Blue Springs Planning Commission approves plans for school district maintenance facility despite protests.

They came with their signs and their breathing masks.

But Blue Springs Planning Commission members only let them keep the breathing masks.

Most of the audience Wednesday night showed up to voice their opposition to the proposed 18,600-square-foot transportation center, to be located on U.S. 40, southeast of Hy-Vee on 18.6 acres, but none were allowed to speak.

When asked by Chairman Keith Sullivan to remove the signs, Slyvia Oliva took the long route, crossing in front of the audience and holding them up.

“These are the signs they’re asking to be removed,” she said – to  the disapproval of some commission members.

The signs posed questions about safety and air quality, two of three main issues that residents are concerned about regarding the proposed Blue Springs Transportation Center.

Replacing the current facility on U.S. 40 near Lake Tapawingo, the center is designed for bus maintenance and parking. The land is  currently zoned general business/commercial parking. The district said the new facility and property will solve a growing problem for a growing school district: bus storage and employee parking.

Scott Allen, director of Community Development, said some changes have been made since planners met with neighbors, who have in letters and phone calls expressed concern over traffic flow, odor and noise.

“It was decided to allow only emergency vehicles in the entrance  off Sunnyside,” Allen said. “And we encouraged that as well.”

John Brown, a spokesman for Hollis and Miller Architects, said the district looked at several sites for the facility. He said he understood that residents would like such facilities to be located outside of town, but that was impractical and costly.

“Districts look at that and face increases as much as $250,000 in fuel costs,” he said.

To address neighbor concerns, the district plans to install heating blocks in the buses, which will prevent drivers from idling the buses by heating the engines prior to starting them. The district also plans to install a traffic light just west of Sunnyside School Road along U.S. 40, which is the main entrance for buses. As for odor, Brown said the district is currently in compliance with EPA standards on fuel emissions.

The district also plans to install a storm runoff system that satisfies green standards.

Brown said the district recently met with about 15 residents in the area, as well as District 2 City Council Member Kent Edmondson, to discuss concerns about the facility.

The commission passed the preliminary plan and site plan and design review by a vote of 10-0. The facility is expected to b operating by August 2010.