KEARNEY — With a tie-breaking vote cast Monday, June 1, by Mayor Randy Pogue, Kearney city leaders approved a conditional use permit and rezoning request of about 128 acres at the southeast quadrant of Interstate 35 and 19th Street that will allow quarrying activities on the site for at least four years and up to seven to make way for a more than $200 million mixed-use development project.
Before the mayor’s vote, Aldermen Gerri Spencer and Marie Steiner voted against approval while Aldermen Kathy Barger and Dan Holt voted in favor.
Developers Craig Porter and Chris Shipley at I-35 Holdings sought rezoning of the land to a planned industrial district and sought the permit to allow quarry operations to allow removal of rock for leveling of the land to prepare it for the development that is slated to include apartments as well as retail and restaurant spaces. Developers contend the project would be good for Kearney’s future as it would create needed, affordable multi-family housing in the city as well as jobs, increased tax revenues and more retail and restaurant opportunities.
The development plan and related permit and rezoning request have been mired in controversy for months with developers suing the city in May, claiming city leaders used an improper methodology to determine if protest petitions were valid. The suit also claimed 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 request by super majority — three of the city’s four aldermen — instead of a typical simple majority. The project ultimately failed to receive approval in January when the vote stalemated 2-2 with Holt and Barger in favor Spencer and Steiner against.
Holt told the Courier-Tribune Monday he voted for the project because development was bound to happen on the property because of its proximity to the incoming I-35 interchange.
“I didn’t see how I was ever going to be able to stop it,” he said. “I thought the best thing to do was mitigate it.”
Holt said he met with Porter before the board’s initial vote this winter to see if I-35 Holdings would be willing to mitigate the impact to the surrounding properties and find resolutions to citizen concerns where possible and Porter agreed.
“I gave the man my word. He did what I asked and I feel, as a man of character, I need to honor that,” the alderman said.
Barger said she voted in the affirmative because it was an opportunity to bring in needed growth in a controlled environment.
“It was a tough decision and not something I took lightly,” she said, adding she has a daughter who lives in the area and like other residents, did have some initial concerns. “But, I believe in my heart growth is going to come to Kearney and we as leaders need to focus on managing that growth responsibly.”
In late May, Clay County Circuit Court Judge Janet Sutton ruled in favor of developers.
“The protest petition submitted in this matter was legally invalid and with no force,” her finding states.
The judge added city leaders must again take up the vote at their next public meeting, which was Monday; votes originally cast cannot be changed; that no discussion on the motion shall be allowed before the vote; other motions on the matter will not be allowed; and that the mayor must cast a tie-breaking vote.
Pogue said before his vote Monday he reviewed all of the applicants’ documents along with citizen comments as well as board meeting and planning and zoning commission minutes. He voted in favor of the development, he said, because he believes the project will be a long-term good thing for the community.
“I also looked into all aspects of our citizens needs — the health, safety and financial aspects, and our citizens want other amenities. They want us to continue to have nice things. Well, obviously, it takes revenue (via tax dollars that will be generated by the project.) It takes funds to provide clean water, to provide sewer, provide service, provide parks and police protection. Our citizens obviously deserve all of that, but we’ve got to pay for it some way,” he told the Courier-Tribune after casting his tie-breaking vote. “Kearney’s biggest struggle is our commercial tax base. … We have an opportunity to take blighted ground and turn it into something that will benefit our city.”
Barger, like the mayor, said aldermen need to look at all aspects of what’s good for the city including residents’ physical health and safety as well as the city’s financial health.
“I hear people all the time say they want more, but the money is just not always there,” she said. “Having said that, it’s not just always about the money, but development is going to happen along I-35. This is an opportunity for us to manage that pretty tightly.”
In a lengthy written statement after the vote, Pogue elaborated on his “yes” vote, saying developers, in an attempt to appease concerns from citizens, agreed to many development plan changes including lowering and limiting blasting and rock processing time, limiting truck routing with no access to Petty Road, Watson Drive or 19th Street east of Watson Drive and no overnight storage of explosives on site.
“The developers made an extraordinary submittal offering to bind themselves to a four-year limitation on quarrying and rock crushing,” Pogue wrote. “While the special use permit would run for seven years as requested, a shorter timeframe of four years would limit the quarrying operations to a year or so longer than the proposed interchange construction, where they are likely going to need to blast and crush rock for construction, much like we did last summer for the new sewer line in the same area northwest to the Hills of Westwood subdivision that caused not one concern or complaint from the public. … Also,I feel it is important to understand this is leveling an area to obtain a desirable grade for development,” he said. “It will be unlike any quarry you see in the area because the end result is not a quarry, but rather a reclamation.”