Archive for Thursday, February 8, 2007

Council gives nod to downtown plan

February 8, 2007

The De Soto City Council endorsed a downtown revitalization plan while vowing to keep working to make its facelift of the city's oldest neighborhoods a reality.

The council's endorsement last Thursday was short of a formal adoption of a plan for the revitalization of old-town De Soto east of Ottawa Street between the Kansas River and Kill Creek. Council members agreed it was too early for that with questions still to be resolved about city incentives, development standards, how the plan's proposed improvements would fit with the city's five-year capital improvement plan now being developed, and the overriding issue of how the city should seek private partners to help realize the ambitious renewal of old-town De Soto.

Instead, council members agreed to flush out those details within the framework of the last concept consultant Marty Shukert developed.

"I've been looking at it the last few days," Councilman Tim Maniez said. "There's a lot of great stuff in there."

But Maniez said as the council moved forward it needed to clearly reject Shukert's first revitalization concept, which would have sold and redeveloped Miller Memorial Park. Mayor Dave Anderson was in agreement.

"I don't think anyone cared for that, and I think to say that would be good," the mayor said.

Shukert's final concept would move the Miller Park ballparks across 83 Street/Lexington Avenue to a field east of Morse's Market. That property would also be home to commercial development near a pond dug to provide fill to raise developed areas above the flood plain. Other key aspects of the concept are sidewalk, landscaping, and street improvements to the two-block downtown core, improvements to the alley behind the block of 83rd Street to encourage the reuse of walkout basements as storefront, and opening the city shop area to apartment and townhome development.

The discussion on the revitalization plan was scheduled when the council discussed Bob Power's renovation of a home on 83rd into offices. Power and city staff agreed he shouldn't be required to make the improvements city regulations mandate, which would force him to convert the entire backyard into a parking lot and put up eight-foot privacy fences. City engineer Mike Brungardt said those standards were designed for "green field" projects on undeveloped property and not downtown redevelopment.

"We have a good guideline for development; it just doesn't fit with what we want to do here," he said.

Councilwoman Betty Cannon suggested the city could approach old-town projects be considered on a case-by-case basis because all would involve special circumstances of set backs, parking, lighting and other issues. Other council members held out for the creation of a new set of regulations for old-town because of the possibility of large projects at the current city yard and in the new ball field area.

It was agreed Shukert's advice should be sought on what process the city should use to develop those regulations and perhaps share similar work he'd done for other cities.

There was a similar project-by-project versus collective approach in the discussion of attracting private partners and the use of incentives to encourage proposed development.

Much of the district conforms to an enterprise zone the city created in 1990s. That would make tax increment financing available to developers. With TIFs, increased property tax revenue from development is earmarked to pay for street, sewer and other public works improvements.

Rather than wait for developers to come to the city to "cherry pick" the city shop and pond-side development, the city should select a single developer through a request-for-proposals process, Anderson said.

"If we piecemeal, the sharks go for the best and fresh parts, and the rest never happens," he said. "I really think you would be surprised to in what an RFP might produce."

A larger, inclusive approach would have a better chance of leveraging state and federal grant money, Anderson said.

The approach might work, but the city also needed to be prepared to work with developers in a piecemeal basis, Councilman Ted Morse said.

Whichever approach was chosen, it was agreed it would take time to realize the plan that would change as the years passed.

"This a living document," Ritter said. "Marty mentioned a lifespan of 20 years to get it all in place. It's going to change."

The council would be responsible for keeping it alive, Morse said.

"We have to keep pushing for this," he said. "We can't let it die."

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