Archive for Thursday, July 29, 2004

Eudora’s growth a mixed bag

Civic leaders discuss good, bad and ugly of increasing population

July 29, 2004

Whatever woes Eudora might have about its growing pains, a message sent to city leaders at a joint meeting last week said the community was actually in a good position.
"Many communities in this country would love to have these (problems)," said Randall Graves, the city's planning consultant.
Eudora was still in the position to determine what kind of growth came and how it came, a luxury Graves said many communities didn't have.
Community leaders' push to answer those questions drove representatives from the Eudora City Council, Eudora Planning Commission, USD 491 Board of Education and others to meet July 22. The meeting drew a small audience including several developers and real estate agents.
Among the topics addressed were how to pay for growth and how to get commercial and industrial development to Eudora. And from such topics city leaders found themselves answering the question of whether growth is good or bad.
"I've never seen a community that said, 'We don't want to develop,'" Graves said, adding that meant communities had to plan for growth and had to accommodate it.
Acknowledging not all views were necessarily expressed during the meeting, Mayor Ron Conner said the feeling he got from those in the room was that growth was, overall, a good thing for Eudora. Conner asked hypothetically what would happen if Eudora "locked the gates" and stayed stagnant.
The agreement seemed to be that developmentwould spring up in the unincorporated areas around Eudora. And when the developments would inevitably want to join the city, it would be difficult to integrate infrastructure.
As several earlier presentations pointed out, increasing development and an increasing population -- and thus tax base -- had their benefits. City Administrator Mike Yanez pointed out that Eudora's valuation had increased by about $3 million each year for the past three years. Conner said under the current mill levy, that would generate an additional $60,000 in taxes.
USD 491 Superintendent Marty Kobza said an increasing number of students helped the school district stay afloat, especially considering it was operating with $7 less per student than they were getting four years ago.
"That's what's kept us alive," Kobza said.
Not only do schools get more money with more students, but the increasing general fund also improved the amount of money the district earned from its local option budget.
Moreover, Kobza said the mill rate proposed for 2004-2005 -- just less than 67 mills -- was low compared with other schools in the Kansas City metropolitan area.
But despite the benefits, growth -- as Yanez put it -- was a double-edged sword. A growing populace also meant an increasing demand on the city to provide services and infrastructure. Yanez pointed to the recent sewer rate hike to help pay for maintenance and upgrades that irked consumers and developers alike.
Responding to developers' requests to rethink the hook-up fees for new construction, the Council decided on middle ground Monday to exclude the rate increase from homes with contracts signed by the future homeowner as of July 26.
Yanez also pointed out $440,000 for design and engineering for phased improvements to the sewer. Moreover, Yanez said growth had an impact on other services, like fire and police, which would need new staff and new headquarters to serve a population growing largely south of Kansas Highway 10. Plus, the amount of park space in Eudora was below the national average, and the town desperately needed a park south of K-10, he said.
Growth also strained other areas of the city, creating a need for more office space and employees.
"The building inspector could work six months in the summer, there's so much activity going on," Yanez said.
Growth also posed problems for Eudora's schools, Superintendent Kobza said. With a growth rate of 3 to 5 percent expected each year, Kobza said the schools were growing at a reasonable rate.
"We're not in the position of De Soto, where we're building and building, but we will have needs," he said.
The district's schools would eventually reach their functional capacity -- the middle school first. Functional capacity means space not intended for instruction, such as computer labs, would be used as classrooms.
To see why Eudora was growing was a "no-brainer," said Planning Commission Chairman Kurt von Achen, citing Eudora's placement on the K-10 Corridor between Lawrence and metropolitan Kansas City.
Council member Tom Pyle, a local business owner, said through his meat shop he often spoke with people who had moved to Eudora for the slower pace of life and the good schools.
"No, it's not 'perfect Eudora,' but we're heading in the right direction," Pyle said.
As the group addressed the various blocks to growth -- most notably the limitation of utilities -- developer Brett Fritzel asked whether he should plan to continue his Meadowlark development.
City engineer Cecil Kingsley said he hadn't heard anyone say don't build new subdivisions. Rather the city would have to look at its options, he said.
Moreover, von Achen said the city could only postpone development for so long because of the Golden criteria, a legal precedent courts use in appeals of zoning and planning decisions. Von Achen advised the city would do well to conduct studies to see where utilities and infrastructure should go, because the comprehensive plan addressed land use but not utilities.
Mayor Conner called on the group to meet again to continue answering other questions about how to deal with growth. He tentatively scheduled another meeting for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 23 at Eudora City Hall, 4 E. Seventh St.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.