City approves payment for airport fence land

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners on Tuesday unanimously agreed to pay about $161,000 for farmland near Manhattan Regional Airport that the city obtained last year through eminent domain.

That amount is slightly more than 10 percent of the $1.51 million price set by the court for the land. Commissioners signed off on writing the $1.52 million check — which also includes court costs — after being told that the Federal Aviation Administration has agreed to rebate the city for 90 percent of the sale price, or about $1.36 million.

Airport director Peter VanKuren told commissioners that the FAA agreed to pick up most of the cost because it had required the city to obtain the land in order to construct a wildlife fence. The fence is to keep large animals such as deer and coyotes off the airfield, and to protect FAA navigation equipment by providing a minimum 1,000-foot buffer zone. The distance requirements mean the fence would be placed in the middle of the field that had been owned by Feather Field Farms north of the airport.

The city exercised eminent domain against the property last year after efforts to agree on a sale price failed. Commissioners voted 5-0 to make the payment without discussion or disagreement. The city will pay about $10,000 in court costs in addition to its $151,000 share of the purchase price.

At a work session following the special session, commissioners informally gave their “stamp of approval” to an agreement with the state that will put locals in control of the historic property project review process. City administrators will draft an agreement and bring it before the commission for final approval.

Karen Davis, director of community development, said putting the Historic Resources Board in charge of the review process would not change any federal funding for the board or city, and would allow faster response times for larger projects. Kathy Dzewaltowski, president of the Manhattan/Riley County Preservation Alliance, asked commissioners to support the change.

Mayor Loren Pepperd said he was concerned that property owners who disagreed with the decision of the board would have to go through the court system to appeal.

Commissioner Jim Sherow, who owns property on the National Register of Historic Places, said rarely, if ever, does the board reject projects completely. He said the board usually works with the property owner, and as a result the projects are better for it. He said there is the possibility of disputes going to the courts, but the City Commission has the power to allow exceptions, and often does.

Dixie West, vice chair of the Historic Resources Board, told commissioners that many property owners within the 500-foot buffer zone of historic properties often come to the board for advice on how to improve their properties without adversely affecting the historic properties near them.

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