Commission approves plan for HUD community improvement funds

By Bryan Richardson

City commissioners Tuesday unanimously approved a plan for community improvements that benefit low- and moderate-income people.

The city is projected to receive $618,545 for the upcoming fiscal year starting July 1 through the Community Development Block Grant, a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) program.

This is the fifth year of the five-year action plan. HUD will have final approval over the proposed projects.

If approved by HUD, the funding would go toward a housing rehabilitation program ($116,898), neighborhood intersection improvements ($129,825), community facilities ($180,000), public services ($79,472), administration ($111,850) and fair housing activities ($500).

Community facilities improvements would include the Douglass Center Complex roof and parking lot and Flint Hills Breadbasket.

Public services that would receive funding include Stepping Stones Children’s Advocacy Center, Sunflower CASA, Housing and Credit Counseling Inc., and Shepherd’s Crossing.

Intersection improvements would include a pedestrian crossing on 17th and Yuma streets, and a traffic signal on 11th and Fremont streets.

Commissioner Karen McCulloh said a citizen emailed her questioning about whether the 11th and Fremont project is the best use of the funds. McCulloh said she’s not against the project, but she said it seems more like a city issue than a grant issue.

“Perhaps a pedestrian thing to get to the park might be of more assistance to low-income people than just having a stop light at Fremont, which really, that’s the way to go to Aggieville,” she said.

Christina L’Ecuyer, grant administrator, said there would be a public meeting for the project, and there would be room for suggestions.

Commissioner Usha Reddi asked L’Ecuyer how much of those federal funds would be available in the future.

“When it comes to housing, that’s something that a lot of families and young students try to get into,” Reddi said. “I think we need that.”

L’Ecuyer said funding depends on the mood of Congress, but the funding has gone up by 4 percent each of the last two years after a “really deep decrease.”

“This year, we started out with a plan using what we had last year,” she said. “Last year we had $567,000, so we were pleasantly surprised when we got $618,000.”

L’Ecuyer said work on a new five-year strategic plan will start during the summer.

In other business, commissioners unanimously approved a first reading for the rezoning of Panera Bread, 315 Southwind Road, to allow for a drive-in pickup window.

They also approved 4-0 a first reading of the annexation and rezoning of Enclave Addition, a residential district along the east side of Grand Mere Parkway.

Commissioner Rich Jankovich removed himself from the vote, citing a business relationship with one of the applicants.

A payment of $500,000 for the National Bio and Agro-Defense Facility (NBAF) was among the approved consent agenda items.

This funding will go to Kansas Gas Service for redundant gas service to the NBAF site.

The city has now allocated $3.5 million of its $5 million commitment previously approved by the city.

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