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County willing to work with GB on HOI project
There may be a joint city-county session
cambridge park county commission pic
Barton County commissioners Jennifer Schartz, left, Barb Esfeld and Jon Prescott visit about the proposed Housing Opportunities Inc. Cambridge Park project following the Wednesday morning County Commission meeting. - photo by DALE HOGG Great Bend Tribune

When it comes to the proposed Housing Opportunities Inc. Cambridge Park project, Barton County commissioners Wednesday morning said they were amenable to meeting with the Great Bend City Council. However, it was the consensus of the commissioners the ball is still in the city’s court.

The topic of the low-income housing development was raised by District 4 Commissioner Jon Prescott, who attended a Monday night Great Bend City Council meeting work session where it was discussed at length. Prescott is the retired executive director of Sunflower Diversified Services, which is partnering with HOI on the initiative.

Cambridge Park would sit east of The University of Kansas Health Systems - Great Bend Campus and south of Walmart. The 24 acres is outside the city limits, but HOI seeks to tap city utilities, such as the sewer system, for the project.

There are two main issues, neither of which involve county action, Prescott said.

First, “right now (the City is) not interested in annexing it,” he said. “They have not taken that for a vote yet but it’s still under consideration.”

Annexation would bring the land into the city. It would be a part of the city for utilities and taxing purposes.

Secondly, “they do have a (sanitary sewer) lift station that they have talked about.” The concern is whether that lift station can handle the volume caused by the new development. 

The station covers most of the western portion of Great Bend and is the last one before the city’s water treatment plant, Prescott said. But, it doesn’t have the monitoring equipment to track its capacity, the installation of which will cost $8,000.

It was the opinion of the City Council and city officials Monday night that the station should be upgraded regardless of Cambridge Park’s fate, he said. It is important to know what the station can handle for this, or any other, project.

Getting together

Prescott said he met with City Administrator Kendal Francis and Mayor Cody Schmidt Tuesday. This is when they mentioned meeting with the commission to discuss annexation and any interests the county may have, even though the county has no say in the annexing decision. 

“They’d like to discuss it because they really like the relationship that we’ve developed between the two entities,” Prescott said. 

Right now, undeveloped, the little spur of land surrounded on three sides by Great Bend falls in the Great Bend Township. For taxing purposes, it is zoned agricultural, but it is within the city’s three-mile zoning jurisdiction.

According to Prescott, it nets $2,500 in taxes for the county now. Should the three-phase HOI development be completed, the county would collect an estimated $32,900 (if annexed by the city, the city would collect $41,006).

District 1 Commissioner Kirby Krier doubted the need for the commission to be involved, since it can’t control the annexation or zoning. But, he did note the township representatives should be a part of the talks since they would maintain the roads if the land stays in the county.

“I know that we really have been working very well with the city and I don’t want to get in their business, but is there a timeframe that we need to be cognizant of?” District 5 Commissioner Jennifer Schartz asked. But, “is there something we can do to help the city move this project forward?”

“That’s a good question,” Prescott said. The city would probably like the county to help with the lift station upgrade. 

“Other than that, that’s the only thing that’s got it on hold for them to decide what they’re going to do and what they need to do.” 

The project

The 28-unit low-income Cambridge Park will be Phase 1 of a three- to four-phase project for this property over the next 8-10 years. The construction was planned to begin soon. 

Miller said the first phase, Cambridge, is a low-income project. There is a possibility future phases could be moderate-income units.

Sunflower clients will have the first shot at the complex, moving to Cambridge from current group homes and other residences. The units will include one- and two-bedroom duplexes with one-car attached garages. The project will also include a functional community building for tenant use, as well as group home options. 

If units remain empty, they will be available to community members with special needs.

HOI will be owner and the general contractor for Cambridge Park, as well as providing management and maintenance services when completed. HOI purchased the 24 acres from local doctors Dr. Randall Hildebrand, Dr. Perry Smith, Dr. Jeff Brozek and Dr. Leonard Fleske.

HOI does pay taxes on its properties. However, it may be at a reduced rate since there is a complicated formula to calculate it.

A housing need 

“One of the things that we can all agree on is if there’s a housing shortage, and anytime something is built, and somebody moves from one thing to another thing, it frees up wherever they were living,” Schartz said. “So it’s a plus, even though this might be only for special needs or senior citizens, those people are living here somewhere. This is kind of like a domino effect.”

“We were told low-income housing is not needed,” Krier said.

“That is so incorrect,” Prescott said. “Because HOI has 200 people on its waiting list.”  

“There’s actually a housing study that was done by a third party and said we don’t need (low-income housing),” commission Chairman Shawn Hutchinson, District 3, said. 

“Going back to the partnership with Barton County and Great Bend, growth is expensive. We know that, and so we need to be cognizant of that,” Schartz said. “We need to do whatever we can to make more housing available in this county, and if somebody’s got a foothold here” they should do what they can to help.

If the land is not annexed, any homes there would have to tie into city utilities, County Counselor Patrick Hoffman said. And, if it stays a part of the county, the commission would have to sign off on a plat of the development.

When it comes to maintaining roads and use of county right-of-ways for city services, “it’s complicated,” Hoffman said. “That’s why I think a joint meeting makes sense.”