Amy Waller (left) takes the oath of office after she was appointed city clerk at the August 7 Gardner city council meeting. Photo courtesy of Rick Pioppitz
Special to The Gardner News
It was a busy night at Gardner city hall on Aug. 7. The city council had a work session at 6 p.m. that featured a presentation on the Gardner Golf Course and a full house was in attendance. At 7:00 p.m. most of the audience there for the golf course presentation left and a new crowd came in to fill their seats. Most of those were there to hear discussion on a code compliance issue involving a KC Royals sign. That was expected, but the public comments period also brought an unexpected item regarding a New Century development to council’s attention.
Residents concerned about hazardous materials
Mike Jensen spoke to council on behalf of a group of homeowners who oppose the building of a 400,000 square foot cold storage facility near their adjacent residential properties.
The facility for Lineage Logistics, LLC, is planned for the currently vacant property directly north of the Johnson County Sheriff facilities at New Century and west of the Unilever plant.
The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners have already approved permits for the project. Gardner has no jurisdiction there.
The group of homeowners have filed legal action in district court against the Board of County Commissioners.
The group describes the building as “a 85 foot tall, noisy, 411,000 square foot freezer, with thousands of pounds of toxic, explosive, hazardous and deadly anhydrous ammonia, in our backyards.”
Exposure to anhydrous ammonia can be deadly and Jensen can cite numerous leaks and accidents that have occurred in the past.
“There have been times where the evacuation area has been pushed out to 5 miles. If we push an evacuation out to 5 miles, that’s all of Gardner, 30,000 people. This is not something we want in our backyard and I want the people of Gardner to know about this”, said Jensen.
A second property owner also came forward to be heard on the same issue. She has owned and lived on a residential property about a mile from the proposed cold storage facility.
She said the industry does not police itself very well and there are leaks all the time, including two incidents in the state of Kansas in the past year.
“It will happen here. It’s not a matter of if, it’s when”, she said. “And it will happen within a mile of my house.”
She said she was angry, upset and disappointed that this had been approved and nobody has done anything to stop it.
The third property owner to come forward said he lives about a half mile from the proposed facility. He said he was now retired after working for the Sheriff’s Department for 32 years.
He said he was upset that the county commissioners had not consulted neighboring residential property owners or the fire department about this project. He said he thinks the fire department would have told them there is not sufficient water pressure to fight fire in an 85 foot tall building at that location.
Most importantly, he said they did not discuss or consider the hazard of the ammonia storage.
He said that the employees and inmates at the Johnson County Jail would be at high risk in the event of a leak.
“Obviously, the county commissioners don’t think that their safety is important enough to keep this time bomb from being built right across from the jail”, he said.
Later in council updates, Steve Shute, council president, commented on the issue.
Shute was concerned because our police and fire are first responders to any emergency issue at the air center. He was said he was concerned the city had not been informed or consulted.
“The fact that that didn’t happen is dismaying to say the least, because we are the one municipality most directly affected by that”, said Shute.
Shute noted that there was another large cold storage facility going up at Logistics Park and that there are houses within a half mile of that facility.
He suggested there was need for a tiered Emergency Response Plan to be developed to coordinate city and county agencies.
A Gardner resident was recently mailed notice that a Royals sign mounted on the side of their deck is in violation of city code.
The sign has been in place for several years. The city’s action occurred after a complaint from another citizen was received.
The story got a lot of attention on social media and attracted some metro TV coverage. One of the stations had a camera at the council meeting as the residents who own the home made sign spoke to council during public comments.
The couple shared the history of of creating the sign when the Royals went to the World Series and wondered why after all this time they were being notified it was code compliant.
The president of the homeowners association the house is located in also appeared and said he had no problem with the sign.
During council updates, Larry Powell, economic development director, said it had been asked if the sign would have been a violation under the old code or if it was a result of revised new code adopted last August. Powell said the new code allows some options for signage but the old code did not allow signage at all in residential neighborhoods.
Jim Pruetting, chief of police, wanted it to be clear that even though these issues are mostly complaint driven, that doesn’t mean the codes enforcement officer does nothing until a complaint is made.
“If she would have seen other signs in the area, she would have addressed that. So it’s not just that specific place where the complaint is made. If there are other things visible in the area, she addresses those as well”, said Pruetting.
Steve Shute, council president, and Kristy Harrison, council member discussed what defines the word sign.
Powell said our sign code was the best definition there is and Gardner code is virtually identical to other cities.
Powell later said an appeal would have to go to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA).
Ryan Denk, city attorney, said that the BZA had a very narrow focus and must consider five factors under Kansas law and city code.
“They have to meet every one of those factors, and if they miss on any one of the factors, the BZA is supposed to deny it”, said Denk.
He concluded it is very difficult to get a zoning variance.
Lee Moore, council member also commented on code enforcement.
“There are very important reasons why these codes exist. It gives us a construct to work within because we all live so close together, our houses are all next door to one another and these codes allow us some kind of recourse”, he said.
“All the comments going back and forth on facebook and there’s a lot of ‘well it’s my property and I can do what I want’. Yeah there is that, and we all feel that way, but really, when you get right down to it, it just can’t work that way because we live too close together”, Moore said.
Shute suggested giving the police chief direction on how to handle enforcement while the city reviews the issue.
Powell suggested putting this specific cease and desist action on hold until such time as code is reviewed by Planning Commission, rather than negating enforcement of entire sections of sign code.
“I don’t know, I like the idea of letting the whole city go crazy with signs”, said Rich Melton, council member.
Council voted all in favor of pausing the cease and desist letter and directing the Planning Commission to review the sign codes.
Chris Morrow, mayor, told the sign owners that this process would take a while, but even if it ended up being unfavorable to them, the sign could now stay up until a decision is made and that would likely get them through the rest of this baseball season.
Farm truck citations
Randy Hutchens, a local farmer, also appeared during public comments. He said he and another farmer, who both have property in city limits, have been ticketed for running farm trucks from fields to elevators.
Hutchens asked for an exemption for farm trucks on the city’s no truck routes.
Later in the meeting, Morrow asked Pruetting if he had the information he needed about the farm truck issue. Pruetting said he did and he would look into it.
Paper of Record
Heath Freeman, resident and planning commission member, came forward during public comments to make three comments.
He suggested the city start the process to become a ‘purple heart city’ as a way to honor veterans.
He suggested that future primary elections allow six council candidates to advance to the general election.
His third comment was that he hoped council would take no further action on changing the paper of record. He said it was a minuscule budget item and the local newspaper is where people look for local news. He cited an online survey.
“I think it’s best to continue business with the small town home newspaper,” Freeman concluded.
Later in council updates, Rich Melton, council member, questioned the validity of the on line surveys, noting that anyone could vote multiple times. He said he had done it.
Melton said that the low number of voters told him that nobody in town cares.
A few minutes later Melton said he had forgot to ask something earlier.
“Does any governing body member or their family have a financial interest in The Gardner News?”he asked the other members to answer on the record. There were five audible no’s.
“Does anybody or their family members have a financial interest in 136 East Main Street?”
This time there was only one audible reply, ‘no’ from Morrow.
Melton said ok and then began discussing costs of advertising with The Gardner News. He called on the city administrator and public information officer to explain advertising bills.
In short, they both said it was part of the city’s recent re-branding campaign.
Later, Lee Moore questioned if The Gardner News qualifies as paper of record because the statute says “more than 50 percent of the circulation must be sold to subscribers”.
Harrison and Shute both stated that there is no newspaper that meets that requirement.
“If this is really about getting visibility to the people so they know what’s going on, maybe we should advertise in all three”, said Kristina Harrison, council member.
Morrow eventually asked each council member to state if they wanted to keep The Gardner News and move on, or continue to look at options.
Harrison and Winters said they wanted to move on and Morrow’s vote made three in favor of keeping The Gardner News as paper of record and ending the discussion.
Melton and Moore support more consideration.
“I don’t see a problem in continuing to look but I don’t know if we have a lot of options available to us” said Steve Shute.
That made it a 3-3 tie.
Moore wanted to know how to resolve this.
Morrow said no consensus means no action will be taken and it was done.
Ryan Denk, city attorney, said they could draw up a resolution for action and vote on that. If it is 3-3 again, then there’s no decisive action.
“I think we need to do that”, said Moore.
The other members agreed to bring a resolution forward for vote at the next meeting.
Melton’s part of council updates lasted an hour and covered many topics.
In addition to the above, Melton asked if it was correct that council members could not direct staff to do things, only the mayor and city administrator can. He wanted confirmation.
He said he had asked for proof that Morrow had paid fees and deposits for rental of the senior center for an upcoming meet and greet event.
He asked the mayor about allegations made in social media postings. Morrow refused to discuss it, citing it involves personnel matters.
Melton was critical of the timeline the budget is to be completed in and asked the finance director to prepare advance budget documents and spreadsheets for himself and Moore.
The city appointed Amy Waller as Gardner City Clerk effective immediately.
With a 5-0 vote, council adopted a resolution declaring intent to issue $13.725 million in General Obligation bonds to finance the costs of certain public improvements within the city (the Justice Center).