Attorney: Development hinges on County Road 1
Robert H. Freilich thinks the development possibilities for Tonganoxie and Leavenworth County are endless -- if County Commissioners choose County Road 1 as the connecting route from a proposed turnpike interchange on Interstate-70 to U.S. Highway 24-40 south of Tonganoxie.
Freilich expects, during a 20-year buildout, that development could reach "in the range of 6,000 to 10,000 dwelling units."
Paul McKie and his wife, Elizabeth, own Tailgate Ranch, a more than 2,000-acre area of land that runs along the east side of County Road 1 from south of Tonganoxie to south of the turnpike.
They hired Freilich, a former University of Kansas City-Missouri professor who now is a Los Angeles attorney, to represent them. They also hired Planning Works, a Kansas City consulting firm, to discuss land-use plans on the property.
Freilich and Planning Works officials met Thursday with Tonganoxie city officials and other residents for a work session to discuss the County Road 1 route.
The Leavenworth County Commission, which will decide where the connecting road will be constructed, also is looking at a cross-country route that cuts between 24-40 and County Road 1. Commissioner Don Navinsky sketched the potential cross-country route. Although the commission has not publicly voted on the preferred route, commissioners appear to be leaning toward the cross-country option.
Last week, City Administrator Mike Yanez said the council is in unison when it says it wants County Road 1 to be the connecting route.
"This is a council that is about ready to do anything to make this work," Yanez said.
City Council member Velda Roberts said the Tailgate Ranch development would be a plus for Tonganoxie, but also for the county through "taxes, revenues and pay backs." She said the situation could be "magnificent" for the county and city.
If commissioners choose the County Road 1 route, Tailgate Ranch could become a major development for residential and light industrial structures.
If that development boom becomes a reality, Freilich said it's important for Tonganoxie to still be one city.
"You're not developing two separate cities," Freilich said.
In addition, Freilich said Tonganoxie needed to advertise its historic downtown.
"Put up some nice signage," Freilich said.
Although a Tailgate Ranch development could attract many new residents, the downtown area can reel visitors in also.
"Young married couples today really love to come back to places that have some meaning," Freilich said.
For that to be true in Tonganoxie, Freilich reiterated that the area still would include one city.
He said the Tailgate Ranch development wouldn't be a string of subdivisions, but rather an extension, "a sense of community south," he said.
In discussions about County Road 1, there also has been concern voiced about how the road would affect rural properties west of County Road 1.
"The properties on the west side of County Road 1 would be preserved by the county for agricultural use," Freilich said.
Inside the numbers
Officials also discussed preliminary cost estimates HNTB released earlier this month at a county commission meeting. HNTB, a Kansas City engineering firm that is conducting studies on the two routes, showed the County Road 1 total estimated cost would be $7,445,000, while a cross-country route would be $3.7 million.
Bruce G. Peshoff of Planning Works said the preliminary HNTB estimates for County Road 1 seemed high.
"I think part of their fear, for lack of a better word, is HNTB's high numbers," Peshoff said, referring to the county commission.
Peshoff said some cost estimates seemed premature and that HNTB didn't take into account how long each of the projects would take.
"I'm not trying to challenge and say that that HNTB has not done a good job," Peshoff said. "But I think they've given some premature numbers."
Brian Kingsley of BG Consultants, Tonganoxie's consulting firm, said officials needed to understand how the numbers were derived.
"When you do an estimate, you base the estimate off a certain scope of work," Kingsley said. "Their estimate, I think, is not overestimated if you take into account responsible estimates of worst-case scenarios."
Kingsley urged officials to work with HNTB further.
"I think we should all try to stay as allies," he said.
On Tuesday, Leavenworth Area Development committee members met in Leavenworth for a work session of their own to discuss economic growth potential for the two routes.
Tonganoxie officials planned to attend the afternoon meeting, which did not make The Mirror's deadline.
After city officials attend that meeting, the city council will decide soon when it will hold its own work session to discuss the turnpike issue.
Although several meetings are being planned before the commission chooses a route, commissioner Dean Oroke said at the Sept. 7 county commission meeting that he hoped the commission could make a decision by Nov. 1.
The turnpike project will be funded through a one-cent sales tax measure that Leavenworth County voters approved last April. Some of that tax money will go toward the connecting road project.
The Kansas Turnpike Authority will construct an interchange, likely near where the County Road 1 bridge crosses the turnpike. It is the county's responsibility to fund a road connecting the turnpike to 24-40.