County’s rural landscape changing
Used to be, folks taking a drive through the county this time of year might admire a farmer's corn nearly ready for harvest. Nowadays they're more likely to admire the ground beneath the corn.
As the price of rural land increases, the number of farms is decreasing. Some say it's a portent of the future of Leavenworth County.
"I haven't sold a working farm in I don't know how long," said Art Hancock of Hancock Realty.
These days, he said, there's just not a lot of farmland to be had in the southern half of Leavenworth County.
"The bigger share of those farms stay in the family and are passed down from generation to generation," Hancock said. "That, or they're parceled out into smaller tracts for home sites and small-tract farms large enough to keep a calf or a horse or two, that kind of thing," Hancock
City people moving out to Tonganoxie is nothing new. "That's always been the mainstay of our business," Hancock said.
But the origin of the newcomers has changed.
"When I first started selling real estate here 21 years ago, we'd have someone from Johnson County come out here looking for land maybe once or twice a year," he said. "When (Interstate) 435 was completed around the city and became more accessible to (U.S. Highway) 24-40, we started seeing more Johnson County people. Now, with the four-lane in, half of the people looking out here are from Johnson County I guess the dollar goes further out here."
Statistics from John Zoellner, director of planning for Leavenworth County, show that the number of new houses built in unincorporated areas of the county peaked at 223 in 1996.
After a decrease in 1997 and 1998, the numbers seem to be on the rise again, with 173 permits having been granted for the county as of Aug. 15, 1999.
Some of the fluctuation might be caused by interest rates, Zoellner said.
"It looks like the interest rates are going back up now and a lot of the time when that happens, we see a growth burst.
People want to get their houses built before the rates go higher. We may beat that 223 (new houses) of 1996."
Lem Evans, a Tonganoxie Realtor for 41 years, said, "It used to be that we'd sell an average of two farms and two residences a month. Now it seems that the rural sales have dropped down to about one a month and residence sales have gone up to three."
Evans attributed the changes to two factors: The escalating price of farmland and revised county zoning regulations that say parcels of land smaller than 40 acres cannot be subdivided.
"I think they're trying to stop urban sprawl," he said.
Apparently, escalating land prices haven't been enough to accomplish that. "The prices have more than doubled in the last 10 years," Evans said.
In 1990, a 10-acre piece of ground might have sold for $1,500 to $2,000 an acre, Evans said. Today, a five-acre plot with a water meter and road access might sell for $25,000. Land without water can fetch $3,500 to $4,000 an acre.
In the Linwood area, land with water on it sells for about $6,500 an acre, Evans said.
Evans said that anyone hoping to profit from speculative land purchases should be willing to invest in 40 acres or more.
"You can still pick up some of that for about $1,000 an acre if it's not on a main road," he said. "You can find it if you're careful and if you look."
The larger parcels of land could probably be resold at a profit in two to three years, Evans said.
Even at what seems to be high land costs, it's all relative, Evans said. Land can be bought in Leavenworth County for less than half what it would cost in Johnson County."
Charles Stimac of Triple Creek Realty said business is booming. "I can't really tell of a bad area for real estate now in the Leavenworth County area," Stimac said. "Jefferson County is strong, too."
Land prices are influencing where people look. "Years ago, the people coming out here from the city would look at prices in Tonganoxie," Stimac said.
"The prices have gone up now so much that they're looking more at McLouth and Oskaloosa."
Stimac, who was reared near the rural community of Jarbalo, sees a bittersweet edge to the area's growth.
"It's kind of sad to see the countryside go," he said, "but it's exciting to see things being done."
The growth will be good, Stimac said, only if the people continue joining forces to make it so."We need to work together in some kind of orderly fashion, not just helter skelter."
In the meantime, a steady stream of traffic rounds the highway corner outside of Stimac's office. The hills in view of the windows are green with summer's color. The phone on Stimac's desk rings it's a Kansas City resident calling to inquire about land prices.
Stimac hangs up the phone and smiles. "Business is booming," he said.