Wichita leaders to weigh development: city core vs. suburbs

02/24/2014 3:48 PM

02/24/2014 9:03 PM

Should Wichita shift its development focus to the core of the city? Or should the city continue providing roads and utilities to the suburbs?

That’s the central debate as planning officials work to update the region’s comprehensive plan. Wichita City Council members will get a briefing on the effort during a 4 p.m. meeting Tuesday in the council board room at City Hall.

City planning officials will seek approval sometime next year for a final plan that will run through 2035.

The comprehensive plan steering committee has settled on three growth scenarios for Wichita for the next 20 years, said John Schlegel, who directs planning for the city and Sedgwick County.

Those scenarios:

•  Maintaining the emphasis on suburban development with little activity in the city’s core, the pattern of the past 20 years.
•  Constrained suburban growth, allowing for specific issues that have arisen as Wichita has spread out, primarily to the east.

“The city’s growth has bumped against the rural water districts on the east side,” Schlegel said. “For developers to develop over there and have city water and sewer, those districts want compensation for the loss of their service area.

“Sometimes, that’s a lot and it raises the price for housing in those developments.”

This scenario also includes the indefinite postponement of the $400 million northwest bypass, based on a lack of state and federal funding for major infrastructure projects.

•  A mix of suburban and core growth, targeting a larger core area of the city than just downtown.

In the city’s recently completed series of 102 public meetings, citizens were clear, City Manager Robert Layton said: Redevelop the core. We’ve had enough suburban growth for awhile.

“The public said maintaining what we have is more important,” he said. “So that’s something the steering committee will look at.”

The comprehensive plan steering committee will blend public infrastructure priorities with land-use implications.

“There are a lot of moving pieces here,” Layton said. “We’re not just addressing streets, water and sewer, but we’re asking what’s the smartest public policy?

“Do we focus on infrastructure in the core, to promote redevelopment or do we continue to emphasize utilities to all edges of the city to foster urban growth? Or do we do something in between?

“All of those options have financial implications,” the city manager said. “Basically, do we cut back on growth and beef up our maintenance work for our infill development?”

After Tuesday’s council workshop, the planners will begin a community engagement process that runs through June. Those results will go to the plan steering committee in July, which will then choose from one of the three scenarios.

In the second half of 2014, planners will begin work with Sedgwick County’s suburban cities to gauge their potential for growth. A draft of the final comprehensive plan will be done by early 2015 and will go out for further public comment before government approval later that year.

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