County Commission set to embrace Sunflower developer
The Johnson County Commission will vote Thursday on whether to formally designate Kessinger/Hunter and Co. the developer of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant.
Chief county legal counsel Don Jarrett said action would be taken on a federal law passed last year that allowed the Army to directly negotiate the sale of the plant to a developer designated by Johnson County. In keeping with federal legislation governing so-called early transfers of property like Sunflower, the Commission had been negotiating the purchase of the closed plant with hopes of immediately selling the property to a private developer.
Jarrett said the action would supplement a July 1 pre-development agreement the Commission entered into with Kessinger/Hunter. That agreement required the developer to develop Sunflower in accordance to the county's Community in a Park master plan and commit to the public benefit transfers on Sunflower property approved by various federal agencies, including the water plant the city of De Soto has operated the past six years and acreage De Soto USD 232 needs for future schools.
Kessinger/Hunter first started negotiating the purchase of Sunflower in June 2002. In January 2004, the Commission voted to designate the company the "potential developer" of the plant, cutting off negotiations with any other interested parties.
The federal legislation, which was tacked on to the annual military authorization bill, came under criticism because it wasn't made widely known until after it had passed the Senate and was ready for consideration in the House and the Commission approved the redevelopment agreement. Before its existence was revealed by Micheline Burger, president of the citizen watchdog group Taxpayers Offering Tomorrow's Opportunities.
Sixth District County Commissioner John Toplikar said he viewed the action as an opportunity for other developers to step forward.
"If someone had the money and experience with cleanup, this would be the chance to step forward," he said.
Commission Chair Annabeth Surbaugh said that wouldn't be the case. The decision before the Commission was whether to formally designate Kessinger/Hunter as Sunflower's developer, she said.
"Basically, we are designating them as the developer to negotiate with the government," she said. "We did it informally before."
The agreement would not change Kessinger/Hunter commitments to make the public benefit transfers, clean the plant to residential standards and develop it according to the county's master plan, Surbaugh said.
Although Jarrett said the measure was an indication the transfer process was moving forward, Surbaugh -- who has dealt with Sunflower issues for 12 years -- took a more measured view.
"Yes, it does make me hopeful, however I've been hopeful before," she said. "What I've found out is when you deal with the federal government -- the Army, the EPA -- it's never going to go as quickly or as fast as you would want."
When commissioners considered the pre-development agreement, De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson asked that it include a written statement committing Kessinger/Hunter to transferring the water plant to De Soto. In a side agreement worked out in the hallway outside of the Commission room involving city staff, Jarrett and Kessinger/Hunter attorneys, commissioners agreed to drop their objection to a separate transfer of the water plant to De Soto if an overall transfer agreement wasn't in place by March 1, 2005, but the city's subsequent attempt to get a written agreement from the developer's attorney was unsuccessful.
Anderson said Tuesday he and Kessinger/Hunter partner Charles Hunter had talked a number of times recently and characterized the discussions as positive. He said he would be out of town Thursday but would follow with interest the reports of city staff.