WHAT’S THE STORY: After much negotiation, the city of Independence purchased the 94-acre property of the former Rockwood Golf Club, which has been closed since 2012.
WHY IT MATTERS: Area citizens had been concerned the vacant and overgrown land would become a housing development, but the city plans to use part of it to expand the community solar farm and maintain the rest as green space.
With a multi-faceted transaction, the city of Independence has secured land for its expanding community solar farm and also believes it will help stabilize a neighborhood on the west side.
Last Wednesday, the city purchased the 94-acre property just west of Hardy Avenue that had been Rockwood Golf Club. The south portion of the property will be leased by MC Power for solar panels to produce power for the Independence Power & Light grid, and the remaining portion will be maintained as open green space.
The total price was $985,000, paid for from IPL funds. More than half that amount – $500,000 – is covered from the up-front 30-year lease payment by MC Power, which constructed the current 3-megawatt solar farm on Bundschu Road in rural eastern Independence. Parks sales tax funds could be used in the future to reimburse IPL.
The Rockwood land had been vacant since the golf course – which dated back to the early half of the 20th century and counted Harry Truman among its members – closed in 2012 and had become largely overgrown. Council Member Tom Van Camp, who resides near the property, said it was unfeasible for the land to be a golf course again.
Many citizens had been concerned the land would become a high-density housing development, and Van Camp and City Manager Zach Walker said they are glad this deal can alleviate some fears.
“This secures and stabilizes a community,” Van Camp said. “This is an opportunity we've been looking at. We needed to buy it to be able to improve it.”
“I'm proud that we're able to give some peace-of-mind,” Walker said, “and it's fiscally responsible and we're not doing this at the expense of everything.”
Van Camp had been one of those concerned citizens when the course closed, and his predecessor for the District 4 council seat, Mayor Eileen Weir, also did not want housing in that area. Van Camp was elected to the District 4 council seat in 2014, a few months after Weir became Mayor.
“It was by No. 1 campaign promise,” he said. “I live next door; I go there every day.”
The land had been purchased by a group called Maywood LLC – the property address is 2400 Maywood Avenue – a few months after the course closed, but no project ever came forth. Titan Fish, an investment firm based in Shawnee, Kansas, ultimately bought the property and sold it to the city.
Van Camp said the asking price for the property had been as high as $1.6 million and as low as $650,000. Even if the city had decided earlier to purchase the property, Walker said, it had no planned use. Earlier this year, Van Camp brought an ordinance forward to have Walker make a purchase, but the council decided to postpone a vote until city staff could procure some possible uses for the property.
“We didn't want to be the dog that chased the car and then we don't have a solution when we caught up to the car,” Walker said.
The breakthrough came in discussions with MC Power, with whom the city has a power purchase agreement to expand the city's community solar farm to 11.5 megawatts of power. The Bundschu Road site is not large enough to produce that much power, leading the parties to search for other sites. The solar farm at Rockwood would produce about 4.5 megawatts of power.
“The concept of finding and evaluating property for the solar farm led us to looking at a lot of properties, looking at other areas of the city,” said Loren Williamson, MC Power senior vice president. “Within the last 45 to 60 days we starting honing in on that piece of property.”
Williamson said the Rockwood property was bigger than what was needed for the solar farm, but combined use of usable community green space, including as a buffer made it attractive.
“Every one of our projects that we build are community driven,” he said. “From our perspective it makes sense to use a piece of property that could have more use. We're building it right where consumers will be able to use it.”
Part of the solar farm plans include some battery storage technology, which could be used during power outages.
“Kind of like a generator,” Walker said. “(The purchase) is not only a long-term solution, but we're able to do a pretty neat, forward-thinking project.”
Williamson said battery storage technology is advancing rapidly.
“It's a good complement to be able to store the energy when it's not necessarily needed,” he said. “We know when (the solar farm) is going to produce energy, but it's good to know it's available to use whenever you want to. The energy would be used directly by Power & Light however they see fit.”
The city says a groundbreaking for the solar farm is planned for next year.
On The Examiner’s Facebook page, citizens generally offered positive responses to the news. Some offered hopes the city will keep the “big trees” and spruce up the walking paths.