Danedri Thompson
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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.