The Parsons Planning Commission hopes local residents will take advantage of two open house events next week so that more input from the community can be gathered on a comprehensive plan for the city.
Also during a regular meeting on Tuesday, the planners approved a rezoning request to allow for the potential construction of duplexes and heard some suggestions from Commissioner Leland Crooks regarding new zoning trends.
The city of Parsons has contracted with Verdunity Inc., Dallas, to create the next comprehensive plan for the city that will lay out the town’s goals and plans for development over the next 10 years. Verdunity is now in the third phase, “Vet the Vision,” which includes gathering public opinion. The company next will spend August through October developing the plan before moving into the adoption phase, which is expected to be completed in December.
Verdunity representatives will meet with the public from 1 to 3 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. July 29 at Kitchen Pass, 1711 Main St., and from 8 to 11 a.m. July 30 at The Remnant Café, 1719 Main St.
Sharon Kendrick, Parsons Planning Commission chairwoman, said Tuesday that she is concerned not enough people know about the come-and-go events. The planning commission, as well as other city officials and Verdunity, have been pushing to get more representation from the community to weigh in on how the city can be improved and what its future needs will be.
Planners Greg Chalker and Ron Holsteen both sounded optimistic about the plan Verdunity will create but concerned over the lack of representation. The planners are serving on a comprehensive plan task force to help guide the process with Verdunity.
“I’m feeling pretty good about where we’re going. What I’m not feeling good about is that I don’t think we’re getting input and participation from everyone we should be getting input and participation from, and that concerns me,” Holsteen said.
Chalker agreed, saying he still thinks Verdunity was the right choice for the job and will produce a good product, but the plan would be even better with more input and less skepticism from the public.
Holsteen specifically mentioned the voice of the younger generation, 20- to 30-year-olds, as those missing from the conversation.
Planner Lowell Wells suggested that perhaps Labette Community College teachers or church pastors could bring some local students to the open houses, or maybe even a group of high school seniors could offer input.
Chalker, though, expressed some doubt about getting more people involved. He said Verdunity made it easy for people to give their opinions by creating the online portals that can be accessed at verdunity.mysocialpinpoint.com/parsonscompplan. If people haven’t replied by now, maybe they never will. Chalker said the planning commission may be naive in thinking 100 people would attend an open house.
“People who want to be heard have been heard, and we tried,” Chalker said, adding that he hates to sound pessimistic.
With or without adequate representation and input from the community, Chalker said Verdunity will write a good plan that is appropriate for the community and will take into consideration future and current needs such as an electric vehicle charging station.
“We’re going to get a great comprehensive plan from these folks. They know what they’re doing,” Chalker said.
He added that the plan should be usable, not like the current comprehensive plan.
“I think it will be something that is challenging but attainable,” Chalker said.
The most current comprehensive plan for the city was created for 2000-10. 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 2000 plan was completed by Foster and Associates, Wichita. The city had entered into a $63,000 contract with the company 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 2010-20, 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.
Verdunity also will update the city’s zoning regulations following completion of the plan. The contract price for the plan and zoning update is $146,200.
Also on Tuesday, Crooks gave the planners information regarding national trends on zoning that he thinks might be useful in Parsons.
Crooks said the basis of zoning regulations was created in the 1950s through 1970s, and it’s time to change some things. He spoke of a “zoning revolution” that started a few years ago and is now snowballing throughout the United States. He hoped Verdunity will address the needed changes.
One change he suggested the planning commission consider is allowing accessory dwelling units, commonly known as mother-in-law apartments. These units are usually 750 to 1,000 square feet in size and built in the backyard of existing houses. They are generally not allowed under current zoning regulations. Crooks said these units could be built as rental units to allow people to make some extra income or as a way to keep families close together.
Crooks also would like the planners to consider the development of multi-use zoning. The downtown is a good example, with residential apartments on the second level of buildings and commercial space on the ground. It could also include allowing duplexes to be built in single-family residential neighborhoods. Single-family zoning has placed many people out of the market for home ownership, he said.
Lastly, Crooks said the planning commission should consider changing zoning regulations to allow accessory commercial units, or small buildings that would allow people to run a business next to or behind their home. He used a bike shop as a good example of a business that Parsons could use and that could be allowed to operate in a small accessory commercial unit.
The planners approved a recommendation for a change in zoning from single-family residential (R-1) to two-family residential (R-2) for five lots on Newell Avenue, a cul-de-sac off of South 26th Street between Southern and Briggs avenues. The recommendation will go to the Parsons City Commission for approval or denial.
The city built the cul-de-sac in 2006 for a proposed low- to moderate-income housing development. A few lots also were available in the program just north of the cul-de-sac. Three homes were built and sold on those lots under the program, but the qualifications for new homeowners were too strict — primarily having good credit but low income — to allow further interest, and the city eventually abandoned the project, leaving the cul-de-sac empty.
Now a developer has expressed interest in building duplexes on the city-owned property on the cul-de-sac that is part of the city’s free land program.
A couple of neighbors expressed concern on Tuesday about the potential for drainage problems on their lawns to worsen with the development.
Heather Schoenhofer, who owns a house just north of the cul-de-sac, said without a drainage ditch, she worries her backyard will become even more flooded than it already does during heavy rainfall. She said the yard was still flooded from the rain on Friday and the weekend. Laura Moore, the city’s community development director, said she could bring up the issue with the city engineering department. Meanwhile, the planners decided that the same problem would exist whether the land was developed as single-family residential or as two-family residential, so the zoning designation wouldn’t matter.
Chalker said the city has five vacant lots, and if they can be used to provide good new housing, they should be.