Archive for Thursday, January 11, 2007

County plan meets ecological, economic needs

January 11, 2007

Larry McElwain took a stake in Douglas County's future when he accepted his appointment to the ECO2 Commission.

It was something he could do to bring in more industrial tax dollars to the area, he said.

"It has been my deep concern over the growing percentage of property tax from residential growth," McElwain said. "Residential growth is great but we need to spike it with some industrial development and create tax base and create new money and jobs within the county."

It also became an opportunity for him to preserve the county's open spaces.

His work helped the commission draft a preliminary plan to develop the county with both ideals in mind.

He and other ECO2 commission members brought the plan Jan. 3 to the Eudora Planning Commission. Less than a week later, he brought it to the Eudora City Council.

"This is one of those things where you need to be involved," McElwain said at the commission meeting. "You need to know what we will be doing because it involves the community."

The group dubbed itself ECO2 ---- pronounced ECO squared ---- because it tries to promote the exponential benefits of economic development and ecological preservation, McElwain said.

The group developed the plan to serve as a long-range guide for development over the next five to 15 years, McElwain said.

Last year, a draft version garnered approval of the Lawrence City Commission and the Douglas County Commission.

The plan will be used to acquire land for industrial business parks and also land to preserve as open spaces, McElwain said.

"We're trying to move two movements on parallel tracks," he said. "They're not necessarily moving at the same speed, but at the end of their destination they'll arrive at the same station."

Properties looking to use public funds through the ECO2 plan will need to meet a set of requirements, McElwain said.

A new industrial park, for instance, has to be at least 100 acres and have access to an interstate or highway, McElwain said.

Open spaces meet an entirely different set of requirements, McElwain said.

"When we're talking about an open space, we're not necessarily talking about a soccer field or a baseball diamond," he said. "We're talking about a very pristine area we want to preserve."

Any land acquisition would occur with the voluntary interests of the property owner, McElwain said.

The program could be funded by an array of options including general obligation bonds and property taxes, he said.

The members of the ECO2 council will continue to present the plan for bringing it for final approval by the Douglas County Commission.

"As this gets on the radar screen and on the agendas of the Douglas County Commission, I would really encourage the Eudora Planning Commission and the city council to go with how this plan fleshes out in the coming months," McElwain said.

Because it involves public funds and Eudora would benefit from the program, it should take part in paying for it, Eudora Planning Commission Chairman Kurt von Achen said.

"We're all in the county," von Achen said.

Eudora Mayor Tom Pyle expressed concern that the plan might give the county and Lawrence commissioners too much control over Eudora.

Pyle said he liked the concept of the plan, but he was afraid the Lawrence City Commission and the county commission wouldn't necessarily look out for the interests of the smaller cities in Douglas County.

"We can be sold up the river," Pyle said.

McElwain acknowledged Pyle's point, but explained the tax dollars generated from the plan could help the county as a whole.

"If anybody needs help it's the smaller cities in the community, and this is what I'm working for," Pyle said.

Eudora City Councilman Dan Gregg also acknowledged the mayor's comment and said he supported the plan.

"I just want to make sure Eudora is protected but I do definitely support the concept of your plan," Gregg said.

Eudora City Councilwoman Lori Fritzel and Eudora City Councilmen Jeff Peterson and Scott Hopson also expressed support of the draft plan.

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