News and notes from around town:
• Sand is big business around these parts. This part of the state isn’t rich with oil or natural gas, but when it comes to things below the ground, we are pretty rich in the category of sand. But local leaders have had a hard time figuring out how to let companies mine that sand. If you remember, county leaders have rejected two sand pit mining operations in the last year or so. One was on property near the Midland Junction north of Lawrence, and the other was on property just north of Eudora. Well, it looks like at least one company has gotten the message. Midwest Concrete Materials, which operates a concrete plant on East 23rd Street, has filed paperwork to open a sand pit operation near the Kansas River — in Jefferson County. The company has filed for a conditional-use permit on 296 acres that is just east of the Kansas River bridge, across the river from Lecompton. The request is for a sand pit operation, rather than a sand dredging operation that extends out into the Kansas River, said Duane Buscher, a planner with the Jefferson County Planning Department. Sand dredging operations are very difficult to get approved these days because of concerns about the impact dredging has on the river. And sand pit operations have been problematic to get approved in Douglas County. The one near the airport — which was sought by Midwest Concrete Materials — drew opposition from neighbors who were concerned about the loss of prime farmland and about truck traffic. It will be interesting to see whether folks in Jefferson County have any of those same concerns or whether they will be excited about having a new business in the area. It also will be interesting to see what impact the sand operation has on Douglas County. The bulk of the trucks leaving the facility are expected to be going to Midwest’s concrete plant, which is east of Lawrence, across the highway from the East Hills Business Park. No word yet on how many trucks that will be or what route they will take, although I assume they would go through Lecompton and get on the South Lawrence Trafficway. (I wonder if they’ve heard it is not done yet.) The truck traffic may create heartburn for some, but I chatted briefly with Douglas County Public Works Director Keith Browning, who was keeping the news in perspective. He said he was looking into the plant proposal in more detail, but said sometimes such plants don’t produce as much traffic as people assume. We’ll see what the reaction is. I have a call into Midwest Concrete Materials, but haven't heard back from them yet. The proposal currently is in the staff review phase in Jefferson County. Now word yet on when it will be presented to county commissioners up north. Until then, all I know about sand is that it is big business in my household too. During the summer you can find my wife lounging on it, usually with a $12 margarita. If you don’t think that is big business, you haven’t seen my wife drink margaritas.
• As we have previously reported, Hy-Vee has plans to build a new gasoline station/convenience store/car wash near the southwest corner of Clinton Parkway and Crossgate Drive. That project is set to go through a major step on Monday. Lawrence-Douglas County Planning commissioners will consider the necessary rezoning and special permits needed to allow the project. City commissioners then would consider it for final approval in the next couple of weeks. The plans call for a 2,800-square-foot convenience store, eight gasoline pump islands, a four-bay car wash and a separate lot for a future office building. Planning staff members are recommending approval of the development, but have brought up one traffic concern. The project is proposing that a new driveway be created off Crossgate that would allow motorists to turn directly into the gasoline station. Staff members note that the new driveway would be very close to the intersection of Clinton Parkway and Crossgate, which could create congestion concerns. (The new driveway would be about 200 feet away.) The site also is served by West 24th Place, which runs along the south edge of the development. Staff members would prefer all traffic to the development use that smaller road. People who like to sell lots of gas, though, have another preference. Planning commissioners will meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Lawrence City Hall.
• Also up for approval at Monday’s meeting is a conditional-use permit to allow the existing Fraternal Order of Police firing range to continue in operation at 768 E. 661 Diagonal Road in rural Douglas County. This has been a project that has been drawing comments and concerns for months. Some neighbors of the site have objected to the range, which has been in existence for decades. Planners determined the site needed a conditional-use permit to exist, and now discussion is centering on issues related to noise, hours of operation, and whether the lead from spent bullets has the potential to contaminate ground water in the area. Staff members are recommending approval of the site, but with several conditions. They include: No shooting after 8 p.m. on most nights, although three nighttime shooting events a year can be allowed; lead will be reclaimed from the soil every seven years or 100,000 rounds; lodge officials will propose ways to mitigate how much sound from the firing range spills over to adjacent properties. Ultimately, Douglas County Commissioners will have the final say on whether the firing range receives the necessary permit. The hearing at the county commission level likely will happen in a few weeks, if the project wins planning commissioners' approval on Monday.