Archive for Thursday, April 17, 2008

Sunflower owners look for KDOT study for answers

April 17, 2008

The owners of the Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant near De Soto welcome a traffic study for five Kansas metropolitan counties as a way of getting answers about how to develop the 9,065-acre property.

The Kansas Department of Transportation announced April 10 it would conduct a two-phase traffic study of Douglas, Johnson, Leavenworth, Miami and Wyandotte counties. The $1 million first phase will examine the current road system and its ability to handle increased traffic from such factors as the coming Burlington Northern Santa Fe intermodal complex near Gardner, continued growth near the NASCAR track in Kansas City, Kan., a new turnpike interchange near Tonganoxie and redevelopment of Sunflower and the Farmland Industries complex in southeast Lawrence.

The second phase will identify improvements to existing roadways and the new roads and right-of-way needed to handle increased traffic and their cost.

KDOT planning engineer Thomas Dow said the department expected to have an engineering firm in place to start the first phase in June. It is expected to take from 12 to 18 months.

K-10 Association executive director Rich Caplan said it was his hope that one of the recommendations to emerge from the two-phase study was a new north-south road connecting Interstate 35 with the Kansas Turnpike at the new Tonganoxie interchange.

He and Sunflower Redevelopment LLC executive director Randall said there has been a lot of speculation on the route among planning and economic development circles since the federal government transferred the closed ammunition plant to Sunflower Redevelopment in 2005. Randall welcomed the start of the KDOT study as a step to moving those informal discussions forward.

But any future north-south roadway that results from the KDOT study probably would be different than the four-lane parkway Johnson County's arterial road network plan proposes eventually be built through Sunflower. The different nature of the roads would make a difference in how Sunflower Redevelopment planned and marketed the property, Randall said.

Last May, Sunflower Redevelopment hired the Denver-based firm Design Workshop to do the master plan of the plant's redevelopment. Randall said at that time it would take about 14 months to complete the master plan, but questions about the nature of the north-south roadway called that goal into question.

"We've been through a couple of concept sketches," she said. "One of things we've found is it's tough to go through the planning process if you don't know if you have a parkway or freeway. If you have a Ward Parkway, it's a lot different than if you have Highway 69 through your property.

"It influences development more than a mile away. It's not just the property next to the freeway. It's the whole darn site."

Sunflower Redevelopment hasn't yet expressed a preference for freeway or parkway, Randall said.

"Over the next bit we will clarify our position more," she said. "We would like to engage everybody in conversation before we have to switch horses in the middle of our marketing."

A Sunflower route is not the only route possibility KDOT could recommend for the north-south road. Some conjecture has been given to a north-south route through Douglas County that would intersect with Kansas Highway10 between Lawrence and Eudora, Caplan said.

"I think the study will evaluate alternative routes," he said. "At this point, they are very conceptual, logical ideas."

Although she said her opinion was not that of an engineer, there were reasons for placing the route through Sunflower, Randall said. One big advantage it offered was the ability to acquire nearly 5 miles of right of way through uninhabited property from one owner, she said.

If the state is interested in a route through Sunflower, it is Sunflower Redevelopment's desire to be informed as soon as possible, Randall said.

Dow said KDOT had not yet established a schedule for the completion of the study's second phase. He and other KDOT officials had talked with Randall and understand Sunflower Redevelopment's concerns.

"For better or worse, developers and the private sector are able to move much more aggressively than public entities," he said. "We're not on the same schedule. I think they understand that."

The environmental cleanup is ongoing at the plant and is scheduled for completion in December 2012.

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