Board OKs new building in south redevelopment

By The Mercury

Staff reports

Members of the Urban Area Planning Board on Monday allowed the developer of the south redevelopment project to seek permission to construct a new building in an existing parking lot.

The proposal from Rick Huffman, owner of HCW-Manhattan, calls for construction of the four-story, mixed-used building in part of an off-street parking lot near the Hilton Garden Inn hotel at Fourth and Colorado streets. The building is envisioned to feature a first-floor restaurant and a coffee shop, with floors two through four consisting of 24 one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartment units.

When the planning board originally approved the plans as part of the larger south redevelopment Planned Unit Development, the site was to be part of a 216-space off-street parking lot that would serve the Hilton and other area attractions. But when the matter went before the City Commission, Huffman’s group expressed an intention to return to the Commission to seek the amendment that was presented Monday night. Since then, fewer than 170 parking spaces have actually been built; the remaining space is undeveloped.

The planners’ unanimous vote Monday night essentially amounted to a decision not to stand in the way of Huffman’s group making its case for the amendment to the full Commission.

As they did so, planning board members raised several questions related to the sufficiency of parking, both within the redevelopment area itself and also spilling over into the neighborhood. One concern was the impact of the Huffman group’s decision to allocate only one designated parking spot per apartment; of the 24 units, nine will have two bedrooms.

Given the 135-room hotel, Board chairman Jerry Reynard suggested that crowding could become an issue unless “we assume that not all hotel rooms or apartments will be full.” In reply, Huffman noted the proximity of the city parking garage, which can hold 400 cars. That garage was constructed adjacent to the hotel and convention center.

“We will have some issues where there will be very tight parking,” Huffman said. “That’s what you get in an urban setting.”

Board member Linda Morse was concerned about the prospect that parking would spill over into the residential neighborhood along Colorado across the street. City staffers noted that Colorado is one-way eastbound, meaning people wishing to park along the street would have to circle around to do so. They thought that would provide sufficient disincentive. Assistant city manager Jason Hilgers also pointed to activity during the recent grand opening of the Discovery Center to suggest that the public does not perceive that a parking space problem exists in the area. Hilgers said 2,900 individuals went through the Discovery Center on the day of its grand opening, yet despite the fact that a free shuttle service was provided, a mere 23 riders opted to use the shuttle. “That tells me people felt there was adequate parking,” Hilgers said.

Wildcat Creek flooding

Also Monday, planners reviewed a study conducted recently to aid a group working on reducing the prospect of further flooding along Wildcat Creek. Several recent floods have caused millions of dollars in property damage.

Planning staff member Chad Bunger and city engineer Rob Ott briefed planners on some of the flood control challenges that emerged from the study, which was conducted by a Topeka-based firm called AMEC Earth and Environment Inc. Among other things, they noted that Wildcat Creek drains a 98 square mile area, much of which is outside the jurisdiction of the city itself. That, Ott asserted, means that any solution has to involve the county working jointly with the city.

“For every one acre within the city, there are 10 acres outside the city limits,” Ott said.

He presented flow charts illustrating the impact of a period of heavy rain through the Wildcat Creek basin in March of this year with a particular emphasis on how the water’s main impact developed in rural areas north of the city. Ott was asked specifically about the impact of recent development in the Stone Creek-Scenic Drive area of Manhattan, and he characterized that impact as “a blip.”

Board member Phil Anderson characterized Ott’s determination that the bulk of the problem originated outside the city’s jurisdiction as important. “A lot of people point to things happening around the city as causing (flooding,) Anderson said. The reality, he added, is that “the city and county need to amiably” deal with the problem.

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