City commissioners on Tuesday said they want administrators to draft a pre-development agreement with the Manhattan Housing Authority to use a city-owned parking lot for a senior living project.
But they said they also want to learn more about the project and what else could be in store for the parking lot at Fifth and Pierre streets.
Commissioners Wynn Butler, John Matta and Mark Hatesohl said they would like to begin talks now, while commissioner Usha Reddi and Mayor Linda Morse said they need more time to look over the project.
Morse said the project is moving too fast, and she wants the public housing agency to go through the process like any other development before coming to the commission. She wants to see the project delayed until the city government finishes its downtown strategic plan, which is slated for completion next fall.
“I would say this is in your best interest as the housing authority,” Morse said. “I don’t see it as Manhattan’s.”
Manhattan Housing Authority executive director Aaron Estabrook spoke in August about developing a housing campus that would include a building for senior living and a building for general public housing. It would replace the Garden Grove apartments (62 senior units) and Carlson Plaza (49 public housing units).
Manhattan Housing Authority operates Carlson Plaza. National Church Residences operates Garden Grove and Colorado Plaza apartments. The company is planning to leave the area, and Manhattan Housing Authority wants to take over its properties.
Estabrook provided conceptual documents of what the building could look like. The building would be built above the parking lot to retain the 93 of the lot’s 99 parking spaces, and it would feature an elevator and lobby, community gardens for seniors and a social services space.
He said the new building could provide housing for up to 90 residents — 62 would be for Garden Grove residents, and the remaining for other low-income housing.
Reddi said she needs more time to look over the project and wants city staffers to understand the project better. She also wants to look at what else can be developed in the area. “It’s not the purpose for why you’re doing this,” Reddi said. “It is where you’re doing it, and how can we find other options.”
Hatesohl said the problem is they don’t know who else will be interested in the parking lot as a development site.
“If we let the project go forward in five or 10 years, we’ll have said, ‘Yeah, I think that was probably a good use of that parking lot,’” Hatesohl said. “So I’ll be able to live with that.”
He continued to say he would like to see what downtown has planned for the lot, but there are other parking lots and other buildings that could be used for other projects.
Estabrook wants to move quickly so he can submit a tax credits application, which is due in January.
Christina Sanchez, vice president of business development in Texas for National Church Residences, reiterated that the proximity to services downtown strengthens the application for tax credits to fund the project.
“When awarded, we would be able to break ground as soon as possible to mitigate the risk that the existing building could be lost again in a flood,” Sanchez said.
Under the plan, the housing authority would demolish Carlson Plaza, which has mold and asbestos problems, and rebuild in the same location at 425 Pierre St. Senior residents at Carlson Plaza would move into a senior facility, and Carlson Plaza residents who aren’t seniors would be moved to another public housing location during construction.
The Garden Grove apartments at 1119 Garden Way would be demolished and converted into green space because of flooding associated with Wildcat Creek.
Following that, the National Church Residences’ Colorado Plaza at 420 Colorado St. would be rehabilitated.
During the meeting, city administrators presented an alternative for the senior facility: a city-owned lot at Lee Mill Village, north of the intersection of Miller Parkway and South Wreath Avenue. But the majority of the commission didn’t express approval for moving forward with that idea.
Estabrook said the drawbacks of the alternate location are that it is not close to things like grocery stores, shopping, and pharmacies, so it would weaken the application for federal tax credits.
Butler said he would rather have MHA look deeper into the Lee Mill Village location, but he indicated he is fine with the downtown location. “I am very interested in getting those people relocated before it floods again,” he said.
He said officials haven’t explored the Lee Mill location thoroughly enough because people are focused on the parking lots. Butler said to get seniors in closer proximity to necessary stores and services, officials can develop a bus route for the residents.
The housing authority is not seeking any tax dollars from the city. It is looking to use funding sources like Federal Emergency Management Agency funds, state low-income housing tax credits, federal low-income housing tax credits, and Strengthening People and Revitalizing Kansas (SPARK) funding from the state.
Matta said he’s in “full support” of using the downtown lot. He said the sense of urgency for the project comes from interest rates rising and the potential of funding for 2023 not being available in 2024. He said the city could put assurances in the pre-development agreement that would halt the project if the developer doesn’t meet certain provisions.
City commissioners unanimously passed updates for residential and building codes to take effect on Jan 1.
The Manhattan city government adopts new codes every three years to align with international codes. The last time the city adopted new codes was in 2018.
Ryan Courtright, assistant chief of risk education, said the changes are mainly for electric codes. He specifically mentioned there are updates for electrical systems in homes. Courtright said the new rules update measures when it comes to wall outlets.
He also said the changes address a new type of construction, heavy timber framed construction. Courtright said it is mostly used in Europe and used for tall buildings and visual appeal.