Annexation of east Baldwin City tract tabled for two weeks
After a robust exchange between a former and sitting council members that invoked last year’s Wal-Mart Inc. debate, the Baldwin City Council voted 3-2 to table for two weeks final action on an annexation of property north of U.S. Highway 56 and west of the business park.
Property owners Glenn Rockers and Roger Johnson requested the annexation of the L-shaped tract west of the business park and east of the Heritage Addition that is bounded on the south by U.S. Highway 56 and North 300 Road to the north. On June 15, the council voted 5-0 to approve the first reading of the annexation.
Council members were told at the June 15 meeting the property owners made the request so that the property, which is approximately the same size as the Fire Tree subdivision, could be served by the city’s sewer system.
Mayor Marilyn Pearse and community development director Collin Bielser said they had a meeting with Rockers about the sewer line. The two partners do not have plans to develop the property at this time but did envision the western portion to be residential and some commercial development on the eastern section, Bielser and Pearse said.
The property would retain its current county agricultural zoning with annexation, Bielser said. Any future development of the property would require the Baldwin City Planning Commission and City Council to approve platting for the tract and then rezoning, he said.
It wasn’t rezoning or lack of it that prompted tabling of the annexation, but details of the sewer line extension. Four council members said they learned in the past week the city would extend the sewer line east to the business park. That would allow companies there, which currently are served by a lagoon system, to hook up to city sewer service.
Councilman Dave Simmons suggested that new information made the sewer line extension substantially different and that the public needed time to respond to the proposal.
“I think we need to be transparent to the citizens,” he said. “I think we need to table this and review it.”
Council members Steve Bauer, Christi Darnell and Kathy Gerstner said they, too, didn’t know the sewer line extension was to connect to the business park until last week.
Taking an opposing viewpoint was Mayor Marilyn Pearse. The city and the council has long wanted to extend a sewer line to the business park but couldn’t because of the expense, she said. Johnson and Rocker’s proposal to extend the line through their property at their expense made it affordable for the city to extend to the park. She further explained the city could not have a working sewer line through non-annexed property.
Although she was absent for the annexation’s first reading on June 15, Pearse said she thought the goal of extending the line to the business park was understood by all. She said Johnson and Rockers brought the annexation proposal forward now because they wanted to install the sewer line before the access road to the business park was moved to the east as part of the High Street/U.S. Highway 56 realignment project, which is slated to start later this month.
Speaking in support of Pearse’s position was former councilman Shane Starkey. He, too, said he past councils had the goal of extending sewer service to the business park. Companies there badly needed the service to expand or maintain their current levels of activity, he said.
Starkey further suggested the council’s opposition to the annexation wasn’t rooted in the sewer line extension but Wal-Mart Inc.’s proposal of last summer to build a Wal-Mart Express in Baldwin City. Strong opposition to that project was the reason he was defeated in his re-election bid in April, Starkey said. Nonetheless, he said council members should do not only what was “popular with the community, but what is correct for the community.”
Bauer and Simmons said Wal-Mart never came to their minds until it was mentioned in a letter former mayor and council member Ken Wagner wrote supporting the annexation. Bauer said he never made such a connection, in part, because of Johnson’s co-ownership of the property being considered for annexation.
“Roger Johnson is the reason we don’t have a Wal-Mart in this town,” he said, referring to Johnson’s decision of last summer to sell the site of the proposed Wal-Mart Express to a local partnership group rather than Wal-Mart Inc.
Bauer and Simmons stated again their concerns were not with the annexation but the lack of information on the extension of sewer service to the business park. Councilman Tony Brown said with the amount of concern on the council over that issue, it would be best to table the annexation for two weeks. He added that he didn’t think that would cause Johnson and Rockers to withdraw their annexation request, a point the mayor said shouldn’t be assumed.
“I don’t know what’s in their heads,” Pearse said. “We don’t know their plans aren’t going to change and hurt our ability to get service our to the industrial park.”
Voting no were Gerstner and Darnell. Concern the two-week delay could derail the sewer line extension prompted Darnell to vote against tabling the annexation vote, although she said she shared her fellow council members concern about the lack of information at the last meeting.
The council did approve the first reading of another annexation, which will bring the Palmyra Township shop and the property the Baldwin City Knights of Columbus own near the Annunciation Catholic Church into the city. Bielser said the two properties on North Sixth Street needed to be annexed so the city’s deal to purchase the electrical service rights to the business park from KCP&L could go forward. The city soon would pursue a separate annexation of the Palmyra Fire District station, he said.