Archive for Thursday, March 16, 2006

Coming master plan to provide many Sunflower answers

March 16, 2006

If there is a consistent message from the new owners of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant, it is "be patient."

In August 2005, Sunflower Redevelopment L.L.C., completed more than three years of negotiations with federal, state and Johnson County officials for the 9,065-acre plant. The agreement transferred Sunflower to the partnership of Kansas City real estate developer Kessinger/Hunter and Co. and Denver-based International Risk Group for its commitment to cleanup the contaminated plant and make public benefit transfers of 3,000 acres to Johnson County Parks and Recreation, Kansas and Kansas State universities, the city of De Soto, and De Soto USD 232.

It was the simple need to recharge after that tiring process on the part of key Sunflower Redevelopment players that led to slow activity in the months after the deal was completed.

"It was an exhausting process," said Sunflower Redevelopment LLC executive director Kise Randall. "It wore everybody down. We needed some time to recharge."

The exception was the environmental remediation specialists with IRG, whose preparation work would swing into action with the transfer complete.

If many of Sunflower's new owners were ready for a respite, the mood was different across Lexington Avenue. Those with the city of De Soto were eager to talk, and foremost on their minds was water and sewer.

As the developers were negotiating for the plant, the De Soto City Council was making decisions about the $9 million sewer plant now being built in the West Bottoms. The sewer's financing relies on growth, and while the formula didn't assume the new plant would serve Sunflower, it would be a welcome source of future customers.

Moreover, with Sunflower's transfer, De Soto finally got the ironclad assurance it would eventually get title to the water treatment plant on Sunflower it had leased from the federal government since 1999. With that, the city moved ahead with a water utility master plan that will compare the costs of renovating the World War II Sunflower treatment plant, building a new plant or purchasing water from a third party.

Either of the first two options will cost in the millions, and again De Soto would welcome the added customers Sunflower could provide to help retire the debt.

At this time, the answer to where Sunflower Redevelopment will turn for those key utilities is unknown.

"I think it's hard for people to believe we would undertake something this big without knowing who our ultimate (utility) providers would be," Randall said. "But the fact is, we did.

"They were certain, because of the pattern of sewer development in Johnson County and the fact it was swinging west, investment on the K-10 corridor was going to occur."

While making no commitment, Randall said De Soto could be a part of the answer. The presence of the water plant on Sunflower made it a candidate to supply water if no other reason than proximity, Randall said. The completion of the sewer plant in a year was also a plus, she said.

"Certainly, De Soto's decision to go ahead and build a new plant is a positive opportunity to serve at least the early part of development," Randall said.

But she advised patience because the developer would soon start looking for answers. Sunflower Redevelopment will soon commission a master plan of its future development and which will provide the answer of who is to provide sewer and water to future development, Randall said. Within the next two months, the developer will invite three to four of the county's top planning firms to submit proposals to do the master plan, she said.

Those firms typically have a backlog of work, but Randall said it would be reasonable to expect the master plan to be finished in a year to 18 months.

In a message expressed in a recent meeting between the mayor and De Soto city staff with Randall and other key members of Sunflower Redevelopment, Mayor Dave Anderson said the city remained eager to discuss those issues.

"Part of master planning is infrastructure," he said. "We're ready to talk."

If much is waiting the master plan, there remains much to do at Sunflower apart from the remediation work that the IRG side of the partnership will soon start, Randall said. Among the items that consume her time are maintenance concerns, considering what possible agricultural leases could be compatible with the cleanup effort, and negotiating with landowners just to the south end of security easements that restrict the size of structures and gatherings on their properties. Sunflower Redevelopment is offering to end the easements for agreements to widen the 143rd Street right of way, she said.

A road network is another obvious infrastructure component missing at Sunflower. The county arterial road network plan identified the future corridors as a 111th/119th street corridor from Kansas Highway 7 to Kill Creek/Corliss Road Corridor and 119th/135th street alignment from Kill Creek/Corliss Road Corridor to Evening Star Road.

A north-south route is less certain. County officials agree with Randall its alignment will be explored in Sunflower Redevelopment's all-important master plan.

Of late, a north-south corridor through Sunflower has gained added attention because of its potential to link to an approved new interchange on the Kansas Turnpike southwest of Tonganoxie and Leavenworth County's intention to improve a north-south county road to provide a link to K-10.

Some in Johnson County have suggested Edgerton Road be made the arterial link from I-35 to the improved Leavenworth County road, a route that would run through Sunflower.

Randall said the Sunflower Redevelopment, too, saw advantages in the link and that the plant brought a "lack of NIMBYs to the table," at least along the route's possible six miles through Sunflower.

Ironically, Sunflower Redevelopment finds itself expressing "not in my backyard" concerns about development in De Soto along Lexington Avenue south of Kansas Highway 10. Randall said Sunflower Redevelopment would like to work with the city to develop a comprehensive goal for quality development along the corridor.

It was unfortunate the timing of the developer's Sunflower master plan didn't correspond more directly with the city's scheduled consideration for an area plan this fall for the properties south of K-10 and north of the closed plant, Randall said. The developer's hope was the city would remain flexible and open to what the master plan produced.

The future community scripted in the master plan may be a mystery, but one thing is certain -- a bioscience research park will be part of Sunflower's future. At the insistence of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, the transfer agreement provided Kansas University 300 acres to augment the 200 it already owned just to the west of Sunflower.

In addition, the developer agreed to wrap the KU land with a 250-acre bioscience and research park. Sunflower Redevelopment would own that 250 acres but development would be limited to that eligible for state incentives from the state's $500 million bioscience initiative.

The set aside land and the state initiative could be the engine to drive Sunflower's rebirth, Randall said.

The impatience of those living next to the ghost plant is understandable, but such possibilities and those developed from good planning promised rewards at the end of the cleanup, she said.

"There isn't an imperative to begin bringing in people to start building now," Randall said. "I see that as a positive outcome. There's time to let everything unfold and choose the best and right alternatives, unlike much of what we see in suburban development."

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