The rocky road
Quarry annexation issue heats up
The parties involved agree on little else, however all concede Hunt Midwest Mining Inc. is pursuing annexation because future access to its Sunflower Quarry is threatened.
All parties, that is, except Hunt Midwest representatives, who aren't talking at least to the press.
The proposed transfer of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant could close the only access road to the quarry.
Members of the Sunflower Neighborhood Group a group formed 10 years ago out of concerns about the quarry's operation met with Hunt Midwest representatives last Thursday. Sunflower Neighborhood Group member John Seavertson said Hunt Midwest representatives said they were pursuing annexation because of the access road's future.
Hunt Midwest currently has an agreement with the Army that allows trucks to enter and leave the plant off 95th Street via a mile-long road just west of Sunflower's eastern boundary.
The company's 10-year conditional-use permit with the county expires in January, and the company has not received a firm commitment from the county to provide an alternative access road should one be necessary.
However, the annexation agreement that would bring the quarry into DeSoto calls for the city to use eminent domain to acquire right of way for a new access road, but only if needed. The agreement also states that Hunt Midwest will work with the Army and Oz Entertainment Co. to remove or delay the need for a new road.
"That's a worst-case scenario," Prudden said of the use of eminent domain to acquire land for the access road. It would only be necessary if the Sunflower is transferred to Oz and the company closed off access to the quarry.
The central importance of the access road in the annexation agreement explains why the city council could discuss the annexation in closed session under the justification of land acquisition, Prudden and City Administrator Gerald Cooper said.
Oz or any other developer at Sunflower would have an interest in keeping the quarry open. Rock mined there is used as an aggregate in concrete and asphalt, as well as road gravel. That is not true of rock produced in other Johnson County quarries, said David Peel of the Johnson County Planning Department.
Hunt Midwest's interest in coming into the city dates back to DeSoto's 1998 annexation, Prudden said. That fact was omitted from his account of how the present annexation discussion started that appeared in last week's Explorer, Prudden said.
The mayor added that he "was mistaken" when he said in that same account that developers Richard Gratny and Charles Pettit brought Hunt Midwest into the annexation discussion.
Gratny and Pettit are developing a 15-lot subdivision on Hunt Midwest's boundary. Earlier this summer, they became frustrated with the county's delays in approving platting for their planned 10-acre lots, Gratny said.
Searching for alternatives, they scheduled an "informal and confidential" meeting with Mayor Steve Prudden and City Administrator Gerald Cooper to discuss possible annexation. Gratny said Monday that Hunt Midwest representatives sat in on the meeting.
The subdivision could only become part of the city through voluntary, contiguous annexation if Hunt Midwest was annexed first, Gratny said. But he added the developers didn't "call Hunt Midwest in on the deal."
"It originated with Hunt Midwest," he said. "I think Hunt Midwest's biggest concern for coming into the city is having access to the quarry."
Since that discussion, the county has approved final platting for Gratny and Pettit's development, and the two men are no longer interested in annexation.
But Gratny said he and Pettit are concerned about the reduced setback restrictions the annexation agreement places on Hunt Midwest.
"I just don't want them to come to the very edge of the property line," Gratny said. "That would grossly affect our property."
In addition to the new setback restriction, the Sunflower Neighborhood Group is concerned about regulations in the annexation agreement that would allow the quarry longer hours of operation. While the annexation agreement retains the blast specifications that are in the county's current conditional-use permit, it would allow extend the time Hunt Midwest could blast on weekdays from noon to 4 p.m.
In anticipation of Hunt Midwest's application to renew the quarry's permit, the county planning department was considering hiring an explosive expert, Peel said. The consultant was to study lengthening Sunflower Quarry's daily blasting hours but restricting it to "less powerful, more controlled" blasts.
The change would allow Hunt Midwest to mine more rock each day with less disruption on the neighborhood, Peel said.
As a planner, Peel questioned the fact that the annexation agreement does not call for periodic reviews and renewals of the quarry's operation, as the county's 10-year conditional-use permit does. Hunt Midwest estimates the quarry will be productive for the next 40 to 50 years.
Technological changes could make blasting and dust-control regulations obsolete, Peel said. Computer programs are becoming available that increase the predictability of blasts, he noted.
"I would fear turning a land use like that away for a long period of time," he said. "You've accepted today's standards for the life of the quarry."
The operating specifications included in the annexation agreement that was presented to the city council two weeks ago represented Hunt Midwest's request, Prudden said. The city council will demand changes, he said.
Cooper noted that a number of council members were concerned about the open-ended agreement and expected them to demand periodic review.
"I'm pretty sure the council will insist on that," he said.
As the annexation agreement is considered, the city would welcome input from county planning staff and any consultation they received, the city administrator said.