The controversial Van Trust project in Independence's Little Blue Valley remains on the city’s agenda, even if there’s no imminent decision.
With the rezoning for the proposed industrial development on the agenda for the first time Monday, the City Council unanimously voted to send the matter back to staff and the Planning Commission.
City Manager Zach Walker said Van Trust Real Estate hopes to have a public meeting Dec. 4 to discuss plans with area residents. The location for that meeting is to be determined, but Walker said ideally it would be somewhat close to the site of the proposed development, which is off R.D. Mize Road between Jackson Drive and Little Blue Parkway.
Van Trust plans to go back to the Planning Commission with a revised plan Jan. 14. Company representatives showed the council a quick version of that plan during last week's council meeting.
Last month, the commission voted against rezoning for the original plan for a 36-acre plat between Little Blue Parkway and Jackson Drive north of R.D. Mize Road, after nearby residents and landowners aired myriad concerns – ranging from traffic and pavement to unsightly views, noise and light pollution and setting an undesired precedent for the area.
Citizens again aired concerns Monday, after the council voted to suspend the rules and allow citizens to address the council on zoning matters that had already been before the Planning Commission.
Jeff Ragsdale, who owns a steel fabricating company in town and lives nearby said, “I don't believe anybody here is anti-development,” and that he knows the Van Trust president to be an “honorable man,” but the proposal is “the wrong project in the gateway of the Little Blue.”
Ragsdale also questioned if the potential truck traffic from 80 dock doors would be too much for the area to handle.
Rick Massie wondered if that potential truck traffic would clog roads near Centerpoint Medical Center too much for emergency vehicles, and Larry Hinkle said businesses near Little Blue Parkway closer to Interstate 70 didn't know before about the proposed development.
“You need to talk to your merchants,” he said.
Van Trust’s revised plan calls for two buildings with a combined 472,000 foot square feet, down from 560,000. They would be configured with fewer truck docks on just one side and facing each other inward instead of on both long sides. The buildings could be divided up for three or four tenants.
Revised plans also call for increased setbacks, more trees along the perimeter and just one access point each on Little Blue Parkway and Jackson Drive.
In August, the council unanimously approved $37.15 million in developer-backed industrial bonds for the project – contingent on rezoning.
Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council, has said he and city officials have tried over the years to get firm plans for development elsewhere in the Little Blue Valley. But other sites like at Lake City, near the Blue Valley Power Plant and even directly across Little Blue Parkway have been considered too far from Interstate 70, too costly because of infrastructure needs, or matching current market demands.
Later Monday, the council voted unanimously to change its rules of procedure and allow citizens to speak to the council about matters that had already been before the Planning Commission. Mayor Eileen Weir, who had cited those rules in not allowing public comment on the matter two weeks ago, was not at Monday's meeting. Council Member Karen DeLuccie had asked for the rules suspension then, saying it meant more for citizens to address their elected officials, but received only one supporting vote from Scott Roberson.