Archive for Thursday, June 17, 2004

Park project concerns addressed

June 17, 2004

Ken Hayes knows there are still a number of questions and concerns about Baldwin's business park project, which is why the mayor wants the community to be as informed as possible about the city's plans.

"I've been getting a variety of questions," he said. "What I'm hearing is that people want more information."

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The city has made plans to develop a business park on a 43-acre section of land on the northwest edge of Baldwin along U.S. Highway 56. Recently, the Douglas County Commission agreed the county would be willing to purchase the land for $273,000 in exchange for Baldwin developing the park's infrastructure.

The Baldwin City Council recently approved to extend its option to buy the 43 acres owned by Mildred Allen. The original $10,500 option expired this month, but the council agreed to extend it for another year for an additional $10,500.

Hayes said the first $10,500 payment went toward the purchase of the land, but the city has been unable to work out an agreement with the land owner to have the second $10,500 payment also go toward the purchase of the land.

One of the biggest concerns Hayes said he has heard is the fear of increased taxes to help Baldwin fund the development of the infrastructure.

"Our first priority is that this project does not increase the mill levy of the residents of Baldwin," he said. "The plan is to continue to cut the mill levy while we continue to fund the new project."

Hayes said Baldwin's recent growth, which has increased the sales, commercial real estate and property taxes, will allow for that to happen.

"Growth is funding this project," he said.

Council Member Tony Brown agreed and said Baldwin has managed to fund a number of recent projects -- new water towers, a new power plant and a new wastewater treatment plant -- while seeing a steady decrease in the mill levy the past few years.

"We have the track record to prove that the last few years," he said.

There have also been concerns, Hayes said, about building a business park before any business had agreed to develop in Baldwin.

"But how many people do you know who would build a house without a street in front of it, without utilities?" he said. "This is not a chicken, egg kind of thing."

Brown said in order to get businesses moving to Baldwin, there has to be somewhere for them to build.

"Data from the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce shows three or four dozen different businesses have expressed an interest in Douglas County," he said. "Only four have moved in in the past few years.

"The question was why is that percentage so low?" he said. "The reason was there was no developed land. The demand was there, the supply wasn't."

Brown said according to City Administrator Jeff Dingman, at least four businesses have expressed an interest in moving to Baldwin, but until recently, there had been no plan for a business park.

Talk of the business park has also raised questions of safety, Brown said.

Plans show the business park located north of the Baldwin Elementary School Intermediate Center. In fact, the school entrance and the business entrance would open on to the highway directly across from each other.

"I'm as concerned as anybody," Brown said. "We've already got a situation where we've got a most unsafe situation out there."

But both Brown and Hayes agreed the increase in traffic would only help the already unsafe situation.

"Even though traffic may be increased with the business park, it will be at a slower speed," Brown said.

If the city owns both sides of the highway, Hayes said, which it soon will, it can control the speed limit along the road.

"If we own both sides of the road, we have jurisdictional authority," he said.

Not only would the city lower the speed limit, he said, street lights would be added, the road would be widened, and acceleration and deceleration lanes would be extended.

"Every step will be taken to make sure that intersection is as safe as possible," he said.

Both Hayes and Brown thought the addition of a business park would only enhance Baldwin's community.

"It'll take the community back to where a larger percentage of people who lived in Baldwin also worked in Baldwin," Hayes said. "I think it will have a dramatic impact as far as adding to the fabric and feeling of our community."

"I think it's a good use of that land out there," Brown said.

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