Archive for Monday, March 23, 2009

Candidates discuss former Farmland site’s prospects

The former Farmland Industries site on the east edge of Lawrence has been vacant for several years. The city must decide whether to pursue ownership of the property or turn it over to private development interests.

The former Farmland Industries site on the east edge of Lawrence has been vacant for several years. The city must decide whether to pursue ownership of the property or turn it over to private development interests.

March 23, 2009


When voters go to the polls next month to select three new city commissioners, they may be doing more than pulling the lever for their favorite candidates.

They also may be pushing a big reset button on the long-simmering issue of whether the city should buy the vacant Farmland Industries fertilizer plant and convert it into a business park.

Four of the eight candidates running for the Lawrence City Commission either expressed opposition to the idea, said they would delay moving forward, or would make the project a lower priority for the city. Another said he would be open to using the property for a mixed-use development instead of solely as a business park.

“I think the nature of the game has changed out there,” said candidate Dennis Constance. “I don’t know if it makes as much sense anymore.”

Last month, city leaders confirmed that a private company has become interested in the site. Capitana Redevelopment Group — an Overland Park-based group led by an insurance attorney — has purchased a legal interest in the approximately $10 million trust fund that has been set aside to clean up the environmentally blighted, 467-acre tract on Kansas Highway 10 at the east edge of Lawrence.

That purchase created a question of whether Capitana’s goals will run counter to the city’s interest in converting the property into a business park. Those questions, seemingly, still haven’t been resolved.

City Manager David Corliss said the city has met with Capitana representatives, but also said he couldn’t say whether the development company and the city were in harmony on what should happen to the property.

“We haven’t gotten into a lot of the development details,” Corliss said. “That is probably one of the things we’ll discuss more when we meet in April.”

Attempts last week to reach Aaron Bowers, lead member of the Capitana group, were unsuccessful.

Deal before election?

Timing may become as big a question for the project as any. Last month, Corliss expressed some optimism that a deal for the property could be reached before the April 7 elections. Last week, he declined to express such optimism. Corliss said the two sides had agreed to not publicly discuss timelines for the project.

But privately, some city leaders have said they find it unlikely that any type of meaningful deal can be struck before April 7. After the elections, the majority on the commission could be changed. Three of the five seats are up for election.

Candidate views

In interviews last week, candidates clearly were split on how to proceed with the Farmland project.

Three candidates — Mike Amyx, James Bush and Lance Johnson — all expressed general support for moving forward with the city’s current plans to purchase the property and turn it into an industrial or business park development.

All three said its location — adjacent to East Hills Business Park and to Kansas Highway 10 — make it a logical choice for industrial development.

“I don’t know that there is a site that is better positioned and ready to go in terms of its access and location,” Lance Johnson said. “Trying to zone a new area for an industrial park is not a fun thing to do.”

Nearly all candidates agreed on the desirability of the site’s location, but several candidates said costs were a concern. The property comes with a $10 million trust fund that Farmland was required to set aside for environmental cleanup when the company went bankrupt in 2002.

But current studies by the Kansas Department of Health and Environment estimate it will cost $12 million to $15 million over 30 years to clean up the property. Whoever owns the property will be responsible for its cleanup.

The city also has estimated it could cost another $10 million to $15 million over 30 years to improve infrastructure at the site.

Now that a private company has expressed interest in the property, at least one candidate said he wants the city to clear the way for the private sector to do the project.

“I think there is an opportunity there for private enterprise to do it,” said candidate Price Banks.

Banks said he also would be open to allowing some of the property to used for commercial or retail uses, rather than all of it being used for a business park. The city has generally opposed that idea, but private companies have said that would make the property more attractive to private investment.

“I think we ought to be pretty flexible,” Banks said. “We have a problem out there that needs cleaned up. If the private sector is willing to help us do that, we should be flexible.”

Candidates Aron Cromwell and Gwen Klingenberg both said they want to see the property used as a business park, but both said they would be willing to move more slowly on the project to give the private sector more time to step forward or to give city finances time to improve.

“I worry about spending millions to bring in city sewer and water to the site during these tough times,” Cromwell said.

Klingenberg said she was concerned the project could hurt the city’s ability to finance important human service projects that will need funding during the down economy.

Tom Johnson said he was open to spending money on the project if the city could find reliable partners to work with. But he also said he would be open to using the property for a mixed-use development that could include space for some business park uses but also include retail development and some affordable housing on portions of the property that have been deemed environmentally clean.

Candidates who support buying the property, said they also were mindful of spending money on the site, but said they were encouraged because the money could be spent in smaller increments over a long period of time.

“It will be about a 30-year program on that site to make improvements,” Amyx said. “It would be wise use of dollars because we need space for new jobs.”


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years, 1 month ago

"Three candidates — Mike Amyx, James Bush and Lance Johnson — all expressed general support for moving forward with the city’s current plans to purchase the property and turn it into an industrial or business park development."

Is it any surprise that the Chambocrat candidates would be in favor of corporate welfare?

8ball 9 years, 1 month ago

the city should buy it and turn it into a windfarm to replace the coal plants

nekansan 9 years, 1 month ago

I makes no sense to me for the city to take on the potential liability for the cleanup of the site. If there is a potential private party willing to not only take on that responsibility but to spearhead the redevelopment of the site then the city should get the deal done without the need to become directly financially involved

Chris Ogle 9 years, 1 month ago

Hey boz, I agree with you on this one. Let the privates have a fair chance at this, without the planning dept making it impossible to do anything.

Phil Minkin 9 years, 1 month ago

All those who think moving forward on this is a good idea signify by raising your chamber membership card.

cs1234 9 years, 1 month ago

Lawrence has a just about empty business park right next to it. No need to waste space with another one. How about a grocery store or something else along those lines for the people who live on this side of town an work in the near empty business park up the street.

ConstantlyAmazed 9 years, 1 month ago

That's right. Everyone knows doing nothing is better. Heck, why would we want to move forward with cleaning up that site, and providing possible site locations for industrial jobs?

American Eagle is on their third expansion in Ottawa. Lawrence didn't need those jobs, or taxes.

Besides, I say let's let that site set a few more decades, the nitrogen problem will just soak in to the ground, and go away. Now that's progressive. And, it looks so good from the road. Probably helping property values with its curb appeal.

Lawrence49 9 years, 1 month ago

The city needs revenue, not underperforming assets.

justthefacts 9 years, 1 month ago

I am generally not in favor of discouraging new business. BUT in this case, the city tax payers are being asked to carry a lot of potential costs, without any promise of a return on the investment.

First, understand that the federal law (and state too) allows the government to go after ANYONE who has ever owned a piece of property that is deemed in need of clean up. That is why many governmental entities will not even do a tax forclosure on property that has been the site of a toxic chemical plant etc. They do not want to be the deep pocket that has to pay to clean it up, forever after.

Second, the clean up costs for such a site are almost ALWAYS way more then is predicted. You can double and triple the estimated amounts, and still it is more. If the city wants some business to set up on this site, fine. Just PLEASE do not take any ownership of it, ever - because to do so will put the city (and thus the city tax payers) on the hook for all clean up costs from now until time ends.

Any candidate that favors the city taking on this white elephant will not get my vote.

OzChicklet 9 years, 1 month ago

After the Deciphera screw up, I don't trust the city commission (as is) to make intelligent decisions in regard to a new business park, or an environmental cleanup of the site. As others have stated, the cost of the cleanup is going to be a great deal more than the estimate, and the longer it takes to get the job done, the more it is going to cost. East Hills business park has vacant property now. Why doesn't the city focus on filling the space we have before building more space that won't attract new business here because of their policies, etc?

I don't want my tax dollars spent on that site. I want my tax dollars spent on fixing sidewalks, curbs, streets in the older sections of town. How about a bike trail out to East Hills business park?

Richard Heckler 9 years, 1 month ago

Where is the new money that is necessary to support this activity that will prevent current residents and existing retail owners from absorbing the increased costs?

Lawrence population is not growing = not fiscally feasible.

*Economic Growth Problems in Lawrence

Commissoners Contrite on Dicepera:

USD is spending millions for sports fields with another 16 million in repairs needed to perform maintenance on our elementary schools ... where's the money?

Parks department is duplicating what USD 497 is doing on a 16 million dollar Clinton Lake Regional Park project again where is the money. In addition to building a rec center in the Langston Hughes area = where's the money

the 31st street speedway is also on the table and as always no dollar figure = how many millions = where's the money

Two airport projects are on the table and need new infrastructure = where's the money

New residential is not paying back the taxpayers so why talk about new residential. More new residential will translate into more tax increases.

Where is the money?

Hoots 9 years, 1 month ago

The city needs to leave this toxic wasteland alone. This was a bad idea from the start.

stuart 9 years, 1 month ago

Seems like a majority of you "snipers" need to get off the computer and run for office! It is so easy to sit in front of a computer and write about what someone should or shouldn't do but not do anything about it yourself. Get involved if you think it is important. Go to the city meetings, spend your time helping,volunteer for something, join the chamber, join a grass roots organization, and express your own ideas, the point is..... just do something!

igby 9 years, 1 month ago

The city just wants this 10 million dollars and then the site will get sold to developers who will sprinkle a little dirt around and then build apartments or houses. Lol.

Sell it before April 7th and let the problem be the new companies failure.

Who can trust the city anyway?

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