Developers eager to move on hospital site

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November 24, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Several dominoes must fall in order for construction to begin next spring on a grocery store at the old Allen County Hospital site.
With demolition of the hospital essentially complete — crews are in the midst of removing debris — talk at Monday’s Iola City Council meeting centered on the next steps for developers, and for the city.
Allen County Counselor Alan Weber briefed Council members on G&W Foods’ upcoming itinerary.
Engineers representing the grocer should be on site within the next two weeks, the first step in order to develop a site plan.
The plan is to split the land into three lots; one for the existing medical office building; one for the grocery store; and the third for a proposed housing development.
“There are lots of moving parts,” Weber said. “G&W is eager to get started.”
In order to get started, however, several details must still be ironed out, City Administrator Carl Slaugh said. Developers must determine whether new facilities would require additional infrastructure: water connections; sewer and storm water drainage and traffic flow, chief among them.
Weber noted G&W is familiar with those types of requirements, and was expected to include them with its site plans.
Still to be determined is how much of the infrastructure improvements would cost the city. Slaugh noted Walmart footed the bill for a similar project when the retail giant built its supercenter at the intersection of North State Street and Miller Road in 2006.
Because of the lot split, G&W must first submit its plans to Iola’s Planning Commission.
Typically, such a process would take about six months, Slaugh said, although David Toland of Thrive Allen County said G&W was expected to request an expedited process. The grocer’s desire is to begin construction in the spring. “We want to give a heads up that they want to move quickly,” Toland said.
Slaugh also noted the possibility that while adding a grocery store may not tax the city’s utilities, further development — such as an apartment complex — may.
The ideal situation would be for all potential developers to approach the Planning Commission at once so the city would know early on whether streets or utilities would need to be redesigned.
“As far as having a single development plan, I don’t know mechanically how that would work,” Toland said, noting the parcels would be owned by different entities.
“In that case, it would amount to the ones coming in later potentially having to bear more burden,” Slaugh responded. “There’s still a lot we don’t know.”
“I think we need to do whatever we can to move G&W along as fast as we can,” Council member Beverly Franklin said.

FROM THERE, talk centered on traffic along U.S. 54 and the hospital curve.
Council member Donald Becker noted the old hospital site is at a slightly higher elevation than adjoining blocks, and thus has a retaining wall along the southeast edge of the street. That makes visibility an ongoing issue.
“That looks like a problem, and this is the time to resolve it, to improve visibility or straighten the curve,” Becker said. “I could just see potential problems if we had a grocery store with the added traffic.
Weber noted changing the grade may hamper efforts to add an apartment between the planned grocery store and U.S. 54. Initial plans are to build the complex adjoining the street.
Meanwhile, Councilman Aaron Franklin noted the curve also serves as a popular crossing point for school children headed home at the end of the day.
“I’m really concerned we’re going to have an accident,” Aaron Franklin said. “Right now, it’s a free-for-all.”
Franklin suggested huddling with Iola Middle School officials — the source of much of the pedestrian traffic — for an informational session to stress upon the youngsters the hazards of crossing U.S. 54 at the hospital curve.
Toland noted another long-term solution. A “road diet,” in which the four-lane traffic is reduced to three, with single lanes in opposite direction, a turning lane in the middle, and swaths along the edge for bicyclists.
Such a design was recommended by civic planner Mark Fenton during his visit to Iola in October.
That measure also could potentially reduce wear and tear on the highway because it funnels large semi trucks to the middle of the road, where asphalt is thicker. Having heavy trucks on the edge of the street makes the pavement more prone to failure, he noted.
Slaugh noted the city could take steps in short order to address the road safety, but little can be done regarding the rest of the plans for the site.
“We just have to wait for the developers to present their plans,” he said.

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