Great idea, just not at that location.
Several members of the Independence Planning Commission expressed that sentiment Tuesday as they voted against rezoning a 36-acre plat between Little Blue Parkway and Jackson Drive north of R.D. Mize Road for a speculative warehouse and distribution development.
The project by VanTrust generated enough concern from nearby residents and neighboring landowners – ranging from traffic and pavement to unsightly views and noise and light pollution – that discussion on the case lasted about three hours Tuesday night.
Chairman Eric Ashbaugh and commissioners Cindy McClain, Virginia Ferguson and Heather Wiley voted no on recommending rezoning the land from industrial and single-family residential to business park/planned unit development.
Commissioner Bill Preston, who had moved to delay the case for a month for further consideration, recused himself from the vote, as he is a member of the church that currently owns the land.
“In light of the volume of information we received tonight, I don't believe we can process it and be as thoughtful as we can be,” said Preston, who did not receive enough support to continue the case. “This is a major project; it's a not a subdivision. I think we can do a better job by taking our time and being thoughtful.”
“I believe you stand behind what you're going to do,” Ashbaugh told Grant Harrison of VanTrust. “You're not just a fly-by-night guy.”
“I think it's a great project in the wrong spot.”
The matter will head to the City Council next month for final consideration and a possible vote. Two months ago, the council unanimously approved $37.15 million in developer-backed industrial bonds for the project – contingent on rezoning. No citizens spoke during the public hearing before that vote.
The proposed development consisted of about 560,000 square feet of space in two speculative buildings that could be divided for up to four tenants. Plans show there would be trees to provide some screening around the area.
VanTrust would have tax abatement from 2020 to 2041 and would bear all risk in paying back the bonds, but city officials said even with that the city, county and schools will still receive far more revenue from payments in lieu of taxes than they currently do from the farmland.
Several citizens said they would not have bought homes in the area had they known such a development, which they feared will simply be rows of large trucks docked along the buildings, would go in that area.
“I don't want to retire in my house with this going up,” Sue Mygatt said. “I feel like there has to be somewhere else.”
Some residents feared such a development would start turning the valley into something akin to Kansas City's northeast industrial district along Front Street near Interstate 435.
“It was nice at first,” Tony Martin said of that business park area, “but then the trucks came.”
Irene Baltrusaitis moved to the neighborhood in 1990, when plans called for more residential development and later some accompanying retail and light commercial buildings in the valley.
“We knew there was going to be small development,” she said before Tuesday's meeting. “That wouldn't harm this area like this truck depot would. “I'm not saying Independence doesn't need this,” Baltrusaitis said, knowing the jobs it could provide, “but it needs it someplace else. It's just not good for the citizens who live here.”
Shelley Lee, a Realtor in area, said she has worked tirelessly to bring life back to the newest neighborhood after the recession halted previous plans.
“This development will absolutely destroy our work,” she said. “You try to sell a house next to that.”
Randall Pratt, who owns land on the opposite side of Little Blue Parkway – land the city is still considering for a business park development – said the industrial park could set a bad tone for the area. A business park development of smaller buildings closer to what he envisions for his area.
Harrison and Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council, said the development is in line with current market demands, and the proximity to Interstate 70, compared with further along Little Blue Parkway or near the Lake City Army Ammunition Plant, is appealing.
Lesnak said the city has missed out on several potential businesses considering Independence because it lacks suitable industrial space to show. He said one foreign contractor, which would have Lake City as its largest customer, would find the development to be ideal space.
“We will miss out without this rezoning,” he said.
Both men also said building designs show rows of truck docks because of the speculative nature.
“They're built on a common denominator; they don't necessarily put in all doors,” Lesnak said prior to Tuesday's meeting.
“We don't know what's coming in here; that's why we need to be prepared for two or three or four,” Harrison said. “We can make this a viable option.”