Archive for Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Towne Center tops goal list

November 23, 2005, 8:21 a.m.

Updated: November 23, 2005, 8:52 a.m.

Lansing City Council members, tired of seeing Towne Center empty and with two banks as the only certain tenants on the horizon, want to hire a consultant to try to jump-start the development process.

That was the consensus Saturday during a goal-setting session that touched on several issues that will confront the council in the coming year, including how to proceed on Lansing Community Park, what steps to take for business and drivers when the Main Street reconstruction project gets under way next spring and how to spend proceeds from the recently approved sale of land to First National Bank of Leavenworth,

Except for a parcel that will be home to First National and another parcel where MidAmerican Bank plans to build, Overland Park developer David Christie owns the rest of the land in Towne Center, which stretches from West Mary Street to 4-H Road, just west of Main Street. Despite the city sinking about $2 million in street and sewer improvements into the site, Christie has yet to land any tenants agreeable to the city and he has refused to sell to other developers.

Council member Harland Russell advocated hiring a consultant to appraise the Towne Center property and study its marketability to potential buyers.

Other members agreed, and the council directed Mike Smith, city administrator, to contact six or seven consultants to make bid proposals to the city for such a study after the new year.

Before settling on the idea of hiring a consultant, two council members - Andi Pawlowski and Don Studnicka - voiced their opinion for immediately acquiring the property.

"We're not getting anywhere" with Christie, Studnicka noted.

As for how to proceed with the 128-acre Lansing Community, the council likely will gauge the public's willingness to fund a bond proposal to pay for the initial phase of grading the land and seeding soccer fields.

The council has received a draft master plan from its consultants, Jeffrey L. Bruce and Co., for a park that would have such amenities as football, soccer, baseball and softball fields, an aquatic center, hiking trails, picnic shelters, a pavilion suitable for Lansing DAZE events and an outdoor amphitheater. One estimate for the park, which would be completed in phases over 20 years, is $29.6 million.

Russell suggested using a JLB survey to assess public opinion of the master plan for the park to determine whether the city could put forth a viable bond proposal for the park's first phase, which is grading of the parkland. As Pawlowski pointed out, whatever features in the park's master plan would ultimately be realized, the required grading will immediately yield the several sports fields planned for the site. Pawlowski said council members needed to remember that whatever their feelings about the park, most new residents in the city had young children and wanted facilities their entire families could use.

Smith said, "Once you get people using the fields, they'll see it and say, 'Hey, I think we should develop the rest of this.'"

In what may be the most pressing matter facing the city, Russell expressed concern about severe traffic bottlenecks on Main Street beginning next spring when the $11.3 million Main Street System Enhancement project gets under way. During much of the two-year project, traffic on Main Street through the heart of the city will be restricted to one lane in each direction. The latest traffic counts show about 20,000 vehicles a day use the road.

"I'm really, really concerned we'll lose businesses," Russell said.

He added that when he drives on Main Street as schools are letting out these days, he pictures traffic at such times during construction being backed up from Ida to Mary streets.

"I have these visions of total gridlock," he said.

Russell said the best strategy for the city would be to move drivers who are just going through on their way to - or back from - Leavenworth to Kansas Highway 5 or De Soto Road. Council member David Trinkle said he feared people's driving habits formed during construction might remain even after the roadwork is finished.

Council members discussed placing signs south and north of the construction area to reroute traffic to K-5 and De Soto. Although Mayor Kenneth Bernard said he thought drivers would find alternate routes on their own, Smith said he would ask the Kansas Department of Transportation for signs, including flashing traffic control signs, to alert drivers to the road construction.

Trinkle questioned the wisdom of rerouting traffic to streets outside of Lansing, but Russell said he was afraid most drivers would be loath to patronize a Main Street business for fear of not being able to get back on the traffic-clogged road.

Bernard said he had talked to business owners along Main Street and they told him they wanted signs along Highway 5 and De Soto directing drivers which streets to turn on for certain businesses.

The council also:

¢ Discussed how to spend the $550,000 from the October sale of a city-owned Towne Center lot to First National Bank of Leavenworth. Council members agreed the best option was to pay off the majority of the city's incentives for developing Carriage Hills Shopping Center, near Holiday Inn Express, 120 Express Drive.

¢ Discussed street projects the city will have to address in the short-term future. Among those discussed were the extension of Bittersweet Road through to West Mary Street, paving of 147th Street from McIntyre Road to Dempsey Road and extending Gamble Road, behind the planned Carriage Hills Shopping Center.

¢ Addressed the need for redistricting the city. Since the city's annexation of land to its south in 2004, Ward 2 is disproportionately large compared to the other three city wards. The redistricting will be taken up after the new census estimates come next year and before the next City Council elections in 2007.

¢ Discussed leasing space at Lansing Elementary School, once the new elementary school opens in 2007, for the Lansing Community Library.

In addition, Bernard distributed the new manual of City Council meeting regulations and procedures. The manual formalizes rules for council meetings, including: the minimum number of votes required to pass an ordinance (five); a new provision allowing the mayor to cast the deciding vote in favor of an ordinance if it fails by one vote in the council; the introduction of a provision allowing council members to "call the question" - that is, to formally call for an end to debate on an issue - which would then be voted on, and if approved, would be followed by another vote on the question at hand; and the requirement that all votes be cast in the chamber - not, for example, over the phone.

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