Independence city leaders have continued discussions with VanTrust Real Estate regarding possible development in the Little Blue Valley, though there's no apparent timeline on when such a project might come up for public hearing.
VanTrust had been scheduled to present a revised industrial development plan to the Planning Commission on Jan. 14, but the company told city officials shortly before Christmas the project was on hold. That came just a couple days after citizens at a crowded public forum voiced concerns again regarding traffic congestion and safety, noise and air and light pollution and setting an undesired precedent for development in the area.
“We are continuing to have conversations; we're always open to conversations with developers,” Mayor Eileen Weir said regarding meetings this month. “But they don't have immediate plans to come back to the Planning Commission at this point.”
Added Tom Lesnak, president of the Independence Chamber of Commerce and the Economic Development Council, “The project is still pending at this point.”
In October, the commission voted against rezoning for VanTrust's initial proposal for “Independence Commerce Center” – two speculative warehouse and distribution buildings across 36 acres between Jackson Drive and Little Blue Parkway off R.D. Mize Road. The revised plan included smaller buildings and trailer docks on just one side but also mentioned a planned third building just west of Jackson on land already zoned industrial.
In the revised project, VanTrust shrunk the size of the square footage of the three buildings from more than 961,000 square feet to 782,500 and dropped the number of the docks for tractor-trailers from 242 to 128, moving all the docks to single sides of a building. That design allowed for more buffer and landscape areas and improved drainage through stormwater retention.
The City Council had approved developer-backed industrial bonds and a tax abatement plan for the original development plan, but that was contingent on the necessary rezoning being approved.
Independence leaders have long envisioned business development of some for the Little Blue Valley, particularly with a four-lane divided road constructed through it, but Weir said the idea that citizens, city planners or developers might have of a business park or industrial park might well be different now than 20 years ago, and what was feasible then might not be feasible now.
“We're trying to gather more information and evaluate what the market is demanding,” Weir said. “The lines of communication are still open, and as with anything the discussion shifts.”
Lesnak said in October that he and city officials have tried over the years to get firm development plans for elsewhere in the Little Blue Valley. But other sites such as near 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 not matching current market demands.