City commissioners are set to vote on a new comprehensive plan that would aim to guide development in Parsons for the next decade.

The Parsons Planning Commission has recommended a proposal from Verdunity Inc., Dallas, that would include a comprehensive plan as well as zoning regulation updates and digital zoning maps. The proposal would cost the city $146,200.

City commissioners have made favorable comments about the proposal, which is on the agenda for their regular Monday meeting.

“I think it’s a great project,” Mayor Jeff Perez said during a Thursday work session when planning commission member Greg Chalker presented the proposal. 

The city budgeted for $50,000 this year and $50,000 in 2021 for a new comprehensive plan, but City Manager Debbie Lamb said on Friday that if a contract is signed this year, the city will need to account for the full amount in this year’s budget. She was figuring out a way the city could pay for it with money transferred from other funds.

The city’s latest plan was created for 2000-2010. A Kansas statute requires cities to create a new comprehensive plan every 10 years, but there are no penalties for outdated plans. The commission approved a re-adoption of the old comprehensive plan with amendments that brought economic, population and housing statistics current in November 2018.

The plan was completed by Foster and Associates, Wichita. The city had entered into a $63,000 contract with Foster and Associates in 1996 after receiving a grant from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The city received two time extensions of a year each on the grant to accommodate Foster’s delays.

In 2008, the city hired JEO Consulting Group, Wahoo, Nebraska, to develop a plan for 2010 to 2020, but city officials were dissatisfied with the result. Then Mayor Bill Wheat called the completed product a “piece of junk” and said the city wasted money on it. The city declined to adopt it and instead only incorporated some of the information from the plan into the 2000 plan.

In 2018, the planners recommended a proposal from Kansas City, Missouri, firm Gould Evans for a new comprehensive plan at a cost of $99,435. That plan included zoning regulation updates but not the mapping components the city could use on a day-to-day basis. The city considered making its own maps with help from Labette County, but that arrangement didn’t work out. The city commission never approved the Gould Evans plan because of the lack of zoning maps and the cost. The city then checked into grant availability for the project but couldn’t find any outside funding.

The planning commission then started over and sought new proposals this year.

Gould Evans submitted a proposal again, this time for $90,143 without any zoning work, but the planners like Verdunity’s approach more.

“I’m just excited to do this,” Commissioner Leland Crooks said on Thursday.

Verdunity is a founding member of the Strong Towns concept. Started in 2009, Strong Towns is an organization that aims to change ideas about growth and development across North America. It wants communities to stop betting futures on huge, irreversible projects and start taking small, incremental steps. The Strong Town approach emphasizes obtaining a higher return on existing infrastructure investments. It also encourages participation from everyone in a community.

“I think it’s going to be a good deal. It’s the best group that I’ve seen. It really looked good,” Commissioner Verlyn Bolinger said on Thursday.

Commissioner Tom Shaw is hopeful that Verdunity’s plan could lead to more development in the future, giving Parsonians more options to spend their money locally. He said he has a recurring dream of a revitalized retail/entertainment/restaurant sector in town and that the work the planning commission is doing could lead the city in that direction.

“I think there are possibilities that maybe a lot of us have thought, ‘Well, that’s all in the past, and our future will be different,’ and maybe it will be different in a lot of ways, but the work you’re doing and this, putting this vision into a reality, is so helpful in moving us toward the community we really want Parsons to be,” Shaw said.

The comprehensive plan is overdue, Shaw said, especially because the most current plan was approved before the rerouting of U.S. 400 from Main Street to the north side of Parsons. Work on the bypass started in 2001 and was completed late the next year.

Chalker said the worst sin Parsons could commit is to ignore the new plan.

“If we do this, everyone needs to be all in,” he said.

The planning commission at first planned to recommend a $170,000 package from Verdunity that also included a land use fiscal assessment, which would tell the city what it should expect in property tax revenue from commercial sites, but the planners dropped the assessment from their recommendation. Jim Zaleski, economic development director, said the assessment wouldn’t be something he would use in economic development efforts.

“It would be a report that sits on a shelf, and at this time, I think we need to be careful about reports that just sit on shelves,” Zaleski said.

Chalker said if approved, Verdunity will work on the comprehensive plan and zoning updates in concert through a five-phase process that should take nine to 12 months.

 

Great Plains loan

Also on Monday, the commission’s agenda includes possible approval of a loan to Great Plains Industrial Park.

The Great Plains Development Authority wants to borrow $150,000 from the city’s Union Pacific Railroad fund for its 20% match of a Kansas Department of Transportation grant. If approved, the grant would be used for road repairs in the industrial park. 

Great Plains would make $30,000 payments on the loan for five years beginning in December 2021.

The Union Pacific gave the city $1 million for industrial development upon its acquisition of the former Katy Railroad. The money was part of an agreement between the railroad and the city, which dropped its objection to the purchase of the Katy. The city at first objected to the takeover because of the resulting loss of hundreds of Katy jobs in Parsons. The fund is invested along with other city funds to build interest. It now has $752,036.63.

On Thursday, Shaw said he thought he would hear from the public on the issue, but there was not much feedback.

Lamb said Great Plains could fund its match through other means, but that would put it in a bind.

The city commissioners will meet at 6 p.m. Monday in the commission room at the Parsons Municipal Building. The meeting will be livestreamed at livestream.com/parsonskansas.

In other business, commissioners will consider:

— Approving payment of $159,967.14 to Heck & Wicker Construction Inc., Parsons, for work completed on a 16th Street improvement project from Broadway Avenue to Clark Avenue that is adding new stormwater pipes and new concrete along with the widening of the 16th and Main Street intersection to add turn lanes.

— Approving payment of $12,880 to Burns & McDonnell Engineering for services on the construction of a taxiway connector at Parsons Tri-City Airport.

— Accepting a bid for concrete surfacing in the 1400 block of Morgan Avenue.

— Approving an employee leasing agreement between the city and Labette County for the services of Jim Zaleski, economic development director, and Laura Moore, community development director. The two are working for the county in the distribution of federal coronavirus relief funds. They will be paid for their work in addition to their regular city salaries. The Kansas Public Employee Retirement System required the agreement.

— Approving an ordinance that would rezone property at 1814 Crawford from multi-family residential (R-3) and central business district (C-2) to service commercial (C-3). The lots owned by Ryan’s Commercial Property are located north of Olson’s Ace Hardware. Both companies are owned by Ben and Beth Ryan. The Ryans want to build a new greenhouse and possibly a retail sales building on the property. Much of the property already is being used as sales space for Ace’s plants and flowers, and there is a greenhouse there, too.

— Approving a resolution that would release the lease of property at Ray’s Products. The city issued industrial revenue bonds for the company’s expansion of its existing building. The bonds, which Ray Products has paid off, came with a property tax abatement. The city technically owned the property while the bonds were being paid and leased it to Ray Products.

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