PITTSBURG — The controversy over the proposed Silverback Landing housing development continued at the Pittsburg City Commission meeting Tuesday evening.
The argument over the development has followed the development since it was announced earlier in the year. Residents from nearby housing areas have expressed concern about the process followed by the city, calling it “far from transparent.”
The Crawford County Commissioners in their Tuesday morning meeting said they hoped the city would wait until the developers engineer had final plans for stormwater options in place before taking any further steps with the project. The City of Pittsburg has acknowledged mistakes in the process saying in previous meetings that they don’t do a lot of housing developments of this size and noting this is a learning process for them as well.
Several citizens spoke during the public comment, requesting answers to direct questions about the process the city followed, historical markers found in the area, and the transparency of the process. The commission declined to answer the questions when asked, stating they would be answering them at the end of the meeting. This drew angry comments from the assembled crowd.
One local resident, Bill Strenth, delivered a fiery speech to the commission asking them to answer if they felt the process was transparent, legal, and done correctly. He requested each commissioner answer individually.
“Mayor, are you willing to answer,” Strenth said. “You’re our top elected official up there.”
After a pause in which Mayor Jeremy Johnson did not respond, Pittsburg City Commissioner Patrick O’Brien did.
“You know I'll answer,” he said. “This is public input, not question and answer time. We told you how we would address these questions, at the end of this session, and that's how I’m going to answer.”
Following the close of public comment Pittsburg City Commissioner Sara Chenoweth appeared frustrated.
“I have some questions for the people who spoke here today,” she said. “My first question is. last time everybody was upset about storm water, now no one is saying anything about stormwater.
“I’m kind of confused. Are you guys still upset about that?”
The crowd responded that they were with Strenth stating he only had three minutes allowed to address the commission. O’Brien shot back, “But you used seven!”
“We’re talking about print size, and lines in the road and trails, dates. I mean I’m kind of curious what you guys are really upset about,” she said. “If you’re concerned the city commission isn’t transparent did you come and make any comment at our budget meetings? Any other housing development hearings. Why are you so upset about this one? Because it’s in your backyard? Is that the answer?”
Strenth fired back that it wasn’t until they had gotten the emails from the city (which they had requested through the Kansas Open Records Act,) that they felt there was a problem.
“It wasn’t until we starting getting all these emails when could see how the city has been functioning,” he said.
Chenowith retorted “I think you guys were here making comments before you got all these emails.”
Strenth replied stormwater remains a concern.
“Right, about the stormwater, and I’m still concerned about the stormwater and the so called retention pond and if you’ll give me a few more minutes I’ll talk about it.” Strenth said.
O’Brien stepped in and said “I think we’ve heard all your comments before at different meetings.” The crowd reacted angrily and O’Brien said “Well we have. He’s talked about it how many times?”
Commissioner Chuck Munsell then said he did have some comments about the stormwater situation. Munsell raised concerns about the stormwater process and possible retention pond. He also said was willing to answer some of the questions the residents had asked.
“I guess I don’t have to wait until the end. Some of this I will answer on your transparency. I don’t think its been transparent,” Munsell said and went on to ask questions about the responsibility for the stormwater retention pond cost and who would be responsible for it. He also asked if the pond was properly sized and that the county had hired an engineer.
Pittsburg City Commissioner Dawn McNay said she felt the process needed to be clarified. She explained that the developer had heard the concerns of the citizens about stormwater. O'Brien agreed saying that the developer was attempting to address the concerns made by the residents.
“I think that shows he is listening to what all these people are saying,” he said.
Crawford County Commission Chairman Jeff Murphy was in attendance and offered to speak for the county.
He explained the county had hired an engineering firm to look into the stormwater concerns. He explained that most of their engineering discussion between the county's firm and the developer’s engineer had been verbal since final plans were not completed.
“I think we’ve decided were not really comfortable with the plan until it’s finalized,” Murphy said.
Crawford County Commissioner Carl Wood, also in attendance, said he agreed with Murphy and urged the commission to wait until they had a full plan before taking further action. The City Commission, which has a rocky history with Wood, responded with some minor back and forth including Wood saying to McNay “Did you hear me?”
Murphy stepped in at Wood’s request and clarified that their engineer was not in disagreement with the developers engineer, just that the plans were not complete, and so could not be completely evaluated. He also stated there was concern about other developments’ stormwater rolling into Silverback and making the problem worse.
Mayor Johnson said then that he wanted to clarify what they were voting only on the RHID Tuesday evening.
“We’re not voting on a final plat. At this point in the process there is no need for a final plat,” Johnson said. “That is something the city will deal with as it arises.”
Murphy replied that the city had reporting requirements to the county.
“The commissioners, according to statute have to make a decision if this will adversely affect Crawford County,” he said. “That's what the statute said, and we’ve got to understand that, and we’re telling you our concerns.”
As the two commissioners began to walk away from the podium McNay said “I think you’ve got to keep in mind you know this is the city of Pittsburg, in Crawford County. I believe the developer is working in good faith to solve the storm water. To accelerate what he doesn’t have to do by our requirements, but accelerate those plans to address everyone's needs. This is economic development for contractors, a lot of businesses in Crawford County. So I think you need to be very careful.”
Following more back and forth between the commissioners and the city commission Wood said the county commissioners don’t have their minds made up, nor are they against the proposal in principle as it would mean more tax dollars for everyone. More back and forth followed with Munsell asking if it wouldn’t be a good idea for the final plan given to the county and let them review it before voting.
Developer Mickey Vena spoke to the commission and said he was willing to continue to work with the county. He said that he did not want to flood out his neighbors. The commission then gathered more information from the developers engineer about the approval process from the state. Murphy also said the county engineer and the the developers engineer were willing to continue to work together.
Following that, City Administrator Daron Hall requested Public Works director Cameron Alden step forward to answer the questions asked by the members of the public. Alden noted that they had made a mistake about alerting residents, and pulled the item from the agenda to make sure they had properly done so. They also addressed the public’s comment about a historical grave near the area. It was explained that the state would look into that later in the process.
Following Alden’s discussion Munsell said that he felt that if the citizens hadn’t raised concerns nothing would have been done about it. He said he would like to see the commission wait until their next meeting to vote.
“I do appreciate the public input because we work for the public, and I think sometimes some of us forget that,” Munsell said.
The commission then voted on the RHID. All commissioners voted to approve the RHID with the exception of Munsell.
In a statement to the media on Wednesday Hall said that the many pieces of this project have required corporation across several areas.
“A residential development of this size has not happened in Pittsburg or Crawford County in recent memory, and coordinating all of the pieces has required engineering and financial expertise, as well as coordination with the State to make sure we followed all of the rules and minimized the impact on surrounding areas,” Hall said. “It is worth the effort.”