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Street cost too much for developers?

Vicky O. Misa
The Shawnee News-Star
A PUD request was recently denied near the intersection of 39th and Harrison.

With the recent denial of a Planning Unit Development (PUD) near 39th Street and Harrison, a new concern may have surfaced for potential developers — the expectation from the city that road improvements to 39th Street should be tacked onto their project.

Last week, a 13.34-acre property (just east of Harrison Ave. on East 39th Street on the north side of the road) was a hot topic at Shawnee City Commission.

Applicant Cedar Ridge Investments and Landes Engineering requested a rezone of the property, but their PUD was denied.

The area in question, according to the city's Comp Plan, is designated for high-density residential development.

The proposed PUD of single-family dwellings did not align with the Comp Plan so the application was met with a firm disapproval by city staff.

That particular decision aside, during discussion another issue came to light.

“East 39th Street simply is not made to hold any additional traffic at this time,” City Planner Rebecca Blaine said.

But in a space meant for high-density residential development, higher traffic volume is certain.

This means whatever development occurs at that property, road improvements are going to be required, but at whose expense?

Infrastructure improvement should be the responsibility of the developer, she said.

The recent PUD request offered a plan for 62 proposed lots.

“If each household has two vehicles, that's 124 vehicles that are being dumped onto East 39th Street; it's the only point of ingress/egress for this development,” she estimated. As the only way in or out of the property, that would make 39th Street a direct issue for the developer.

The road is not adequate to handle the increased demand that would be anticipated from that development, she said.

Blaine said East 39th Street is not up to city standard.

“It's an asphalt road without curb and gutter,” she said. “Businesses that front North Harrison have complained about stormwater and drainage issues from that road and development.”

Noting developed housing at the site would be the reason for the added traffic, that (road improvement) should not be a city responsibility, Blaine said.

“The city responsibility would be to accept a road that has been constructed to our standards and then take over maintenance. It should not be our responsibility to construct.”

Blaine said more high-density housing is something the city is in need of and is encouraging.

“We have an over-majority of single-family dwellings in Shawnee and we are at a deficit for a diversity of different housing actions,” she said. “That could include condos, town homes, apartments, mixed-use development — where you have retail on bottom and housing on top; all of these things are in need.”

Problem is, developers may not consider the added expense of road improvements worth their time in situations like these.

Shawnee City Commissioner Mark Sehorn said if the city is going to have the developer repave that stretch of 39th Street just to develop 13 acres, it won't ever develop.

It would be too costly for such a small tract, he said.

“I don't see it — from an apartment standpoint — anybody ever building there, just because of the cost of the road,” he said. “I don't understand that, as far as making the contractor do the road.”

Blaine said the cost of improving approximately one-fifth of a mile of the road in question could be $200,000 to $250,000 (a completely new curbed and guttered street).

“You're right, that is going to be costly, but it should not be the responsibility of the city,” she said.

Engineer Steve Landes said the cost of putting in a brand new street would eliminate the entire development.

“It's basically better to put it on the back burner and just treat it like nothing other than agricultural land from this day forward,” he said.

Landes said he believes there are ways the issue can be approached.

There may be other options, such as a 1 to 2-inch overlay until the road can be improved better, he said.

Blaine said regardless of what type of development goes on there, the road is going to have to be improved.