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Opinion

Opinion

County group tried to pursue compromise on warehouse plan

July 14, 2010

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The Journal-World’s July 5 editorial regarding the conflict between the owners of property near the Kansas Turnpike’s Lecompton Interchange and the need “to clear the path for a new Berry Plastics warehouse” is off the mark in at least one important aspect. You say, “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.”

This 155-acre site is currently zoned for the highest industrial impact potential on the community, which is “incompatible” with the many longstanding rural residential and small farms in a substantial immediate area, as designated in city land use documents.

In response to a Dec. 16, 2009, article in the Journal-World, discussing the Berry Plastics proposal “to build a large warehouse and distribution facility in Douglas County,” our group, The Scenic Riverway Community Association, initiated a letter to City Manager, David Corliss. In that letter we suggested that a meeting be set up between the neighbors and other interested principal parties.

The association representatives had two purposes for requesting that meeting: First, we wanted to make it clear that we consider Berry Plastics to be a fine corporate citizen and we would welcome Berry Plastics as a neighbor. Second, we would immediately drop all litigation if the landowners and the city would agree to change the zoning for the entire tract of land to the next lower industrial level and incorporate design guidelines for things such as screening, lighting, etc., into the project.

A subsequent meeting was held in early January 2010, which was attended by officers and directors of our neighborhood organization and our attorney. Also in attendance were three executives representing Berry Plastics, City Manager David Corliss, City Attorney Toni Wheeler, Director of Planning Scott McCullough and one of the property owners, Steve Schwada, and his attorney.

At this meeting, Berry Plastics presented their view of the project that they anticipated, along with drawings of a possible building. In response to a question by our group, Scott McCullough confirmed that there is nothing in the East Hills Business Park that could not be built with the lower industrial zoning that we were requesting. The East Hills Business Park currently provides thousands of jobs to the citizens of our area. Representatives of Berry Plastics indicated that their planned warehouse would also comply with that zoning change. Ultimately, we were advised that the landowner refused to consider such a change.

The record needs to be corrected and the citizens of Douglas County need to know, that a community leader does not need “to reach out to the neighbors near the Lecompton interchange” to open “a true conversation” as our group initiated that conversation months ago.

It is our hope that the public sale of the property will result in a new owner, one who is willing to work with the surrounding neighbors rather than a developer who is preventing Berry Plastics and the community of Lawrence from realizing this opportunity for jobs and growth.

— David J. Ross is president of The Scenic Riverway Community Association, a group of about 142 residents and property owners in the unincorporated area of northwest Douglas County.

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