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Fire training facility plans moving forward

Efforts to develop a joint fire/police training facility and secondary Public Works yard for the city of Derby moved forward recently, as the Planning Commission approved a special use request for the facilities at its Sept. 15 meeting.

The facilities are planned to be constructed on 3.66 acres in an M-I industrial district west of El Paso Animal Hospital and south of the McDonalds along K-15. City Planner Scott Knebel reported the project will be addressed with a phased approach.

First, the city will look to construct the fire training facility as soon as possible. The Public Works yard is intended to follow in 2023, with the police training facility a more long-term project.

Expect the unexpected

Derby Fire Chief John Turner noted that due to the unique situation of fighting a fire inside of a burning structure, with a number of variables, the live-fire training facility will be extremely beneficial.

“The training facility will give us an opportunity to practice the timing, communication and coordination of all the different tasks that have to happen in conjunction with one another,” Turner said. “This facility is going to be a big boost to our level of training.”

Previously, Turner noted the department has sent individuals to train in Wichita or out of state, but those opportunities were not available frequently enough in Turner’s eyes. Having the department’s own facility alleviates that issue and will allow training with other regional partners (like Mulvane). It will also help the department’s insurance rating – as Turner noted training makes up nearly 20% of that score.

“We will see a very tangible improvement in fire department safety and performance, and having a top trained department will only increase job satisfaction and positive outcomes when we are most needed,” Turner said.

Commissioners did raise questions about safety in regards to the training facility, which will be built primarily out of cargo containers.

Asking about chemicals that will be used in regards to potential contamination of groundwater, Turner noted only dry chemicals would be used – which produce no runoff. Addressing concerns of any surrounding grass or other materials catching fire, Turner said the flames will extend 3 to 4 feet at most and noted evaluations are extremely brief.

Spreading the wealth

Following construction of the fire facility, the Public Works yard would be addressed in the second phase.

The second yard is intended to be used for storage of sand, gravel, trailers and other equipment – mainly to help with snow removal and park maintenance. With that second location, it is seen as a measure that will cut down refill time and allow for more pavement treatment during inclement weather or other similar scenarios.

“Having a central location to store and access these supplies will increase our operational abilities,” said Director of Public Works Robert Mendoza. “Overall, it will save time and fuel costs. It will allow us to complete more work within the same time frame. That is a benefit to the department and the city.”

Training for all

While further out, the police training facility would serve a similar purpose as the fire facility – enhancing and offering a variety of training capabilities to the department in a set location.

Currently, the department does not have those capabilities, which led staff to identify a standalone facility as a need.

“The department does not currently have a location we can repeatedly use at any point in the year, but rather is at the mercy of when another entity – such as the school district – has a building available for us to use for a short period,” said Deputy Police Chief Brandon Russell. “The department needs a facility that it can conduct a multitude of different types of training at any point in the year and do it repeatedly.”

Along with department-specific training on building searches, active shooters, crisis intervention, etc., the police training facility is the only building on the proposed site that would be open to the public (for additional potential training).

Government uses such as those proposed require special approval no matter the zoning district. With that, as the fire and Public Works facilities are for city personnel only, a request was also made to reduce and waive parking, parking surface and screening requirements for the development.

Being in agreement with the findings of fact, the planning commission voted 9-0 to adopt a resolution approving the waivers and special use, subject to staff conditions.

Sterling East zone change stumbles, but final plat cleared

With a recommendation for disapproval already forwarded to the City Council once, the Derby Planning Commission reconsidered an amended zone change request for the Sterling East housing development at its most recent meeting on Sept. 15.

Once again hearing numerous objections from neighboring rural residents surrounding the planned development at 79th Street and Greenwich, and with commissioners continuing to have issues with the proposed zone change, the request was again recommended for disapproval on a 6-3 vote by the commission.

Despite the zone change being forwarded for disapproval, a final plat for the Sterling East addition was still considered by the commission and got the green light to go to the City Council for final approval in October.

Staff confirmed that the final plat, including 205 lots in total, could be developed with or without the zone change. Based on action from the City Council, if the disapproval of the zone change – from urban density residential to two-family residential – is upheld, the nearly 80-acre development would move forward entirely as single-family residential units. The zone change sought to allow development of 15 acres (43 units) as duplexes.

Character concerns remain

The zone change request was ultimately recommended for disapproval based on the commission not being in agreement with two findings of fact. A majority of the commission voted for the disapproval based on the zone change not being in character with the surrounding neighborhood (rural residential) and the development potential creating public health and welfare issues – citing traffic and drainage concerns specifically.

“Everything in three directions for a mile or two miles – to the north, to the south and to the east – is currently zoned county as rural residential,” said neighboring resident Larry Ulin during a public hearing on the zone change request. *This project is inconsistent with the rural character of our area.”

“We don’t oppose productivity or progress. We oppose getting overrun,” said Madeleine Goodner. “I think there is space for a house on five acres, a house on one acre, but this high density has me concerned.”

On behalf of the developer, Phil Meyer of Baughman Company addressed some of the issues raised during the public hearing – including a common concern over the impact of the development on traffic. While he noted that was valid, he also stated “that’s part of the struggle with growth.”

City Planner Scott Knebel added that the development is projected to increase the traffic on 79th Street to an average of 4,015 trips per day (and 2,689 on Greenwich Road) – with two-lane arterial streets able to handle 8,000 to 10,000 trips per day based on traffic standards. An injury report received from Sedgwick County showed 11 accidents (no fatalities and five injury accidents) occurring at the intersection since stop sign beacons were installed in 2018.

Planning Commission members had a number of concerns beyond traffic issues regarding the zone change, with the fit compared to neighboring properties chief among them. As the nearest similar urban density residential development is more than a mile away, commissioner Dale Wells had an issue with the timing of the request.

“I just don’t think it’s appropriate at this time. In 20 years it may be,” Wells said. “I think we have to grow as we have in the past, with purpose.”

Similarly, commissioner Dana Quigley called the zone change request “a little too aggressive” for the area.

Final plat forges ahead

Development is coming to the area, though, commissioners confirmed – with the recommendation of approval for the final plat solidifying that.

Given the shared concerns over traffic by commissioners and neighboring residents, there were a number of questions regarding those items before approval of the final plat. Among those were if and when the speed limits around the Sterling East development would be changed and when traffic improvements (i.e., acceleration/deceleration and turning lanes) would be triggered.

Knebel noted the necessary petitions for those traffic improvements on both 79th and Greenwich have been submitted and also confirmed the financial guarantees for said improvements are bound to that property no matter who owns it.

According to Knebel, it is hard to definitively say what will trigger those improvements. He reported similar traffic improvements in the Northbrook Addition have not been triggered as the need has not yet developed.

Commissioner Janet Sprecker questioned if any other neighborhoods in Derby had all access points emptying onto streets with 55 mph speed limits and questioned if those might be changed.

Dan Squires, Assistant City Manager for Development, could not cite any other similar neighborhoods but noted the speed limit issue is one that involves the county as those are county roads. That may change, and he said an engineering analysis could address that in the future, though both he and commissioner Jessica Rhein stated development will likely influence a natural shift.

“The more it develops, the more urban feel it is, the slower people will drive,” Rhein said of the Sterling East area.

Both recommendations for the zone change and final plat will now go before the Derby City Council for final consideration on Oct. 11.