Downtown revitalization clears hurdle
With a unanimous vote Monday night, the Baldwin City Council took the first step toward a downtown revitalization plan that would change the face of the historic area.
The council voted 5-0 to support a resolution supporting the application for a transportation enhancement grant to provide funding for the downtown project. The grant would provide the lion's share of funding for the $1.1 million project, with the city's portion at roughly $340,000.
Council members were shown the plans for the project at the last meeting and needed to give approval by Nov. 8. It will be late spring or early summer before the city will find out if the grant is awarded. If it is granted, the next steps will be taken. Without the grant, the project won't happen.
Council members discussed the project further.
"Has anyone heard any feedback from downtown business owners?" asked Councilman Ken Wagner.
"They weren't against the project, but they had some different ideas," said Councilman Ted Brecheisen Jr. "The only other comments is they're concerned with the cost."
Council member Amy Cleavinger pointed out that the committee that was charged with the project went out of its way to seek public comment, including from downtown business owners.
"There were several opportunities for people to address their concerns," Cleavinger said. "I think Tony did a great job get people information."
Brecheisen mentioned that people that are opposed didn't want to attend meetings where everyone else was for the project. But, he also said he's told them that the project isn't finalized yet.
"It's not something that's set in stone and that's what I've told people," he said. "Nobody was really hard against it. They had some concerns. Let's see how it goes."
"We wanted everyone that was going to be a part of it to be involved," Cleavinger said.
"There is still time to say something after we get the grant," Brecheisen said.
Councilman Tony Brown stayed silent during the discussion until asked to speak.
"I've said my peace," said Brown. "I think it's a good proposal."
The Signal ran a story outlining the project in the Sept. 23 issue. It can be found on the Signal's Web site, www.baldwincity.com, in the archive section. Use "A closer look" as the keyword to read the story.
Part of the project calls for a two-level sidewalk along High Street to help the downtown meet the requirements of the American Disability Act. Council member Nancy Brown said she's seen an example of the sidewalks and is excited about the prospect.
"I was in Wichita last week and got to see the split sidewalks and they work," she said. "We can do it right and it should be really good."
The council also gave its unanimous approval to another resolution for a separate transportation enhancement grant to provide funding to renovate the Women's Bridge located at 11th Street, adjacent to West Park. The bridge was built in 1889 by Baldwin's first all-women's council, including a woman mayor. The history is being checked, but it's believed to have been the only such council in Kansas and, possibly, in the country.
"I'm very supportive of this," said Wagner. "I've been thinking about this a lot. It's real unique."
Cost to renovate the bridge will be between $600,000 and $900,000. Mayor Ken Hayes said he's been in contact with U.S. Cong. Jim Ryun and his grant writer to seek federal funds for the project as well.
"It's definitely something that's unique," Hayes said.
In other business, the council approved the first reading of an ordinance creating a Park Impact Fee applied to all building permits for new construction and another ordinance regarding building permit fees. Tina Rakes, who heads up the city's inspection department, suggested the changes.
"With the new year coming, we thought we'd adjust those building fees with a 2 percent increase across the board for both commercial and residential," Rakes said, adding that she'd surveyed surrounding cities to see how Baldwin's rates stack up. "We're not the high and we're not the lowest, but we're on the low end."
She said the fees hadn't been changed since 2001 and probably should be done more often. As for the park impact fee, which will amount to roughly $350, it was something that needed to be added, she said.
"I realize this is just a first reading, but I'd like to know what we're going to do with that $350," said Wagner. "I think it's going to have some controversy with it. If we say what we're going to do with it, it will make a difference."
City Administrator Jeff Dingman said the money would be used for many park improvements, such as purchasing playground equipment and building ADA ramps.
The council also:
- Heard a report from Rakes regarding a replat issue involving a lot in the Signal Ridge Subdivision. After lengthy discussion, the council decided to table the item until additional information was presented.
- Unanimously approved the addition of Martha Wright and Ivan Huntoon to the Baldwin City Library Board to fill two vacancies.
- Received a trophy and certificate from the Kansas League of Municipalities signifying a gold safety award. It was the result of written programs and a good safety record by city employees this year. "We earned it," said council member Nancy Brown.