Work on what is expected to be the city’s largest development project in years may soon kick into a new gear.
Lawrence city commissioners at their weekly meeting are expected to approve spending $1 million to do planning and some construction to convert the former Farmland Industries property into a business park.
“I want us to be in a position to offer building permit-ready lots to businesses in the next 12 to 18 months,” City Manager David Corliss said.
To get to that point, though, the city is going to have to put some lines on paper, and some pavement on the ground. Among the items Corliss wants commissioners to discuss:
• A master plan for the entire 450-acre site. This will show the location of roads and utilities and also will start to determine how many industrial lots the former fertilizer plant can be split into. Corliss said he’s anticipating the property will be divided into lots ranging from 30 to 100 acres in size, with some ability to change the configuration based on demand. Corliss is estimating that the master planning for the site will cost about $150,000.
• A traffic signal for the 23rd Street and O’Connell Road intersection. The traffic signal would be part of a plan to build a north-south road through the Farmland property. The road would serve as the main entrance to the industrial park. Corliss is estimating planning and construction of the signal and the road will cost about $850,000. Corliss believes work could begin on that part of the project in 2012.
• An east-west road that would connect the new Farmland entrance with the adjacent East Hills Business Park. The road would make it easier for vacant land on the western edge of the East Hills Business Park to be developed. With a traffic light at O’Connell it also could make for a safer way for motorists to access the East Hills Business Park. Currently, the main entrance to the business park does not have a traffic signal. Corliss said that work also could begin in 2012, or could be done in phases.
• In future years, Corliss envisions extending East 19th Street into the Farmland property. The road ends near the Douglas County Fairgrounds. Corliss said he wants to explore connecting 19th Street to the new north-south entrance road for the Farmland site.
“We would want 19th Street to serve as neighborhood access to the Farmland property,” Corliss said. “It would be the type of road designed for people to drive, walk or bike to the business park and to work. We don’t want it to be a truck access point for the businesses.”
Cost estimates for a 19th Street extension and a new road connecting East Hills and Farmland haven’t been developed yet.
But the property has received one piece of news that may help it with future revenue. Corliss said his staff has confirmed that when the city took over ownership of the property in September, it also received a large groundwater right owned by Farmland. The rights are for 1.2 billion gallons of water per year. To put that in perspective, the entire city used about 3 billion gallons of water in 2010, Corliss said.
“It is a lot of water, on paper,” Corliss said.
The water comes from wells that are not on the Farmland property, which suffers from groundwater contamination. The wells are east of Noria Road on property near the Kansas River.
Corliss said the water supply is large enough that it has attracted some interest from area water users. But he also said it could be used as a tool to attract businesses to the area that need a large supply of water.
Removal of old buildings and equipment at the Farmland site is expected to be completed by late August or early September. But cleanup of the groundwater contamination at the site is expected to take decades — although most of the work is overseeing pumps that remove the nitrogen-laced water, which is later used on farm fields.
The city, as part of its acquisition of the property from bankrupt Farmland, received an $8.6 million trust to clean the property. That money can’t be used to build roads or other infrastructure needed to convert the property into a business park.
City commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.