Archive for Thursday, July 15, 2004

City leaders getting serious about planning growth

July 15, 2004

— Planning Commission Chairman Kurt von Achen assigned a hefty challenge to city leaders at the Commission's July 7 meeting.

"We've got to get serious about what we're going to do in this community," he said.

The comments came on the heels of a meeting with two local churches ready to begin building and the extensive discussion last month when the Eudora City Council raised sewer rates -- mostly on developers -- in part to cover the growing infrastructure.

Von Achen said the city needed to start looking at growth issues like benefit districts and annexation.

"I think this is the beginning of a long discussion," he said.

The Planning Commission made moves to set up a joint meeting with the City Council, which von Achen said ought to be authorizing studies. The joint meeting, Planning Commission member Rod Moyer said, "at least gets us on the same page."

The Council agreed Monday to the joint meeting, taking the additional step of inviting the Eudora USD 491 Board of Education. The meeting was set for 6:30 p.m. July 22 at City Hall.

City engineer Cecil Kingsley laid out the "bottom line" for the planners.

"If you're going to approve more development, you have to find a way to fund infrastructure," he said.

Kingsley punctuated that point by reminding city leaders that the first phase of the middle interceptor sewer improvements would give capacity to already-approved developments plus the equivalent of 30 more houses. That would mean a significant commercial development could eat up that 30-houses worth of capacity.

However, the engineer said depending on the pace of development, it could be as long as five years before Eudora had to worry about that limit. But approving more development pushed that five-year timespan back to four and a half or four years. He said the same rationale could be applied to other infrastructure needs like streets.

And judging from the community mood as expressed during sewer rate discussions last month, Kingsley said that way appeared to be through new development rather than by current residents.
"I think it's time to educate the public and let them see what we're up against," Kingsley said.
He said that also meant being up front with developers approaching the city about the challenges the city was facing.
Developer Larry Midyett was at the July 7 meeting to discuss annexation of 75 acres of what Eudorans probably know as the Bob Gabriel property, on the east side of South Church Street.
Midyett said he understood the city's need to finance infrastructure for new development and had no objection to assessing new lots. But Midyett also said allowing more development made infrastructure improvements more cost-effective and lowered the cost to the homeowner by spreading out the cost among more houses. Midyett said the average lot in Eudora cost $40,000.
"You don't need to look after me," Midyett said. "You don't need to look after (developer) John McGrew or any of the others. But there's no reason for a $40,000 lot in Eudora, Kansas."
Fellow developer Brett Fritzel agreed more development brought costs down, but Fritzel said he didn't think it was fair to pile costs on to future residents by putting much of the burden on new development.
"We have to float bonds, raise the mill levies -- let us build, and get infrastructure in place," Fritzel said.
The developer said he feared Eudora's lacking intrastructure would push his business out of Eudora. And Fritzel said developers and new developments made positive contributions to the community by building the tax base, employing workers and bringing money to Eudora.
"The problem Eudora is suffering now is a lack of vision for the future," he said. "They're not planning in advance for what's inevitably going to happen to Eudora. It's not going to sit there and not grow."
Kingsley offered solutions for expanding infrastructure, such as development fees and benefit districts allowing the city and developers to recoup their investment as new development hooked on to, for instance, a sewer line. If the city was interested in exploring such an arrangement, Kingsley said he could put city leaders in touch with someone experienced with this type of benefit district.
Moreover, City Administrator Mike Yanez advised that Monday the City Council would discuss so-called pass-through fees, which assess developers for the costs the city incurs in approving their projects and revisions thereon. (See related story, Page 1A).
The city began a discussion of an excise tax, which would assess new development to pay for transportation costs associated with growth, whether they be new streets, bicycle trails or sidewalks, but the talks stalled this past spring.
In light of growth discussion, Kingsley said Eudora was in effect asked its opinions on how and whether the city should grow.
"It's the community as a whole, through you folks and the City Council, that makes that decision," he said. "The good news is we can build what you want. The worry is how to finance it."

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