On a 6-3 vote, the Unified Government Commission on Thursday night approved a warehouse redevelopment project for the former Woodlands horse and dog track at 97th and Leavenworth Road in Kansas City, Kansas. The Zoom meeting was online.
The redevelopment project is on 431 acres of property at 97th and Leavenworth Road, including the former Woodlands racetrack, and also Bennet Lake, according to developers. Wyandotte County Lake is nearby.
The owner of The Woodlands, Phil Ruffin, who also owns a casino in Las Vegas, is selling the track. During the past several years, the state legislature has failed to approve plans that would allow racetracks to keep enough gaming proceeds to reopen.
While nearby residents opposed the warehouse project, the offer apparently was too good for the UG to refuse, as the developer did not ask for incentives, paid the UG $2 million for some UG-owned property, agreed to put in sidewalks, gave land for parkland and agreed to help pay for trails.
At the public hearing Thursday, the commission heard from seven residents who were against the project, and one resident who was in favor of it.
The residents’ protest petition was thrown out, however. With a valid protest petition, nine votes would have been needed to pass the rezoning; without it, only six votes were needed.
Residents who lived near the proposed warehouse development said it did not fit with the character of their neighborhood.
“It’s like taking a bathroom and putting it in the middle of your living room, that’s how out of place it is,” said Laurie Torrez, a nearby resident.
Jeff Miles, a resident, was in favor of the project. He said he lived across from The Woodlands and is in favor of redeveloping the property. The redevelopment will be better than what they currently have, he said. He added the traffic and noise doesn’t bother him.
Rusty Roberts, a Realtor whose relative has an event center located near The Woodlands, also opposed the development, saying he believes real estate values will go down in the surrounding area a little. More studies need to be done on how it will affect the area, he said.
Karen Lauber, who lives near 99th and Leavenworth Road, said their experience with trucks and vehicles parked at The Woodlands previously was “a really bad experience, intolerable from the standpoint of noise with the trucks.”
Meghan LaDuke, a nearby resident, suggested moving the entrance so it is not directly across the street from residents. She said it will be hard for residents to get out on Leavenworth Road.
The zoning was changed from agriculture and planned general business districts to limited business and general industrial districts.
Gunnar Hand, UG director of planning, said the tops of the 60-foot buildings will be shielded by berms. There are sidewalks and trails planned with this project, also. There are plans for a traffic light on Leavenworth Road, according to Hand.
Hand said he focused on maintaining the character of the neighborhood and also mitigating the traffic impact. The berms and landscaping are intended to maintain the character of the neighborhood, while traffic will be focused on the main entrance on Leavenworth Road, according to Hand.
Shaun Cofer appeared at the meeting, representing Scannell Properties, an Indiana real estate development firm. According to the UG agenda, the proposal was to build five industrial buildings for warehousing distribution and manufacturing totaling 3.14 million square feet and 51 square feet of commercial retail. During Thursday’s meeting, officials said there would not be manufacturing on the site, but described it as warehouses and a business park.
The neighborhood retail center would be at the northeast corner of 99th and Leavenworth Road, according to the developers.
Each of the buildings would come back later before the UG Commission for approval, according to staff.
Seth Reece with Olsson Associates, representing the developer, said 97 acres to the east will be dedicated to the UG for a park. There are plans to put in trails and sidewalks, and the developer will provide funds for the trails, he said. Existing trees to the east and north of the project will be preserved, he said.
Reece said covenants will be added to the agreements to prevent the land from being used for heavy industrial purposes.
He also said the UG wants stoplights at the facility’s Leavenworth Road entrance and also at 103rd. He said the developer would be willing to assist with the costs if the traffic lights are approved by the Kansas Department of Transportation, which has authority over Leavenworth Road.
With the building in the first phase, there would be about 262 trucks a day going in and out of The Woodlands, according to Reece. The facility could operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There will be four shifts planned at the building in the first phase.
Greg Kindle, president of the Wyandotte Economic Development Council, supported the rezoning, saying that the current site hasn’t been used in nearly 15 years and is in significant disrepair. The project could bring 1,000 employees to the community, he said.
Kindle said the project would generate more than $1.9 million in property taxes the first year of operation. That includes $880,000 to the UG, $650,000 to the Piper school district and $300,000 to Kansas City Kansas Community College, he said.
“We are fortunate to have developers who want to invest in our community and be good neighbors,” he said. Plus, the project provides valuable jobs to those who have been laid off during the pandemic, he added.
Commissioner Mike Kane represents the district that The Woodlands is in, and voted against the project. He said almost all the calls he received were against the project, and he was voting with the residents. He also said since the facility operates 24 hours a day, it’s an industrial park, not a business park.
The proposed warehouse tenant for the development’s first phase was not disclosed at the UG Commission meeting. Also not disclosed by anyone at the commission meeting was how much the new jobs would pay.
During the discussion, Hand said the residents’ petition was invalid. When residents asked why it was thrown out, Hand said a protest petition required 20 percent of the residents of the land area, not the number of parcels, to sign a petition, and only 2.8 percent signed.
The commission also approved a Master Plan amendment for the Woodlands project on a 7-1 vote, with Commissioner Kane voting no and Commissioner Burroughs voting “pass,” saying he had a conflict of interest. The Prairie-Piper Master Plan had identified the Woodlands area as “entertainment” and the amendment changed it to “business park.”
At a public meeting on June 29 at the Venue at Willow Creek at the entrance to Wyandotte County Lake, about 45 people showed up, with most of them voicing opposition to the development, Commissioner Kane said.
At a UG committee meeting, a purchase agreement for Scannell Properties to buy 34 acres of Unified Government-owned land next to The Woodlands for $2.031 million was discussed.
According to UG Administrator Doug Bach at the July 30 meeting, the property was acquired by the UG in the past in a tax sale when real estate taxes could not be paid.
During a July 6 UG Committee meeting, committee members discussed how important this project was to the UG’s budget this year, with its $2 million payment to the UG. The UG is facing a shortfall in revenues.
At the July 30 meeting, Mayor Alvey said the $2 million certainly will not fill the UG’s budget hole. The shortfall was much greater than that. They had to make severe cuts to the budget, and they did not count on getting the $2 million, according to the mayor.
The mayor, mentioning another business park, also said he didn’t think the homes around the development would lose their value. He said if there isn’t economic development, the community would only see decline.
“There is no way out of this but economic development,” Mayor Alvey said. The community must take opportunities, hold developers to high standards and allow the development to happen, he said.
Commissioner Melissa Bynum, who voted in favor of the development, said she had heard from three residents against the project and a few in favor of it.
She said the project redevelops a blighted and vacant property and the proposed developer has a track record of quality development. They worked to mitigate as many of the residents’ concerns as they could, she said.
The project brings local tax dollars to the UG, Piper school and local governments. That’s a change from the current situation with the parcel, which has a lower property tax, thanks to decisions by the state Board of Tax Appeals, she said.
She also mentioned improvements to sidewalks and trails, and jobs that are coming to the county.
“What has to happen in order to have any chance of reducing the tax burden on residents is to grow our tax base,” Commissioner Bynum said. “Here’s a project to do exactly that.”
The vote was 6-3 in favor of the change of zone, with Commissioners Kane, Harold Johnson and Tom Burroughs voting no. Commissioners Bynum, Gayle Townsend, Brian McKiernan, Christian Ramirez, Jim Walters and Jane Philbrook voted yes.
In April 2019, when The Woodlands wanted to store vehicles on its lot, neighbors also opposed the noise and the traffic. At that time, the neighbors won concessions that prevented the business from driving trucks there at night.
The sale price of The Woodlands was earlier reported to be near $20 million.
To see an earlier story, visit www.wyandottedaily.com/neighbors-protest-proposed-business-park-at-the-woodlands/
Another earlier story is at wyandottedaily.com/woodlands-permit-sent-back-to-planning-commission/
The meeting is online at YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RiFi_7TPsVk.