City covertly plans redevelopment of MHK neighborhood

On April 5, residents of the Lower Bluemont Hill neighborhood (we are east of campus and north of Bluemont Ave.) learned that the city government, the Flint Hills Regional Council and their consultant, Stantec, held a closed-door meeting on March 25 to discuss dumping a highway on/off ramp in our neighborhood. During the meeting (which should have complied with Kansas open meeting laws), the consultant seemed satisfied that a couple of residents were there and that Eric Cattell, a city planner, “used to own property in the neighborhood.”

MHK, this is not even close to an ethical community process! Failing to inform an entire neighborhood as you begin a planning process is a sneaky move. The meeting minutes are nowhere on the city website, but we did find an memorandum of understanding signed by the city, FHRC and Stantec. The MOU mentioned community identity and suggested we could benefit as a neighborhood from “re-branding.” Ironically the plans they shared in the covert meeting were not about re-branding our already great neighborhood. (We are vibrant, affordable neighborhood of workers’ cottages built circa 1900-1930.) The plans were about commercial land deals for wealthy developers and reviving a bad idea known as the McCall Road extension.

If built, the extension would dump highway traffic in our neighborhood at Fourth and Vattier Street, just a few blocks from Bluemont Elementary School. The city government estimates that the extension could provide a convenience to commuters of shaving 3 minutes off their daily commute. For this, MHK would destroy our neighborhood. “Steering committee #1” as the City and FHRC called it, included only two property owners living in the immediate “study area.” After learning about the covert meeting, my family began to connect the dots. For years, Lower Bluemont Hill has asked for traffic calming, street flooding mitigation, and mandatory rental inspection to prevent slum properties. We have also grown in home ownership, offering one of the very few affordable, walkable, bikeable neighborhoods in Manhattan. While our residents have poured thousands of dollars into renovating and reviving historic homes, the City has done diddley to answer our needs. They launched “Neighborhood MHK” only to abandon it just as quickly. When we asked that our East Campus webpage on their website be developed, they told us they didn’t have time. In recent months, my neighbors and I have received postcards from a realtor pressuring us to sell our homes below market value. Last month, for the first time since I bought my home in 2007, my property value went down, in spite of a very strong real estate market in Manhattan and increased investment.

Manhattan, there are back-room deals being made about your neighborhoods, and you are not at the table! Just a hunch, but I bet the realtors, landlords, and commercial property developers are at the table. It’s time for some honest assessment of the values of City staff, the mission of the Flint Hills Regional Council, and the lack of transparency in their dealings.

Katie Kingery-Page and Lindsay Smith,

617 Kearney St.

County should not demolish historic church building

The Manhattan/Riley County Preservation Alliance (M/RCPA) would like to express its concern about proposed plans to demolish the former First Christian Church, located at Fifth and Humboldt, and plant grass on the lot until such time that a decision is made about what to do with the lot.

Riley County purchased the historic church building (built 1909) for $850,000 in 2020. The building is located on the Courthouse Plaza and is west of the Riley County Office Building’s parking lot. When it was built, the former church was specifically designed to visually complement the Carnegie Library (1904) and the Riley County Courthouse (1907). The building’s proximity to other county offices made it a desirable property for the county to acquire, and until recently, county officials had not specified whether the building would be renovated or demolished.

Last summer, the M/RCPA’s board members were graciously provided with the opportunity to tour the church. Board members observed that many interior components had been removed by the congregation and that the building’s exterior envelope appeared to be sound. Perhaps, the interior could be extensively renovated and custom-designed to meet a new purpose. The limestone exterior already harmonizes with the Courthouse and the Carnegie Library.

The building sits immediately outside the nationally registered Downtown Manhattan Historic District. Contributing buildings within historic districts are eligible for special economic benefits, which a number of downtown buildings have already taken advantage of. The church building could potentially be added to the downtown district or individually listed on the state or national historic registers and become eligible for financial benefits that would aid a renovation project.

During the Riley County Commission meeting on April 29th, the county director of Public Works recommended to demolish the former church and plant grass. A significant sense of our area’s uniqueness is conveyed visually through its historic buildings. And once they’re gone, they’re gone forever. We should treasure the sense of place provided by our built environment, and we should recognize the vital connection between historic preservation and economic development. This connection is particularly strong in one of our county’s most economically vibrant locations: the Downtown Manhattan Historic District.

On May 10th, the Riley County Commission plans to hold another discussion about the First Christian Church building and review a 9-year-old county space needs study. During the May 10th meeting, commissioners could potentially decide to demolish the building. Before making any final determinations, the M/RCPA would like to urge county commissioners to seek expert input from structural engineers, architects, and preservation professionals and to not act in haste, especially when there are currently no plans for the lot.

The M/RCPA also encourages the public to contact county commissioners if you are concerned about the potential demolition of the former First Christian Church. Commissioner John Ford (chair) may be reached at jford@rileycountyks.gov, Commissioner Kathryn Focke may be reached at kfocke@rileycountyks.gov, and Commissioner Greg McKinley may be reached at gmckinley@rileycountyks.gov.

Sincerely,

Kathy Dzewaltowski,

board member

Manhattan/Riley County

Preservation Alliance

Floyd death should make us re-evaluate policing

The conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd was a seminal moment in American justice that should be transitional in nature. I believe police departments and their unions are going to find a lot of pressure to relook at how they do their jobs. New standards of conduct. New performance measures. Informed and critical oversight. I’m not sure how it will be reflected. But we will see change.

What happened in the murder of George Floyd was appalling and should get a response that fundamentally changes how we police in the future. We don’t need warriors in blue. We need well-trained, capable, smart police. Save the warrior mentality for our Armed Forces.

Bob Strawn

1551 Williamaburg Court

Transparency in law board appointments is crucial

The Riley County Commission’s recent focus on Law Enforcement Agency Board appointments is in response to the Manhattan-Riley County Coalition for Equal Justice’s (CEJ) call for improved transparency in the appointing process.

The Law Board stands apart from other advisory boards in the weight of its responsibilities. (The Law Board powers can be found in state statute 19-4429.)

Because of these significant powers, the process to appoint those who will hold said powers should be completely transparent. As such, CEJ appreciates the time and consideration that the city and county are giving to rethink this application process.

RCPD is run well compared to many other police departments, yet it is still part of a system of policing that is fraught with problems. One, specifically, is the disparity in marijuana arrests in Riley County. According to the U.S. Department of Justice’s records of the Riley County Police Department’s official arrest records (and thanks to the research of Dr. John Exdell) we know that a Black person in Riley County is 5 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than a white person. This, even though in the U.S. Black people use marijuana at roughly the same rate as white people. The consequences of these arrests can be lasting and severe and are falling disproportionally on the shoulders of Black citizens.

There is always room for growth, change and improvement especially regarding something as serious as policing and especially when the lives of our fellow Black citizens are at risk.

Megan Hartford

1124 Colorado St.

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