KEARNEY — Development group I-35 Holdings is suing the city of Kearney, claiming city leaders used an improper methodology to determine if protest petitions were valid. The suit also claims a related super majority vote was not needed for passage of the project.
This winter, city staff, citing city ordinance, said the city's receiving of written petitions from impacted residents meant aldermen needed to pass approval for I-35's large-scale development project that included a quarry operation by super majority — three of the city's four aldermen — instead of a typical simple majority.
The section of the city's development codes pertaining to protest petitions states petitions must be signed by 30% or more either of the area determined by lines drawn parallel to and 185 feet distant from the boundaries of the district proposed to be changed, and that the amendment will not be effective unless approved by a two-thirds vote of all members of the Board of Aldermen. City staff said the mayor is unable to cast a tie-breaking vote in these matters due to restrictions in the ordinance.
The project ultimately failed to receive approval in January when the vote stalemated 2-2 with Aldermen Dan Holt and Kathy Barger in favor and Aldermen Gerri Spencer and Marie Steiner against.
At issue is a conditional use permit and rezoning request from I-35 Holdings, helmed by Chris Shipley and Craig Porter, of about 128 acres at the southeast quadrant of Interstate 35 and 19th Street.
The pair sought rezoning of the land to a planned industrial district and sought the permit to allow quarry operations on the property for up to seven years. Reopening of the quarry on the property, which was in operation decades ago, was needed, the developers said, only to allow removal of rock and leveling of the land to prepare it for a future mixed-used development that could be worth more than $200 million and would include apartments as well as retail and restaurant spaces.
Before casting their votes on the matter in January, Kearney aldermen heard recommendations from the planning and zoning commission and city staff, with both recommending approval.
Aldermen also heard public outcry against the project via the petition letters and upwards of 80 residents who spoke against the project during planning and zoning and aldermanic meetings this winter. Residents cited possible air and noise pollution, devaluation of properties, increased traffic, disruption to nature and area property damage associated with blasting as reasons for their opposition.
In their filing in Clay County Circuit Court, developers through attorney John Roe of Kansas City said Kearney faltered in many aspects including applying criteria to the developer's applications in spite of the property having not been zoned to a city zoning classification after the property was annexed into the city in 2006, meaning the protest provisions do not apply.
In addition, the suit states the calculation used by the city to determine the number of protesters needed to trigger a super majority vote was inaccurate and some of the petitioners listed were not the current recorder owner of properties, therefore the correct number of needed petitioners was not reached.
“The city did not have any competent and substantial evidence to justify its decision that the protest was valid and that a two-thirds vote was required on (the) plaintiff's ordinance,” states the suit. “The city's action in declaring a valid protest and imposing a two-thirds vote requirement on the plaintiff's ordinance was arbitrary, unreasonable, capricious and is not fairly debatable.”
Shipley said Monday, May 11, he could not comment on specifics of the litigation, but that his attorney “pretty well laid it out” as to the reasons for the lawsuit.
City attorney Brian Hall said he also could not provide comments on suit specifics, but that city leaders are being briefed on the matter and the city's insurance company has been contacted. City Administrator Jim Eldridge declined to comment.
Students, teachers and school district staff across the Northland are using 3D printers to print mask extenders for medical professionals, police and first responders.
“I teach seventh/eighth-grade computer science at Discovery Middle School in Liberty and I have a Dremel 3D printer in my classroom,” Eric Langhorst said. “I took it home during the break in case there would be some need to print something to help. I don’t have the material to produce the large face shields or filtered masks that some with 3D printers are creating but then I saw several posts (on social media) about these mask straps.”
Langhorst said he went looking for a basic design on Thingiverse, a website dedicated to the sharing of free user-created digital design files. In his design, he also incorporates “Liberty” and an image of the state of Missouri along the strap as a sign of community pride.
As he, other Liberty teachers and students began printing the straps with available 3D printers, Langhorst said they contacted Liberty Hospital to arrange drop offs. Additionally, Langhorst said he received requests online and sent some all over the country having printed hundreds during stay-at-home orders.
“I know of at least six teachers and a few students participating,” Liberty teacher Gary Pierson added. “My brother, knowing I have a 3D printer, sent me an article about other people providing these extenders in another city. We were then approached by Kathy Ellermeier, Director of Health Services with the district ... about a need for extenders at Liberty Hospital.”
In addition to Liberty Hospital, Pierson said they donated to North Kansas City Hospital, Liberty Police Department and the Kansas City Police Department.
“The extenders are important because nurses, doctors and police are wearing masks that have straps going around each ear on a daily basis to help protect them from contracting the virus,” Pierson said. “These straps tend to rub on the backs of the ears and they come home with open sores which are quite painful.”
People on social media have been donating funds for materials, Pierson added. He said he can print about 330 extenders from $20 worth of materials.
“So every little bit helps.”
Liberty isn’t the only district working to help those on the frontlines by printing extenders. Patterns have popped up from all over.
“The district was contacted by an organization called ‘One Mask at a Time,’” Kearney High School engineering teacher Shane Remley said. “(Superintendent Bill Nicely) reached out to me and asked what I thought about it and if we could do anything like that. I told him I could and he said go for it.”
Remley said the pattern he is using originated from a Boy Scout, which he said he thinks makes it special.
In Smithville, Network Administrator Randy Wallace and his daughter have gone a step further with the ability to print face shields.
“My wife is a doctor at the VA Medical Center in Columbia,” Wallace said. “I printed 30 face shields and a few batches of ear protectors for the staff there. I also made some ... for the Smithville School District where I work.”
Printing a batch of eight extenders, Wallace said, takes about two hours. For face masks, they take about four or five hours depending on design.
“There was a lot of fear when the virus first started to spread and it was calming to others when they received a shield that might mean that they make it home,” Wallace said. “In our local towns, we haven’t been hit that hard, so we forget that this virus has killed people elsewhere that are our age, that have a family just like we do. They are just like you or me.”
Calming others with some protection against the virus, Wallace said, was the only way he knew how to help those on the front lines. Remley echoed a similar sentiment.
“It’s been fun,” Remley said, “just fun to help out when we’ve been kind of sidelined.”
LIBERTY — As in other cities around the metropolitan area, Liberty continues to evaluate delivery of programs, services and events scheduled for the next few months as the number of people who can gather is being limited to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Throughout the stay-home order and now into the COVID-19 recovery period, Liberty has followed the recommendations of the Clay County Public Health Center and will continue to do so, according to a city press release. As a result, the city canceled Liberty Fest, the annual Fourth of July holiday celebration.
“With the uncertainty of the next few months, when we know mass gatherings will be limited to no more than several hundred people at most. It is very difficult to plan special events and large festivals like Liberty Fest,” said Sara Cooke, Liberty assistant city administrator. “With health and safety of the public and our employees still our highest priority, we have made the difficult decision to cancel this year’s Liberty Fest event and fireworks show.”
Over the last several years, Liberty Fest has attracted upwards of 10,000 people to Capitol Federal Sports Complex to celebrate Independence Day with activities and games for kids, fishing, a concert and fireworks display.
In addition to Liberty Fest, a number of other special events scheduled in May and June have been canceled including: May and June guided historic walking tours, May’s Popcorn in the Park, Moonlight Yoga in May; Summer Band concerts; and Make Music Day.
Liberty Parks does however, plan to screen “Frozen II” during the Aug. 28 Popcorn in the Park event. Additionally, the city is working on possibly hosting future Moonlight Yoga and Summer Band concerts online at www.libertymissouri.gov/.
SMITHVILLE — Business owners in the community say they are excited and eager to reopen, now that stay-at-home orders are lifted.
Throughout the city, most businesses downtown have reopened, as well as limited businesses in Major Mall and Hillside Plaza along U.S. Highway 169.
“Yes, I was eager to reopen,” Crafters Corner owner Louise Keeton said. “I miss all the people.”
While her shop is now open for business, and has seen several customers through its doors since reopening, Keeton said she and her customers keep a distance of 6 feet and she disinfects surfaces regularly. Keeton said she also has a basket of face masks for guests, if they feel more comfortable wearing one.
“I also have ones with kittens on them for the younger people,” she said.
Although she’s able to have the shop open, Keeton said she hasn’t been able to restart basket weaving or stained glass classes yet due to restrictions recommended by health professionals.
“I can’t wait for things to be back to normal again,” she said. “It’ll be nice to see the downtown buzzing again. We are a pretty close-knit group down here.”
The downtown business owners support each other too, Keeton said. Some business haven’t reopened for regular hours like alterations or photography. Keeton said she keeps those business cards on the counter of her shop and that other businesses do the same in an effort to drum up customers.
As for some of the other downtown businesses, owner Jean Roe of Jean’s Flowers said she’s been delivering flowers contact-free the whole time.
“I use a Kleenex to ring the doorbell and then stay in the car until they pick them up, so it isn’t quite the same but safer,” Roe said.
Some impacts she’s seen are on the wholesale end as some flowers have been in short supply since the pandemic. However, she said her Mother’s Day business looked the same as it always does.
In a similar spirit, locals are happy to be out and see people out since reopening. Sarah Helm and her friend Rita White said they were excited to go back to their home congregation at Emmanuel Bible Church.
“I took my granddaughter driving yesterday,” White said. “She is 17 and trying to get her license, and there was so much more traffic. We did it last week and then we did it this week and there is so much more traffic, just right here in Smithville.”
Most eager to get back working with children, White said she participates in Awana and children’s ministry.
“I’m looking forward to that,” White said. “My husband and I have done a lot of things, projects at home. So I haven’t really struggled with it.”
Helm said things can’t open up soon enough for her. Although she enjoys spending time at home, she is excited for her children and herself to get out and about.
CLAY COUNTY — The last day to request an absentee ballot for the June 2 election by mail is Wednesday, May 20.
“Anyone can come to vote at the office up through June 1, the day before the general election,” Republican Director Patty Lamb of the Clay County Election Board said. The election board office is located at 100 W. Mississippi St. in Liberty. “Anyone can request an absentee ballot, but they have to choose why they are voting absentee. By law, they have to pick a reason.”
As the stay-at-home orders statewide changed the April 7 election date to June 2, there are still safety concerns being ironed out before voting at the polls can take place. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office personnel is delivering face masks, distancing strips, hand sanitizer, face shields and posters to local election authorities for polling places. Clay County Election Board should receive their stock Thursday, May 14.
“We believe we are going to have the necessary face masks and shields to cover our poll workers,” Lamb said. “We are going to ask that people adhere to the 6 feet physical distancing (requirement). We are also going to limit how voters touch voting implements.”
Rather than have poll workers put voter ID cards or a driver’s license in a tablet to verify a voter, the voter will be asked to place necessary identification in the digital device, Lamb said.
“When the voter needs to sign the tablet, that person will be handed his or her own pen, which will have the soft tip to sign and then the pen part to fill in the voting ballot,” she said. “It has been a challenge to set up for this election, but we are hopeful we have all the equipment and rules in place.”
Lamb said used pens can be handed back to poll workers and the pens will be disinfected and reused in a future election. Should people still not feel comfortable voting inside their current polling place, Lamb said people can take advantage of curbside voting.
“We are trying to give them as many outlets to safely vote,” she said.
Lamb predicts around a 15% voter turnout.
Clay County Democratic Director Tiffany Francis said the election board is also looking for poll workers who are younger as many poll workers tend to be 60 and older and part of the high risk group for getting COVID-19.
“We often have retired poll workers, but they are also the age group that is most vulnerable to the coronavirus,” she said. “We are looking for some younger people to get involved. It might be a great job for a teacher.”Francis said poll workers have to be 18 or older to handle ballots, but if older high schoolers want to help open doors or be on hand, the help would be appreciated.