City commissioners approved the first steps toward potential economic development at 24th and Industrial, during Wednesday's action session.
Commissioners heard from Emporia Land Development LLC, the Kansas City group spearheading a potential $44 million home improvement and grocery development at that intersection. Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve both a request to modify the comprehensive plan for the intersection, and a preliminary planned unit development request.
Group leader Spencer Thomson says he's very pleased with the decision, and now forward progress can be made with a market study and other meetings.
The planned unit development would be an overlay zone over the current property, which is zoned as R1 low-density residential. This temporary overlay would qualify the 40-acre property as commercial, and construction would have to begin in 18 months while this overlay was in place. If 18 months expires and nothing has happened, the developers can request another 18-month extension from the city commission, who will review the request. Thomson has said that the preliminary timeline would set construction beginning no later than spring 2015.
Several comments from folks in attendance were made opposing the development at that site, but a few were in favor of the proposal. The same concerns which were brought up at last month's Planning Commission meeting -- who recommended denial of both requests -- were stated to the commission.
A 4-1 vote was needed to advance these requests because of the Planning Commission's recommendations last month. Commissioner Steve Harmon voted in opposition both times. He says there were positives and negatives to his choice.
Harmon also expressed concern about traffic issues on Graphic Arts Road. Harmon said Graphic Arts could become even more congested, and with two schools along the road, safety is the main point of focus.
Commissioner Bobbi Mlynar says something that's key to her is having more facts and information on hand.
Mlynar said it would be a disservice to Emporia if they didn't commission the market study. Mayor Rob Gilligan says lots of people have contacted the commission in the past few weeks, voicing their concerns or asking questions, and nobody's right or wrong.
Gilligan said opportunities like this can lead to other opportunities. However, this is not the first time Emporia has had a developer interested in the Peak property.
In 2008, a developer from Kansas City made the same requests, attempting to bring a Lowe's to town. Just the same then as now, the Planning Commission recommended denial, and the city commission overruled it. That turned out to be a poorly-timed decision, with the recession impacting every aspect of economic development. Thomson has said previously that developer from 2008 is not linked to him, and is in fact more of a competitor.
In other business, the commission also awarded a bid of $32,000 to Star Construction for the 2014 hazardous sidewalk project, and was given the final community-initiated development presentation from BG Consultants.
Jason Hoskinson of BG said the final report includes recommendations and improvements to be made to the existing plan, which has been in the works since 2005. CID planning includes ideas on developing the Black and Gold District, among other retail and commercial districts downtown and along 12th Avenue near Emporia State. The CID process is set to continue for the next five years.