For the last 12 years, the development of the County Road 1 corridor has been a recurring theme of local politics in the south part of Leavenworth County. The turnpike was built using county, state and federal matching funds. The community is concerned how the corridor will develop and how quickly such development will actually take place.
The County Road 1 corridor extends south from town beginning near the Tonganoxie Business Park and extends south to Golden Road. The corridor encompasses the turnpike interchange and an intersection with Kansas Highway 32.
A key issue for citizens who reside along the route is the desire to maintain the rural character of the area. Many members of the community say they moved to this area to be away from the city and they want it to remain the refuge they desired. Their concerns are weighed against the pressure on the city and county to see growth, development and a return on the investment of more than $25 million in tax monies.
To avoid controversy, the county commissioners implemented a development moratorium that precluded development along the route and delayed any potential zoning of the area. To evaluate the usages along the route and potential zoning options, the county authorized a study titled “The Leavenworth County Road 1 Land Use Analysis.” The study was completed in 2018 and presented to the county commissioners.
The purpose of the study was to determine what would be the most reasonable and valuable use for land within the corridor. It also determined what residents and other stakeholders believed would be the best path forward for the development of the area. Two development plans were presented – Concept A and Concept B. Concept A precluded most development and zoning and would have largely left the entire area as rural. This concept made no provision for zoning or development. Concept B presented a land use plan that would maintain the rural character but allow for some development, especially near the industrial park south of Tonganoxie.
The Leavenworth County Commission earlier this year made the decision to adopt Concept B and voted to lift the moratorium on development along County Road 1. This decision required the process of zoning along the corridor to begin. That process included the creation of several new zoning classifications which ultimately delayed the implementation of the zoning.
During the consideration of this concept by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the zoning map was recommended for approval by the board. The table of usages that guides the implementation of zoning was not presented. Without the exact approval of allowed usages, property owners could not get a full picture of the impact of the new zoning on their land. The commissioners decided to wait until the table of usages and exact wording were presented.
During the Planning and Zoning meeting, County Counselor David Van Parys announced to landowners that they should contact the county if they disagreed with the way in which their land was being zoned or if they desired that the land be zoned to a different classification. The Planning Commission and the commissioners wish to accommodate landowners within the context of Concept B. The plan envisions some commercial, residential and light industrial development along the route while honoring the rural character of the area.
To this end, the rezoning process is moving forward in a deliberate manner. The goal is to enhance property rights for the residents in the area by widening the number of usages that land will be zoned for. Much of the corridor is zoned rural or mixed use. Further south within the corridor, the zoning is almost entirely rural. Zoning will open parts of the corridor to usages that are not currently allowed.
There are many other aspects to these zoning issues and I will try to reflect on them in future articles, but let me make just a couple of points. As your commissioner, I am trying to find the balance between economic development and maintaining the rural character of our community. Finding that balance is difficult and this issue has been a subject in all of the six town halls I have conducted and an online Facebook survey. I am convinced that if property owners are allowed to determine the kind of zoning their land will be, a compromise can be reached. Most of the property owners near the southern part of Tonganoxie have already agreed to the zoning categories that are being proposed because in the long term, they will benefit.
Folks do not want to feel that this is a top-down process or that something is being imposed on them. My goal is to make this an open process and to enhance property rights. That is why I am prepared to give landowners a reasonable amount of time to help everyone feel comfortable that this process is going to benefit our community and help us make it a great place for our children to live in the next two decades. We need to take the time to do it right.
Mike Stieben is a Leavenworth County commissioner.