Archive for Thursday, October 18, 2007

Extensive public input promised in downtown planning

October 18, 2007

In the first what is promised to be many chances for the public to provide input, the city of De Soto started planning Tuesday for downtown streetscape improvements with an open house for downtown business and property owners.

In an hourlong presentation at City Hall, city engineer Mike Brungardt summed up the process for developing a streetscape plan while sharing a conceptual plan Omaha urban planning consultant Marty Shukert created last year as part of a larger downtown revitalization effort.

Behind the concerted effort to encourage public comment was the city's intent to apply for a grant to pay for half the streetscape project's estimated $700,000 construction costs, Brungardt said. Engineering and design would increase the project's total cost to an estimated $908,000.

"We still have a year of design because public participation is five times longer than other projects," he said. "Part of the grant application is public involvement. If we can show there is communitywide support for the concept, it will go a long way.

"KDOT wants happy people doing happy projects."

Brungardt said he would submit an application in early November for a federal transportation enhancement grant administered by the Kansas Department of Transportation. The city would be notified of the application's fate in April 2008. An architectural firm to develop the streetscape will be selected next year with the goal that the final plan and specifications would be completed in early 2009 so that the project could go out for bids, Brungardt said.

Should the city get the grant, construction could be completed in 2009. Without the grant, city funding constraints would stretch construction into 2010, Brungardt said.

But either way, the De Soto City Council has indicated its determination to do the project, Brungardt said.

The concept drawing would replace sidewalks in the two blocks of 83rd Street from Peoria to Shawnee. The new streetscape would have "bump outs' at intersections and one at mid-block to slow traffic and provide for trees. Among other elements of the project will be repaving of the two-block stretch, decorative street lighting, possible signage and a pocket park or town square in what is now the De Soto Fire Department parking lot.

Dean Weller, who owns an antique car garage downtown, said the bump outs and landscape boxes would be installed at the expense of parking spaces.

"They're talking about doing this to attract more businesses downtown," he said after the open house. "The more businesses, the more parking you need, but they are talking about cutting parking. That's sounds contradictory.

"However, I like trees."

Just how many parking places would be lost and how much landscaping should be included would be a community decision made over the course of the planning process, Brungardt said.

Beth Burkard, owner of downtown's Out in the Barn, described herself as "impatient" and said she would like to see some actions taken downtown before the planned 2009 construction of the streetscape improvements. During the presentation, she asked if the city couldn't find some dollars sooner to help with some beautification downtown, perhaps as façade improvements.

The city wouldn't provide money to improve private property, De Soto Planning Commissioner Roger Templin said.

Expanding on that, Brungardt said the city council had expressed opposition to condemnation as a tool to revitalization.

Templin and others said one of the goals of the city investment in public infrastructure downtown was to encourage private investment in the district.

De Soto Planner Linda Bohnsack said Tonganoxie provided a case study in the effectiveness of a city's investment in its downtown. After that city upgraded its downtown earlier this decade, private property upgrades have spread to adjacent streets to U.S. Highways 24/40, she said.

"If you haven't been there in a while, I would encourage you to go visit," she said. "There are a lot of nice shops downtown."

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