September 21, 2014

USD 231 interested in land considered for low-income housing

Danedri Thompson
dthompson@gardnernews.com

Although the Gardner Edgerton School District has expressed interest in purchasing more than 21 acres in the Waverly Pointe subdivision near the high school, that doesn’t mean a plan for lower-income housing in the same location will be scrapped.

Earlier this month, school board members decided to survey three parcels of land in the subdivision and announce their interest to purchase the property – two eight-plus acres parcels and a five acre lot.

Superintendent Bill Gilhaus said the fact that more than 50 residents –  a few of them school employees – protested a plan to place lower-income apartments on the land had nothing to do with district officials’ discussions to purchase the property.

“I understand how it looks, but that’s not the case,” he said.

A district official informally approached the owner of the property a few weeks before residents voiced complaints about the proposed lower-income apartment.

Overland Property Group (OPG) has a purchase option on more than 8 acres of the land in question, and submitted an application to the Kansas Department of Housing for tax credits to build up to three, 16-unit lower-income apartment buildings on it.

The state housing department denied their application, but Brett Johnson, Partner of OPG, said that doesn’t mean the project is dead. The state will offer additional credits in the spring, and OPG may apply again.

As part of the application, OPG sought a letter of support for the project from the Gardner City Council during a September meeting. More than 50 residents, including a GEHS football coach and the GEHS boys track coach, protested before council at the meeting.

Kris Henry, a GEHS assistant football coach who lives in Waverly Pointe, requested that council members decline to issue a letter of support for the project.

“Call it what it is,” Henry said. “It’s going to be people with income of $25,000 paying rents of $500. Crime will go up. Drugs will go up in this community.”

Brian McGee, GEHS boys track and field coach and Waverly Pointe resident, said with the district recently joining the Eastern Kansas League – one of the premier athletic leagues in the state – lower-income apartments so close to the high school would create a stereotype in the minds of the school’s league opponents.

“When those team buses come into Gardner, they will be saying, those are the projects of Gardner,” McGee told the council last September. “That will be the stereotype we will have to deal with.”

The decision to join EKL is one reason the school has interest in the property, but not due to concerns about stereotypes, Gilhaus said.

USD 231 joined EKL to provide more opportunities for students. The new league offers additional competition at the sub-varsity level, he explained. As a member of the Frontier League, GEHS fielded varsity, JV and freshman teams. As a member of the EKL, the school has competition at those levels as well as a sophomore team level and a second freshman team.

All of those teams require more practice space, Gilhaus said.

“We need additional soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and practice football fields,” he said.

District officials are also hoping to use the land to address parking concerns. Currently, the District Athletic Complex football stadium seats about 3,200 people. The parking lot holds about as many cars. This season, however, Gilhaus said it wasn’t unusual to host more than 7,000 fans at a game.

In the meantime, OPG officials say they will move forward with their own plans for a portion of the same property.
Although the state denied OPG’s application for tax credits this time, Johnson doesn’t believe the application was rejected based on its merits.

“The reason it was not approved this time is that there were just a limited number of tax credits available,” he said. “There simply wasn’t enough to go around.”

State officials confirmed there were between 60 and 70 applicants for the tax credits, and the department approved approximately 18 of those. Two other OPG projects in different communities received state approval for the credits.

The state will have more tax-credit funding available this spring, and OPG officials are discussing whether they will re-apply and how they might tweak the project.

“We’re still confident in it,” Johnson said. “We think it’s a great market for a great development. We’re looking at ways to appease both sides, including the neighbors, with a design that is more like what they were expecting.”

For example, he said OPG may consider constructing lower-income townhomes that look similar to the ones that already exist in Waverly Pointe rather than apartment buildings.

In the meantime, school officials sent a letter to the original owner of Waverly Pointe, Ken Rogler, expressing their interest in buying the property.

Johnson said the school will need to deal with OPG to secure part of the land due to the company’s purchase-option contract for the acreage. The district has not formally contacted OPG to date. However,  school officials contacted Rogler after the September city council meeting. They also sent Rogler a letter that included an appraisal of the land.

Is the land worth what someone is willing to pay for it, or is the land worth what an appraisal says it’s worth, Rogler said.

“The real issue is what is this thing worth?” Rogler said.

Currently, OPG’s purchase option price is higher than the school district’s appraisal.

Johnson said even if the school district matched OPG’s price that might not be in the developer’s best interest.

“You always have to look for the highest and best use for a site,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t necessarily benefit the developer to have a parking lot there.”

More rooftops typically lead to more commercial development, Johnson explained. The district’s plans leave the land vacant.

The district does have eminent domain power that they could choose to use.

“I’m a rookie at that, but it doesn’t sound like it’s a real good thing for me,” Rogler said.

Gilhaus said the public notices to survey the Waverly Pointe land mention eminent domain, but that it isn’t the district’s intent to use it.

“This is a step in the process,” he said. “It would be my desire and the board of education’s desire to be able to negotiate a fair market value price with the developer and avoid condemnation.”

Rogler, however, said he is still moving forward with OPG at this point.

“Until we reach some sort of an agreement or they use their eminent domain power we’re moving forward with our other option which is Overland Property Group,” Rogler said.

Comments

  1. The City Hall Gang and the USD 231 School Dist. both have their priorities totally screwed up and consequently the people will be paying the price and when I say price, I am talking about more than just dollars. It gets more pathetic by the day. Your vote does have consequences.

  2. If the school gets the property then I will vote the school board back in and the city council and mayor if they help. I’d rather see a parking lot and ball field any day than projects. I am guessing that most Gardner voters would agree and it is not uncommon to see people vote based on 1 cause or policy.

  3. I would love to see additional soccer fields, baseball diamonds, and practice football fields but I would also like to see our homeless students that are going unreported everytime this story is printed be given the opportunity to have an afforable home. And no, they are all not drug addicts or want there homes to look trashy. Many have lost their jobs and the only jobs available may not pay as much as prior so you do what you have to do and move in somewhere you can afford. I believe by the words that the individuals making these degrading comments have not hit rock bottom financialy or they would not make such accusations.

    We currently have an overwhelming drug problem in our community and this includes high school students without the “projects”here in Gardner. Lets focus on saving lives not adding to leaving them out on the streets or living in conditions that are not satisfactory. Being managed by a respectable landlord you can have low income housing that is pleasing to the eye. Low income does not mean drug addicts, take a long look around they are your current neighbors living near the high school, and other areas, they are sitting next to you at church, they are in the classrooms, the hospital taking your vital signs… they are everywhere and often not where you expect or who you expect.

    We can do both that would be the best thing for our community. It does strick me as odd how we can collect funds from our unfortunate families for our schools but to provide them a home rudeness comes out.

  4. Thank you on behalf of all of us working poor. They hardly notice as we serve them a meal, hang clothing on racks or check them out at the store.

  5. Jerry L Kellogg Sr says:

    Thank you, GayLynn and Wendy, for offering your refreshingly open-minded and all-inclusive opinions. I appreciate your counterpoint to the frequently insensitive and discriminatory preconceptions espoused by some local NIMBYs. I have to wonder if the current residents and neighbors of Waverly Pointe would actually prefer these several acres of additional athletic fields full of likely noisy kids and accompanying parking lots full of cars and buses, rather than the planned two or three new apartment buildings, which are designed to match the existing houses and townhomes.

    I moved to Gardner because of affordable housing, not to get away from it, and I believe we are a richer community because of our varied housing options. Many of us have no desire, let alone the means, to live in a walled and gated enclave with searchlight towers, video cameras and an armed K9-reinforced militia patrolling the neighborhood to protect an imagined pristine cultural purity.

  6. GardnerPride says:

    I tend to agree with you Jerry, unfortunately it is an undeniable fact that apartment developments, both regular and low income, decrease the property values of those homes surrounding them. I believe the biggest complaint of the NIMBY’s is that this area was promised as a commercial development of some sort at the time of purchase, not Multi-Family housing.

    Since this issue was brought before the council, I’ve wondered what the current occupancy rate is for the current low income housing developments within Gardner. Are they already full?

  7. I moved here to escape from the type of housing being discussed. Previous exposure to this proposed housing has proven that I would prefer not to be close again. refer practice fields and parking. The possibility of the school district purchasing the property appeals to me. I am surprised that the district has not purchased the property sooner. Additional practice fields and parking are desperately needed. The high school population will increase as time passes. Currently,the Waverly subdivision becomes additional parking for the games creating excessive traffic, which is dangerous. There are several disabled children residing at the only entrance/exit to the subdivision. Their safety is a concern for the parents and their neighbors. Also, small children live at this single entrance/exit.
    I empathize with the housing plight of that financial range of the citizens but there are other sights that would be better. A design change does not solve the problem.

  8. they need to focus on the PREGO “GIRLS” instead of expanding the school grounds and taking peoples homes!

  9. Judith Rogers says:

    You mean the Prego girls and the Baby Daddies???? The good times are just beginning……….drugs, prostitution, crime of all sorts but we have to have those practice fields, bigger and bigger stadiums for Friday Nigh Lights, etc., etc. Hope you have lots of money to pay for the “good times”………..your police protection costs alone should be going thru the roof……..

  10. Judith,

    I believe that proper annexation of the intermodal property by the city of Gardner would have helped offset your above-referenced “police protection costs going thru the roof”…

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