Development talks surrounding an 80-acre property on South Kansas Avenue (south of Arby's and Orscheln Farm and Home) stalled after the proposal brought forward by property owners Occidental Management at the Newton City Commission's last meeting was projected to come with a price tag of nearly $4 million.
Looking to rekindle the discussion, Occidental brought forward a revised development plan for the commission to consider during a work session on Tuesday. Gone were the majority of utility costs (i.e. installation of traffic lights and additional road construction) associated with the initial phase of development. Instead, Occidental was asking for Light Commercial zoning of the property and the platting of five lots on the portion nearest Kansas Avenue, while the only costs to the city would be an estimated $165,000 for a water main extension on the west side of Kansas Avenue.
Concerns were raised immediately by City Manager Bob Myers. While the financial burden to the city may have come under question with the previous proposal, there was no question that the work needed to be done — work that the newest proposal from Occidental Management does not address in the initial phase of development.
Myers noted that based on the city's traffic plan, any development of the property in question triggers a need to connect South Kansas Avenue to Old Main Street to the west — a need not addressed in the revised initial development phase.
"Those are streets that need to go in to accommodate any development in this area," Myers said.
Instead of connecting streets, Occidental lined out two entrances solely attached to the area around the plats (and not continuing through the property). Additionally, neither of those entrances are on the north end of the property — an area that was intended to become a lighted intersection and connect through to Wheatridge Drive to the east. Myers pointed out that is not an option with the proposed revisions, as the plats now run to the northernmost border of the property (and do not allow for road right-of-way), and the installation of at least one traffic light in that location upon initial development are something that city staff stated needs to be included as part of the plan.
Proximity of the the intersections that are plotted in the development diagram were also a concern, while staff and commissioners were also questioning the tax revenue Occidental is proposing the development would generate.
With the revised plan, using Occidental's own figures, Myers noted the five plats from the newly proposed initial development phase would generate $73,000 (not the $300,000 projected in the previously proposed plan). Given that additional revenue is important to the city, questions were also raised regarding if Occidental would make any guarantees that only sales tax generating businesses would go into those plats (not bank branches, professional offices, etc.).
No plans were made to dedicate road right-of-way in the revised proposal, though, and a lack of street construction is a non-starter in regards to development of that property. While Myers said the discussion between the two parties has come down to "bickering over semantics," those details — particularly the tax generation capabilities — are critical given the city's potential investment.
"We have costs associated with this development," Myers said. "Somehow we've gotta pay for it, and we don't have a lot of cash laying around to do that, so we would have to bond it and, obviously, we'd look to the revenues we'd be generating as a result for a source of money we would use."
Given what the city sees as necessity regarding this development, multiple commissioners questioned if this most recent proposal was not simply a way to sell off those initial plats and then be done with the property.
"I think they're just planning on building that strip there and saying 'goodbye,'" said commissioner Glen Davis.
Some thought discussions on the development were already done, but they were also open to hearing out further plans — though Myers believe what is more logical is to go back and readdress the creation of a "tiff like" district with the involvement of the county and USD 373.
There has been some renewed discussion that both parties may be amenable to such a proposal regarding the development — especially if sales tax revenues aren't deferred — and Myers noted that could mean, with the county involved, additional revenue for everybody (including the rest of the county communities).
Uncertainty still remains regarding the development plans along South Kansas Avenue, but the city knows where its concerns lie and how it would like to see work progress. The consensus on Tuesday was that burden on pushing it further now rests on Occidental.
"I think this is their project to sell," said commissioner Barth Hague.
In other business, the Newton City Commission:
Began prioritizing goals for upcoming budget planning, with Myers bringing up potential areas of need among staffing numbers (particularly in the Newton Police Department) and regional planning/economic development.
Approved the consent agenda, including approval of a cereal malt beverage license for Tokyo Yang Inc. as a limited retailer.
Recognized Bethel College student Stephanie Brown, who received the Teacher of Promise Award from the Kansas State Board of Education, and Newton High School teacher Fred Becker, who was selected as this year's recipient of the Elmer Carpenter Award by the Kansas Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association.
Approved special event requests for the Spring into the Arts downtown celebration (April 19), Celebrate Recovery's third annual summer festival (June 9) and the Mexican/American Fast Pitch Softball Tournament (July 4-8).
Approved a request for a special alcohol permit for the Ain't No Joke food truck rally on April 8.
Heard a report from Newton Public Library board president Ann Adrian on the efforts being made to improve literacy among local youth and to attract patrons with various amenities, with the progress on digital platforms being highlighted.
Reviewed the wastewater treatment plant fee, which Myers noted will be an annual practice to make sure the flat rate the commission approved after the completion of plant improvements stays on course with the timeline that projected those improvements to be paid off 10 years sooner than planned.
Tabled discussion of a resolution regarding the city's special event policy.
Learned of numerous improvements currently in various phases of completion at Centennial Park, including plans to add a shelter at the dog park, completion of the sanitary sewer project, the initial stages of work on a new concession stand/press box near Klein-Scott Field and restroom at the south end of the park (near the youth fields), as well as preliminary planning for a new parking lot to the east of the youth fields on the south end.
Heard an update from Myers on progression of plans for the remodel of the law enforcement center and work being done to generate a survey to gauge the child care needs of the community.