Sunflower redevelopment legislation sent to Sebelius
Legislation that allows Johnson County to establish an authority to oversee the redevelopment of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant and issue tax incentives to developers needs only Gov. Kathleen Sebelius' signature to become law.
Rep. Rob Boyer, the Olathe Republican who represents De Soto, said the bill passed by a surprisingly narrow 63-59 margin.
"Two things happened," he said. "A lot of people don't like Sunflower because they got burned by Oz, and John Ballou lobbied against the bill because it didn't contain the 'shall' language."
The choice of the competing verbs "shall" and "may" has been a source of contention with House members Boyer and Ballou, R-Gardner, insisting on "shall" and the Johnson County Commission advocating "may."
The bill was introduced in the Senate at the request of Johnson County. A key provision in the bill is language creating a redevelopment authority to oversee Sunflower's development. As envisioned by Boyer and Ballou, the redevelopment authority would seek proposals for the plant's development and have the right to issue tax incentives to qualifying developers.
The bill the county proposed stated the county "may" create such an authority. County commissioners opted for "may," saying it gave them more flexibility should the right private developer step forward with a proposal to redevelop all of the closed 9,000-acre closed plant.
But the county's bill was introduced in response to Boyer and Ballou's initiative at the start of the session in January. They were prepared to introduce a bill that would have mandated the county create a redevelopment authority.
The county's bill was amended in Sen. Karin Brownlee's Commerce Committee to include the "shall create a redevelopment authority" language Boyer and Ballou favored.
The verb was changed again in the House Local Government Committee. Boyer said he made peace with the "may" language after Johnson County Chair Annabeth Surbaugh testified in the House committee the county would create the authority and would also establish a bid process for potential Sunflower developers.
Brownlee said Tuesday the Senate agreed to concur with the "may" language. She said the legislation would now go to Sebelius for her signature. Brownlee and Boyer expected the governor to sign the legislation.
While she couldn't recall all the responses she made to questions during the House committee hearing, Surbaugh said she doubted she made all the commitments Boyer reported. She said she did testify it was the County Commission's intention to create a redevelopment authority.
"Why would we ask for this tool if we don't intend to do it?" she asked. "Why would we go up there and waste everybody's time?"
The Commission objected, however, to the "shall" language that mandated the county appoint redevelopment authority, Surbaugh said. It indicated a lack of trust, and more importantly, made the unprecedented step of mandating a local government use an economic incentive tool, she said.
As for a bid process, Surbaugh said it would be up to the redevelopment authority to propose the course of action for Sunflower, including a bid process, for the County Commission's approval.
Brownlee and Boyer said they expected the County Commission to follow through with its responsibilities to establish the bill and create the authority and a bid process. They promised the Legislature would act next year if the county failed to do so.
"I think it's important we have a bid process," Brownlee said. "I did not work on that legislation for the benefit of one entity. I did that to establish a public process anyone could participate in."
The legislation was introduced as negotiations between the state and partners Kessinger/Hunter and Co. of Kansas City, Mo., and Cherokee Investment Partners of Raleigh, N.C., produced two documents needed for an early transfer of the plant to the two developers -- a finding of suitability for early transfer with the Army and an environmental consent agreement.
A draft finding of suitability was released in late February. A 30-day public comment period that started with its release has expired. The document will now be delivered to the governor, who must sign it if the early transfer to Kessinger/Hunter and its partner can go forward.
The bill's passage was a victory for freshman legislator Boyer, who made Sunflower his top priority coming into the session.
"It was clearly the objective I had when I came to the Legislature," he said. "We have done an enormous amount of work on this in a short amount of time. We basically got all the people together and did what the Oz people took years to accomplish.
"The next step will be the creation of the redevelopment authority. I'm hoping the county will be proactive in that regard. I don't think the transfer is going to happen anytime soon, but we can start working on the process."
Surbaugh said she didn't know when the Commission would address the redevelopment authority. She noted the county chapter of the League of Women Voters requested the county appoint a citizen commission to make recommendations concerning the redevelopment authority.
With an eye to moving the process along, the K-10 Association has scheduled a Sunflower summit Friday at the De Soto USD 232 Administration Building.
The association's executive director, Rich Caplan, said the summit would get all the interested parties together in an attempt to reach a consensus on what should be done next.
"We were told the bill may be law by then," he said. "If that's the case -- even if it's "may" -- people strongly indicated a desire to create the redevelopment authority. We thought should go ahead and get everyone together so we can talk about the next step."
De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson said it was hoped the K-10 Association would come to a conclusion on how to proceed.
Anderson, who worked with Boyer and Ballou as they advanced their proposal early in the session, said he remained unconvinced the County Commission would move on the redevelopment authority.
A bill that would give De Soto the right to annex Sunflower before any transfer remained alive in the Legislature, Anderson said. While he said he and the City Council were aware of the implications of annexing the plant, its passage would motivate the county to act, he said.