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Archive for Monday, July 5, 2010

Interchange intervention

Efforts to clear the path for a new Berry Plastics warehouse need to be ramped up.

July 5, 2010

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The future of about 1,000 Lawrence jobs should be heavy on the minds of community leaders these days.

Lawrence is engaged in an important effort to convince Berry Plastics to build a 600,000-square-foot warehouse in Douglas County. In fact, it appears Berry would like nothing better than to do just that.

But now this project has become caught in a web of complications. Unfortunately, such webs have been spun in Lawrence before.

Although Berry has not announced its intentions, indications are that it is most interested in about 50 acres of a 155-acre site at the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike.

Disagreements among the property’s owners will cause that property to be sold to the highest bidder at a sheriff’s auction later this month. That’s a complication. But at least it is a complication with an end in sight.

The larger threat appears to be two lawsuits filed by neighbors who have concerns about how an industrial property will fit in with the rural area surrounding the site. The neighbors have one lawsuit pending in Douglas County District Court. They have lost another one in district court, but have appealed that decision to the Kansas Court of Appeals.

Lawyers have been hesitant to say how long that appeal may take, but history says it could drag on for 18 months or more.

That, almost certainly, is time this project does not have.

Federal bonds related to the stimulus package are part of Berry’s plans, and the likelihood of the project losing access to those bonds increases as each month passes.

To lose this project would be a needless defeat that would sting for years. As proposed, the warehouse would create just 11 new jobs, although it would employ about 350 during construction.

But viewing this project in those terms would be shortsighted. The larger picture is that it makes sense for the warehouse to be near Berry’s drinking cup manufacturing facility, which thankfully is in Lawrence. Berry has been perhaps the most encouraging local business story of the last several years. The plant has grown from about 450 employees in 2006 to about 950 today.

Berry has not said it will move its plant if it can’t have the warehouse in Douglas County. Certainly, such an undertaking would be significant. But there’s no doubt that if the warehouse is located elsewhere that the door to that possibility would be opened a little wider. That’s not what a community who says it wants to focus on economic development would do.

What a community who says it must grow its tax base would do, is muster some leadership. Economic development leaders at the chamber have been working hard on this project, but now we’re in need of a different type of leadership.

A political leader or community leader needs to reach out to the neighbors near the Lecompton interchange. Serious discussions about what could be done to make this warehouse project palatable need to occur.

This task needs to be undertaken by someone neighbors believe have their interests in mind. Perhaps County Commissioner Nancy Thellman — who has built up much goodwill with folks concerned about preserving key pieces of area land — would be a candidate.

But if not her, someone. Politicians and community leaders have talked for a long time about the need for more economic development.

What’s called for now is a true conversation.

Comments

stash 3 years, 9 months ago

let the market determine Dear Editor!

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fancy80 3 years, 9 months ago

grammaddy, I'm not 100% sure on this, but I believe they are leasing or renting it until they decide on which property they will build their warehouse on.

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grammaddy 3 years, 9 months ago

What's up with the old E&E building on Haskell, or are they just parking trucks there?

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fancy80 3 years, 9 months ago

sure, but also have to get the "people" on your side, so have the newspaper write an article to put a little fear in them. Now when the property owners in that area complain or try to block it thru legal channels, the un-informed can say "but if we don't let them have this property, Berry will leave and 1,000 jobs go with them." This democratic way is really starting to mimic the way the clowns in our Nation's capital work. I guess next we can expect to see ljworld demonizing the area land owners. I miss the good ole days when newspapers just reported the news...now it seems they want to persuade you to feel a certain way about the issue at hand. Does make you wonder what's in it for them (ljworld)

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George Lippencott 3 years, 9 months ago

The democratic process sure is messy. A new warehouse is a good thing - cram it down peoples throats - people who clearly have an interest as they live there. Maybe we should take the land for economic development purposes like they did back east and sell it to whomever.

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dubstep 3 years, 9 months ago

Compromise was never part of the initial push on this land. For all the talk of involving stakeholders in the planning process, this one was pushed through completely against the wishes of the neighbors. Beyond concerns of the neighbors, the fiscal issue of who will ultimately pay for the extension of infrastructure was never discussed. The developers assured the city they were not asking for water or sewer line extensions (this was the supposed concession), but we didn't ask for or even discuss an agreement in writing that the developers would pay for these improvements. Odds are, the city will have to pay for them, or else someone will threaten to go elsewhere. If they had that and an idea of what the development would look like, rather than blankly stating they had no plans and no tenants at time of annexation, maybe the neighbors wouldn't have been so upset. Now, realizing this lawsuit is going to drag out and be more than just a thorn in our side, we talk about conversations? Maybe we should have considred these people we tried to strong-arm from the get-go to be partners, rather than simply Not-In-My-Back-Yard curmudgeons who simply didn't want to play ball. It seemed the attitude from the start (Schwadas, their attorneys, and some at the city) was to push this through and forget the neighbors.

To Ron Schneider - way to grind this suit out, looks like you've got the Chamber by the b*lls.

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XTC 3 years, 9 months ago

I agree with fancy80 that is not the only parcel of ground available.
I have heard that Berry is also seriously looking at the lot directly across the street to build the facility. This lot makes a lot more sence to me as the other property is about 7 miles away from the Plant. How may semi-trucks would be going back and forth from building to building daily? Let's hope the legal appeal takes time and Berry finds a better fit for the project.

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maxc 3 years, 9 months ago

True leadership would have a proper plan for development and not just succumb to the pressure of local developers. The willy-nilly fashion in which the Lecompton interchange has been handled is amateurish. Lawrence needs to take a hard look at what's going on in that area. There is plenty of land that has the infrastructure already in place. Who is going to pay for all that is necessary there? Not to mention the cost of lawsuits and destruction of an ecosystem that is becoming endangered in eastern Kansas.

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Keith 3 years, 9 months ago

"This task needs to be undertaken by someone neighbors believe have their interests in mind."

That would be a mistaken belief.

This task needs to be undertaken by someone who can con the neighbors into believing this will benefit them and not the developers.

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fancy80 3 years, 9 months ago

An excellent point Puddleglum. The best thing the county commisioners could do is require that a major percentage of the work must be given to local (Lawrence) construction firms. How does it help Lawrence if most of the money is paid to a construction company that is not locally based?

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puddleglum 3 years, 9 months ago

Oh please. 1000 jobs? not quite. some temporary construction jobs (which will most likely involve nobody from lawrence; topeka company-topeka hires)
and they even admitted that there will only be 11 new jobs-all of which are already filled and all of which are coming from topeka. So there you have it. Headline should read: JW editor wants topekan immigrants to stink up interchange in douglas county. Also wants to help buddy schwada.

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fancy80 3 years, 9 months ago

Hey ljworld, please spare us the scare tactics! That particular parcel of ground is not the only property in or around Lawrence that Berry Plastics has shown interest in. This article makes it sound as if they (Berry Plastics) don't get this particular parcel, they will close down and go somewhere else. Berry Plastics has recently spent a huge chunk of change to upgrade their facility, and there is a lot directly across the street from the manufacturing facility that is more than large enough to accomodate the size of warehouse that is being discussed.

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