08 November 2012

Approved Plan Precludes Potential Greenspace

The City of Omaha Planning Board has approved a concept plan to develop an industrial park on a large tract of land in east Omaha.

This development would preclude any opportunity to greenspace amenities for a large land parcel, which lies between a neighborhood and Levi Carter Park.

Currently, privately-owned, the site extends from Ames Street to Locust Street, on the west side of Levi Carter Park.

According to the proposal — presented at a November 7th planning board meeting — the site would be purchased from the current owner, and if they would not agree to sell, it would be taken through eminent domain procedures.

Once acquired, the 70-acre tract would be developed for industrial use by adding necessary infrastructure such as power and other essentials, including a road extending along the its west side. The site already has adjacent railroad access, which is being conveyed as a beneficial feature in the planning department proposal.

A site layout indicates the potential for five lots comprising 52 "usable" acres. Five lots are proposed, varying in size from five to 15 acres.

The remaining 18 acres are three "outlots" and the roadway. The outlots include three parcels:

  • the bluffs on the west side of the tract, comprising five acres;
  • a triangular area on the northwest corner of the tract, two acres; and
  • a linear area of two acres within Levi Carter Park.

Nearly the entire area is on the floodplain of the Missouri River.

There is no indication that the outlot within Levi Carter Park would be transferred to public ownership and become an area within the park.

Site plan for Ames to Locust Industrial park. Image provided by the Planning department of the City of Omaha.

Destroying an Opportunity

The approved concept — as there were no specifics presented to indicate any particular site development features — will preclude any greenspace, development. The following personal comments were presented in opposition to the plan.

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These comments express my opposition to the planning department proposal. I am well acquainted with the Carter Lake area, have done more than 100 bird surveys of the area since March 2011. There are many obvious points contrary to the industrial park proposal, including:

  • the proposal does not mention Levi Carter Park in any manner, though it is directly east of the development site;
  • three people actively involved with the Carter Lake renovation project were not even aware of the proposal to impose an industrial park adjacent to lake property;
  • there is no indication of a space where stormwater runoff will be dealt with onsite, to avoid any flow into Carter Lake, were a water quality improvement project — which cost millions — is nearing completion;
  • the "taking" of private property via eminent domain by the City of Omaha, to promote so-called economic development, and done with an intent to resell the property to private entities;
  • apparent loss of woodlands along the bluffs, since, based upon comments by a city planner, the intent is to create the greatest extent possible of "usable" acres for development, and which might require the extensive use of retaining walls along the bluffs;
  • imposition of an industrial development on the floodplain of the Missouri River;
  • establishing industrial development upon a land tract where alternative discussions have previously proposed that green space be the primary feature; and,
  • obviously ignoring of the North Omaha Revitalization Plan, approved by the planning board and Omaha City Council in July 2011, which denotes the site as an extension of Levi Carter Park, with the bluffs, northward and southward, as a green space.

Instead of industry, the space could be a welcoming green places for the north Omaha community.

The bluffs and the bottoms of the property parcel could be rehabilitated to provide a direct connection from the neighborhood to the west and to the already green spaces of Levi Carter Park.

There could be a hiking path, which would conform with a stated goal within the revitalization plan of making Levi Carter Park a large-scale asset for the local community and others.

This parcel of property has many options for its use, and the appropriate use is one that will match what the community prefers. The best use is as a greenspace, according to the comments provided by people at the charettes and meetings associated with efforts which resulted in the North Omaha revitalization plan.

Placing heavy industry at this site is wrong, and the proposal submitted by the planning department should not be passed.

Additional comments were expressed that others also oppose this plan, but had not yet had sufficient time to prepares alternatives plans and concepts. Again the importance of providing them an opportunity to express their views, was indicated.

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As an opponent, these comments were presented after the proponents spoke.

Jobs and Economic Development Primary

The driving force behind this proposal is to develop a tract into a place of concrete and buildings where various businesses can provide jobs and economic development. This was the theme of the presenter from the Planning Department. The site is perhaps the only large tract in East Omaha where light industrial or warehousing development could occur.

According to the department representative, the land-owner had approached the city of Omaha to see if they would be interested in purchasing the property.

The "site is very, very important" to the development of industry, said Bridget Hadley, of the planning department. She claimed 5-700 jobs would be created.

Additional similar comments of support were provided by the Omaha city council member, from the 2nd district. Then the chamber of commerce spokesman expressed their support, extending his perspective to the point that "surrounding land use is compatible." Another speaker conveyed the similar comments in support of economic development.

The proponents were given a chance for rebuttal, but no such opportunity was provided for any opponent.

Hadley indicated that particular details would be finalized after the site is acquired and shovel-ready. She said truck traffic would occur on Commercial Avenue (i.e. North 16th Street) and along Locust Street. Another rebuttal point was that "no specific decision has been made on the size of the retaining wall," though, according to engineers, one would be necessary to prevent "fallage" in the tract street.

Another person from the planning department said the site would be designed to retain stormwater. Rick Cunningham said there is a railroad track between the tract and the park, and "it is not going away." Industrial is the "highest and best use," he indicated, in adding his opinion.

There is no plan to change the zoning of the land from heavy industrial, according to a question and response.

A motion for approval was made by Anna Nubel, a member of the planning board, and then seconded. The item was approved, but not by a majority.

Chairman of the board, Thomas O. Kelley, voted against approval, with a comment that any use of eminent domain to acquire the property is not proper and may be illegal.

Another opportunity for public comment will occur when the Omaha City Council makes a decision on the project proposal.