Archive for Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Lawrence developers face skeptics over plans for airport business park

September 19, 2007

Developers of a proposed business park near the Lawrence Municipal Airport were peppered with questions for more than three hours Monday evening by a largely skeptical crowd.

But Lawrence businessman Jes Santaularia and his team of developers told a crowd of about 100 people gathered at the former Grant School building in rural North Lawrence that plans for a 144-acre business park just west of the airport would be good for the community.

"I'm very proud of my farm heritage," said Kelvin Heck, a commercial real estate agent who is part of Santaularia's team, but also was raised on the farmland near the airport. "I gave this project a great deal of consideration and thought before I became involved with it.

"I think it is a great project, and I think it is an overdue project."

Santaularia told the crowd the development -- which would be near the intersection of U.S. Highway 24-40 and North Seventh Street -- would produce 1,600 jobs and generate $54 million in taxes and fees for the city during a 20-year period. His team of consultants said at least three long-range plans for the city point to the area near the airport being used as an industrial park.

"We have all these fantastic modes of transportation here," Santaularia said. "It is a great place to build an industrial park."

Neighbors weren't convinced. No one stepped up from the crowd to speak in favor of the project, and afterward several said they still had serious concerns about flooding issues, traffic and how much money taxpayers would be asked to pay for the project.

Several audience members said they were particularly concerned that more details aren't available on how much it would cost the city to extend sewer service to the site, and to improve roads to handle truck and employee traffic.

"I'm afraid it is going to cost the taxpayers a bundle, and we're not going to get anything back," said Wayne Propst, an artist who lives near the airport. "It seems like their plans are just clear blue sky."

Both Santaularia and representatives of City Hall conceded that cost estimates aren't yet available for extending infrastructure to the site. But Santaularia said city officials, not his group, are responsible for developing those estimates. He said once those estimates are completed, he'll be in a position to say how much private money he intends to invest in the project.

Scott McCullough, the city's new director of planning, said City Hall staff members were working on the cost estimates. He said they would be completed before annexation and rezoning requests are scheduled to be heard by city commissioners, which likely will happen in November. But McCullough said the cost estimates may not be done before the project is considered by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in late October.

Several members of the crowd said they thought the project should not be heard by planning commissioners until the cost estimates are known.

The Monday meeting -- which was the first between developers and concerned neighbors -- also featured comments by Roger Pine, whose family owns the 144 acres and has entered a partnership with Santaularia to develop it.

"Sometimes good stewardship can mean that we do with the land what is best for the community," said Pine, whose family has farmed in the Kansas River valley since 1868. "This is an evolution, and it isn't easy."

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