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Two more Wyandotte County casino plans advance

Two more development teams trying to become the manager of a state-owned casino in Wyandotte County cleared the county’s planning and zoning hurdle tonight.

But a proposal from the Las Vegas Sands Corp. wasn’t among them.

After debating the three proposals for more than nine hours, the county’s Unified Board of Commissioners emerged early this morning with a 6-5 decision to reject the Sands proposal. Mayor Joe Reardon cast the deciding vote.

Earlier in the meeting, on Tuesday, commissioners approved zoning proposals from a partnership between Kansas Speedway and the Cordish Co., and from Legends Sun Olsson Associates.

The Sands’ proposal faced a steep challenge because the Unified Government’s Planning Commission last month recommended against approving its application.

The concerns expressed during the Planning Commission’s meeting resurfaced before the Board, as roughly two dozen citizens argued that Sands’ proposed location near residential neighborhoods at Interstate 435 and Leavenworth Road wasn’t the right place for a $665 million casino.

Not only would it cause traffic problems, they argued, but it would not conform with the Unified Government’s master plan and it would detract from the area’s rural nature.

Noting that she lived less than half a mile from the site, Denise Tomasic said that the master plan calls for a mix of residential with a strip of commercial along Leavenworth Road. “That’s a far cry from a super destination resort casino,” Tomasic said.

The Sands proposal called for a 3-million square foot development that would have included a 185,000-square foot casino, a 300-room hotel, a spa and convention space located in a dramatic crystal-shaped building.

Sands president and chief operating officer William P. Weidner tried to counter residents’ concerns by defining the issue in strict economic terms, saying that Sands could maximize the opportunity the state had provided when it legalized gambling earlier this year.

The other proposed sites, Weidner said, didn’t have the same convenient location as the Sands’ and would be “buried” in or near the existing Village West development at I-435 and Parallel Parkway. The Sands location, he said, would be more convenient, making it the best contender to take advantage of the Missouri casinos, which are hampered by inconvenient layouts and the state’s loss limits.

Wyandotte County, Weidner added, had a “once in a lifetime opportunity to achieve market dominance” with the Sands proposal.

Some residents argued for the Sands proposal, but several admitted they would gain from the sale of their land. Luther Pickell said that he and other neighbors initially had concerns about the proposal, but then they negotiated contracts to sell their land near the proposed site.

“We think a project of this magnitude would be better than a strip center or a convenience store,” Pickell said.

Although no commissioners said whether they would ultimately support the Sands project, some argued that the company should be given a chance to move to the next phase of deliberations to be held next week, when the board will decide which proposals should be forwarded to the state. That move is not possible without approval of the planning and zoning application.

Commissioner Nathan Barnes called the process flawed. “Now I see us slipping into the wrong direction,” he said.

The other two proposals received some scrutiny, though not nearly as much as the Sands project. Both the Legends and Speedway zoning applications passed with 9-1 votes.

The Legends plan calls for a 750,000-square-foot casino and hotel that would come with retail and residential buildings, as well as a golf course at the southwest corner of 110th Street and Parallel Parkway.

The Speedway and Cordish hope to build a $600 million casino with a hotel, condominiums, 3,000 slot machines and 300,000 square feet of retail, an entertainment area and convention space at the speedway’s southeast corner.

On Monday night commissioners approved planning and zoning applications from Las Vegas-based Pinnacle Entertainment and from KS&F Development. The board rejected a second Pinnacle proposal.

The board still must decide which of the four remaining proposals to endorse for the state’s consideration. A final decision is expected Dec. 13.

| Mark Wiebe, mwiebe@kcstar.com

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