City nixes apartment complex proposal

Even so, commissioners say, something must be done to fill burgeoning student space needs

By Corene Brisendine

City commissioners denied a developer’s request to rezone land for a proposed apartment complex on College Heights Avenue Tuesday, but admitted that a place close to campus needs to be found for high-density student housing.

With the exception of Rich Jankovich, who recused himself, citing a conflict of interest, the commission voted unanimously to deny the proposal. That denial had been recommended by both the planning board and city administrators.

Mayor Loren Pepperd said, with commissioners agreeing, that there was a need for high-density housing in Manhattan because of increasing student populations. But he added the proposed location was not appropriate.

Pepperd said most of the housing west of the college was built in the 1950s, but the student population has outgrown the college dorms—the last being built in 1964—and the surrounding communities. Since then, the student population at Kansas State University has more than doubled—from about 12,000 to 25,000 students.

“Where are we going to put our students?” Pepperd asked. “Well, NIMBY—not in my backyard!”

He said the community needs to find a place to house the students, and “the closer to campus, the better off we are.”

Pepperd suggested that when city planners begins updating the comprehensive zoning plan over the next two years, community members join in on discussions to find a suitable location while preserving traditional neighborhoods in the older parts of town.

Fifteen community members voiced their opinion during the meeting, with five supporting the apartment complex and 10 opposing it. The five in support were the property owners of the site, the architect and developers.

Consent controversies

Several consent agenda items passed only after discussion and opposition. Commissioners Wynn Butler and John Matta both opposed various contracts in the 2013 city budget that included funds for Social Services Advisory Board agencies that both had opposed in the past.

“There are a couple in here I would vote “yes” for, but they are all lumped together,” Matta said. “My assumption is they are going to pass, and it won’t really matter. But, in case the commission gets a sudden urge to fiscal responsibility, I am willing to go back and look at these individually to do a vote.”

Jankovich and Butler abstained from approving the issuance of Hospital Refunding Revenue Bonds for Mercy Regional Health Center. Jankovich serves on the board; the bonds were approved by the commission prior to Jankovich’s election. Butler said his wife is a nurse who works for Mercy. He also voted against the authorization of $17,000 to Mead and Hunt, Inc., to provide services and facility analysis at the Manhattan Regional Airport. Butler argued the analysis could be done in-house and it was wasteful spending to take it to an outside contractor. Ron Fehr, city manager, said the company specialized in airports and would be more knowledgeable in advising city staff and commissioners on what the airport should provide.

The commission also unanimously passed the 2013 Chamber of Commerce contracts.

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