted about 40 people.
— City reporter Chad Lawhorn can be reached at 832-6362. Visit his Town Talk blog at LJWorld.com/weblogs/town_talk/