Sen. Lynn proposes riverfront authority
Sen. Julia Lynn said last Thursday in De Soto that she would introduce a bill in Topeka in the coming legislative session designed to help the community make the most of its location on the Kansas River.
The legislation the Olathe Republican purposes would be modeled off bills passed the last two legislative sessions to aid in the recreational development of riverfronts in Topeka and Fort Scott.
Lynn made the announcement last Thursday at the De Soto Chamber of Commerce's monthly meeting. It came two days after the De Soto City Council voted to spend $676,000 on the first phase of a park in the West Bottoms.
Lynn said she has been much taken with the scenery around De Soto in visits to the community since becoming a state senator late last year. The Kansas River and surrounding topography give the community a chance to stand out in Johnson County and develop differently than Overland Park, Olathe and Lenexa, she said.
"This is a beautiful place to live," she said. "In Johnson County, this is absolutely a secret that many, many people are not aware of."
The area is different enough to offer De Soto tourism opportunities, Lynn said. The legislation she proposed would give the community the chance to build on the park approved last week through a locally appointed board acting in concert with public involvement, she said.
"The riverfront authority will be your board, allowing you to come together on your vision of what you want to create," she said. "I don't think this community can be in the position to let other people tell it what its future is."
The board would be able to tap into public and -- Lynn predicted -- private funding to finance improvements along the riverfront.
De Soto Mayor Dave Anderson said Lynn brought the idea of the authority to him.
"Sen. Lynn has really taken the ball and ran with it," Anderson said. "She did some research on river front and this is what she came up with."
The model for the legislation would be the Fort Scott/Bourbon County Riverfront Authority approved last session, Lynn said.
Dean Mann, chairman of the Fort Scott authority, said that bill was strictly modeled off one passed a year earlier that created the Topeka/Shawnee County Riverfront Authority. Last year's bill created an authority to guide development along the town's Marmaton River for recreational development, Mann said. The authority has defined boundaries along the riverfront in Fort Scott and five miles upstream and downstream from the city, Mann said.
The land along the Marmaton River was overgrown and offered little to attract people to the community, Mann said.
"We want to come up with ideas of developing the riverfront, of changing it from eyesore to more of an asset through governmental and foundational grants," he said. "We felt it would probably be easier to do that administratively through an authority."
It was thought an authority charged solely with developing the park could move faster on opportunities, Mann said.
The authority has a six-member board with three members appointed by the city of Fort Scott and three by the Bourbon County Commission. It has the authority to issue debt at municipal bond rates and own property but has no taxing or eminent domain authority, Mann said.
Although there is no master plan for the improvements -- that's next on the to-do list -- it is thought the riverfront will be developed in phases with hiking, biking and equestrian trails and a low-water dam that will provide a small fishing lake and a park setting, Mann said.
"We have said to the public from the get go, we will not be asking for any tax money to do this," he said. "This will not put any additional burden on the taxpayers."
The Fort Scott authority's enabling legislation could have been much improved, but its supporters went with a near copy of the Topeka legislation from a year earlier as a way to win lawmaker's approval, Mann said.
"In hindsight, we could have written a better bill if we knew it would go through so easily," he said.
One thing that he would consider if given a second chance was the ability creating a tax increment financing district within the authority's boundaries, Mann said. But with no taxing power, he didn't know how much that would help the authority.
Anderson said research needed to be done to establish the proposed authority's boundaries and other details. TIFs might be helpful to encourage recreational businesses within its boundaries, he said.
If incentives would be useful, they should be in the bill regardless of the consequences on the bill's chances, Anderson said.
"If we're going to ask the Legislature to do something, we're going to ask for what we need to get something done," he said.
As for Lynn, she said it was ready to get to work on the bill.
"It's my job to get this through the Legislature," she said.