The Emporia City Commission voted 3-2 in favor of a memorandum of understanding to purchase 88 acres of industrial land for $1 million Wednesday, with Mayor Rob Gilligan and Commissioner Susan Brinkman opposing.
The land in question is located at 1503 E. Logan Ave. and is currently owned by Dan and Jan Smoots.
The purchase drew lengthy discussion during last week’s study session, as commissioners questioned whether the city needed to purchase additional land for industrial use when it already owned undeveloped property that had been purchased with the same intention.
During discussion of the motion, Brinkman pointed out a concern that had not been addressed last week.
“We hashed this out pretty well last Wednesday, but the one thing we did not bring up was, we have two representatives on the Emporia Enterprises board, and both of those representatives, who sit at that table specifically with our best interests, ours people the people’s, in mind, both of them voted no in December,” Brinkman said.
After voting to approve the memorandum of understanding, the Commission voted 5-0 to authorize the land to be purchased using funds from the city’s general obligation bonds. The memorandum of understanding guaranteed the purchase of the land, while the authorization to use general obligation bonds will allow the Commission to decide whether it is best to pay for the land with cash or with bonds.
Commissioner Becky Smith voted in favor of the memorandum because she felt the land was located advantageously.
“This should do us for industrial land for quite a while,” Smith said. “I’ve always been in favor of getting rid of some of our land we’re not using at the moment and this area, to me, was a little bit more concentrated to where our industry’s already growing, so let’s look at those places already expanding.”
Gilligan, who voted no, said he thought the land didn’t need to be purchased right now and that the land would probably also still be available in the future if a specific purpose for it was identified.
“I think that we have some land available to us for development and I believe the land that we are purchasing would still be available for development if a project came along,” he said.
Additionally, Gilligan did not believe that the acquisition of new industrial land was the best use of the city’s time and resources right now.
“At this point in time, I felt like we’d be better focused on other issues that I believe are precluding growth of jobs and opportunities, and that’s housing,” he said. “So I would see that as a higher priority to move forward. I’m hoping that we’ll continue to have that conversation as a commission and look for those housing opportunities, because I think that for us to have any industrial growth we’re going to have to have housing for employees to live in. … If we are going to acquire land, we should acquire land for developing housing or support housing development of others that are ready to go in our community.”
Some Emporians have expressed concern about $1 million being spent to acquire more industrial land and have stated that they would like to see money being spent on things such as infrastructure. Gilligan responded to those concerns.
“I would argue that we have invested a fair amount of money in infrastructure, a very significant amount of money into infrastructure,” he said. “We just approved bidding tonight for street maintenance. We just put out to bid two weeks ago our street rehab project for 2021. We’ve put a fair amount of money in infrastructure and water and sewer lines. We continue to have that conversation.
“The problem is, the city is a multifaceted organization and we can’t only focus on one thing at a time and let everything else move forward. We’ve got to be strategic in making investments in many and multiple areas. Community development and economic development are just as important for our long-term success as a community as is road development or water line replacement or other strategies.”
During the action session, the Commission also:
Approved the application of a conditional use permit for the Emporia Rescue Mission’s men’s shelter, which has moved to a new location at 1236 E. 12th Ave.
Approved the purchase of a Ford F-150 pickup truck from John North Ford for $28,716 for the Engineering Department.
Approved the exchange of federal funds under the Federal-Aid Fund Exchange Master Agreement with KDOT.
Authorized the sale of 306 Congress Street for a total of $189,000 and a closing date of May 1, 2021.
Authorized the sale of 310 Congress Street for a total of $210,000 with a closing date of March 12, 2021.
Approved the request for the creation of the Whittier II subdivision minor plat.
Approved a concept design agreement with American Ramp Co. for the skate park at Santa Fe Park.
Approved the appointment of Mayor Rob Gilligan, City Attorney Christina Montgomery and Planning and Zoning Specialist Joe Foster to the Emporia/Lyon County Metro Area Committee.
Extended the city-wide mask ordinance — set to end at 11:59 pm on Feb. 23 - to 11:59 pm on March 23. Commissioner Jon Geitz asked that clarification be made with the Lyon County Health Department about what criteria it is looking for to indicate when the mask mandate can expire.