Woodlands’ permit sent back to Planning Commission

The Unified Government Commission on Thursday night sent back The Woodlands’ special use permit for storing vehicles to the Planning Commission.

For almost a year, The Woodlands, a horse and dog racetrack not currently running races, has been parking motor vehicles in its parking lot under a temporary permit. A revocation of the permit was on the Thursday UG agenda, but the commission decided to send the issue back to clarify two issues.

The motion by Commissioner Melissa Bynum returned the issue to the Planning Commission for clarification around two items within the special use permit, the first, how vehicles were to be delivered to the location with stipulations, and second, codifying the hours of operation. The motion passed unanimously.

There seemed to be general consensus among the planning staff, commissioners and The Woodlands that they would keep to hours between 7:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to deliver the vehicles, and they could be driven individually or delivered by truck. Commissioner Bynum said she would like to see a written public agreement between the UG and The Woodlands.

Planning Director Rob Richardson said when the special use permit was approved earlier, it was the understanding that the vehicles would be delivered by trucks. There has been a change, however, with Ford vehicles being driven individually from a train on Kansas Avenue to The Woodlands at 97th and Leavenworth Road. The vehicles are parked temporarily at The Woodlands before being shipped somewhere else.

The original permit limited the number of semi trucks allowed per day, but did not address vehicles being driven there. There was a change where as many as 250 cars a day were driven to The Woodlands individually. Richardson said the UG was responding to complaints from nearby residents.

R. Scott Beeler, an attorney representing The Woodlands, said they had been trying to work with the UG and comply with the stipulations on the permit. He said revocation would be an extreme remedy. He said in the future, there may be semis delivering vehicles, as well as vehicles driving individually to The Woodlands. He also said the permit was a very valuable asset to The Woodlands.

The Woodlands’ parking lot was being used to temporarily store vehicles while the track was waiting for the Kansas Legislature to approve a bill that would increase the amount of gaming revenue the track owners could keep.

The concerns at the original hearing were limited to how much noise and traffic there would be from the trucks, as well as how they would enter and exit the property, he said. They agreed not to use the 99th Street entrance because there were about four or five homeowners between Leavenworth Road and the 99th Street entrance. There were also about five homes on the south side of Leavenworth Road across from The Woodlands, he said.

The permit was not revoked on Thursday, but it would have been a moot point, at least temporarily, if it had. Beeler said there are currently no vehicles parked at The Woodlands, and that the need for parking fluctuates with Ford’s production and the availability of enough railroad cars for shipping. He expected that there would be a need to park cars there again later in the year, possibly August or September.

Beeler said at the time the permit was issued, they did not know that they would be driving cars there individually. The change came about because of cost, according to Beeler, and the decision came about through the manufacturer and a contractor.

A few of the semi truck drivers in the early days had used the 99th Street entrance, when that was not allowed by the permit, according to Beeler. When that happened, the drivers were told they could not use 99th.

There was one incident where a truck drove through a resident’s yard, and that was repaired within one week, Beeler said.

Beeler said they later were driving as many as 250 vehicles a day individually to The Woodlands, and that Leavenworth Road is designed to handle 40,000 trips a day. The permit had stated that there could be 60 semi truck trips a day to The Woodlands. It did not say anything about the number of vehicles that could be individually driven there, and the permit did not restrict the time individual vehicles could be driven there, he said. Beeler said he went back to Ford and the contractor and told them that The Woodlands would not extend the contract unless the hours would be 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., and they have agreed to it.

Commissioner Bynum said she had talked to some of the neighbors about their concerns. While it was a small number of neighbors, it was probably about half of those who lived close to the track, she said.

Some neighbors complained about noise, lights and traffic to the UG. Some said that earlier, vehicles were being driven individually to The Woodlands after 7:30 p.m.

Neighbors had complained to the UG that the vehicles driving individually to The Woodlands did not have license tags. Beeler said they checked with different agencies and the vehicles just had to have the proper transit paperwork.

He said there was a mass stop of the vehicles from multiple police officers of a group of 20 to 25 individually driven vehicles. He said there were no legal violations.

“There was a police presence, rather regularly, in front of The Woodlands,” he said. Out of all the vehicles, there was only a single vehicle where the driver had not properly displayed the transit paperwork, he said.

“I don’t know why the police came in the first place, especially since it had been determined that these vehicles were properly there,” he said.

Beeler said The Woodlands was willing to say that the hours of individually driven cars would be 7:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. He said he believed there were no issues left to resolve.

One nearby resident who initially was in favor of the revocation said she changed her mind after talking with Woodlands staff. Her objection had been to lights from vehicles late at night that were coming in her windows, but as the vehicles will not be driven after 7:30 p.m. in the future, she said she could deal with it. Beeler said an incident occurred with a resident who had pulled over and shined lights in her windows, and it was not from vehicles being delivered to The Woodlands.

Another resident of the area, who was in favor of revocation of the permit, told the commission that she believed a certain type of temporary Kansas license plate was required for vehicles being driven there. Beeler said these were not required, but transit paperwork was required.

The resident said on March 26, the police stopped vans driving to The Woodlands that did not have license plates. The resident said some of the vehicles currently had Kentucky license plates, which she said did not apply in Kansas. She said she worked 13 years in auto licensing, and the state has a 30-day permit and 60-day permit.

According to Beeler, however, there is transit paperwork that allowed the vehicles to be driven legally to The Woodlands. The vehicles are in transit and have not yet been sold.

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