Danedri Thompson
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The Gardner City Council briefly discussed creating a new economic development policy that would incent developers to built in Gardner.
Stewart Fairburn told members of the council during a work session on Sept. 13 that city officials have been meeting with Gardner Area Chamber of Commerce and Southwest Johnson County Economic Development leaders to discuss what the city can do in the short term to attract new businesses.
Fairburn said a letter of intent between the city and Midwest Commerce suggests that buildings at that development – which currently includes the Coleman warehouse – will be given 50 percent abatements. And it’s standard practice for cities neighboring Gardner to offer 50 percent abatements, he said.
“But is there a way to create interest in the short term?” Fairburn said.
Currently the council’s abatement policy allows abatements up to 100 percent, but Fairburn suggested the council could create a policy that makes a 60 percent abatements typical.
Those abatements, he said, could be front loaded so a developer would see a 70 percent abatement the first year, a 65 percent abatement the second year.
The goal, Fairburn said, would be to create a policy that tells developers the city of Gardner is “here to play. We want more in our town.”
“It’s to get that buzz going throughout the metro,” he said.
Council Vice President Steve Hale said the incentive should be considered per project.
He said if the city throws a higher-incentive carrot out there, they must be prepared to provide it.
He said after former council members rejected the intermodal project, the city looked bad to developers, and the same could happen again if they create an incentive that the council refuses to offer.
Council member Kristina Harrison said she worried about the response of the school district. Cities have authority to grant abatements, but the abatements exempt school taxes in addition to city taxes.
“That could cause us some problems in the long run,” she said. “The schools are in our community.”
Mayor Dave Drovetta said helping to increase the city’s commercial base would help the school district.
“They’re growth right now is organic,” he said. “Anything we could do to help their base would help.”
The meeting was a work session, so council members did not take action on any items. They also did not appear to reach a consensus on changes to the cities economic development practices.
In other business, council members:
• discussed decreasing park impact fees for commercial and industrial development at their next city council meeting. The members debated the merits of reducing a number of development fees including excise taxes, and water and wastewater development fees, but reached a general consensus to move forward with reductions to park impact fees alone.
“We have been a leader in park impact fees,” Fairburn told the council.
However, he said now might be a good time to make development fees more attractive to developers.
Gardner charges the highest park impact fees compared to its neighbors. The city currently charges 15 cents per square foot for commercial and industrial developers. Olathe charges 7 cents. Lenexa charges 11 cents.
Council member Todd Winters said he would support lowering park fees for industrial developers only.
“I think that’s key in competing with other communities,” he said.
Fairburn said development fee reductions would not have a major impact on the city’s 2011 budget.
Council will consider changes to the fees at during the next meeting at 7 p.m. Sept. 20 at city hall.