The Hays City Commission on Thursday opened the door to possible condemnation of a handful of properties needed for the city’s $9.3 million Vine Street roundabouts project.
A few landowners in the path of the project, which includes construction of four roundabouts and a street extension, have been holding out in their negotiations with the city.
The move is necessary to stay on track with deadlines, said City Attorney John Bird, speaking to the city commissioners at their regular meeting Thursday evening at City Hall, 1507 Main.
“The city staff have been, and I’m not including myself in this, diligently working, negotiating with landowners, and with quite a bit of success,” Bird said. “But we can’t count on all of them being signed up by the time of the deadline that’s imposed by the grant by the federal government.”
The project is funded in part with $6.05 million from the Federal Highway Administration since construction impacts U.S. highway. The city expects to solicit a construction bid on the project this spring, with work starting in phases shortly afterward and continuing into 2021.
The resolution the city commissioners approved Thursday alerts the public and property owners to the city’s intent to use condemnation.
The next step is for the commissioners to review an ordinance that spells out the specific properties the city will acquire. The commission will see that ordinance in advance of their Thursday work session, and vote on it at their regular meeting Nov. 26.
Mayor Henry Schwaller IV, on record against the roundabouts, was the only commissioner voting against the resolution Thursday evening, doing so without comment.
Commissioner Sandy Jacobs said it’s the first time as a commissioner she’s dealt with condemnation, also rare for the city of Hays. Jacobs said it’s not a decision the commissioners take lightly.
“This is a very serious thing we have to do to accomplish a project that we have in front of us right now,” she said. “It’s not something we really want to do, it’s something we have to do, to finish the job that we started.”
Commissioner Shaun Musil, owner of downtown’s Paisley Pear Wine Bar, Bistro and Market, 1100 Main, said it’s a first for him, too.
“I don’t enjoy doing this,” Musil said. “The last couple days, social media has been blowing up about the city on numerous things. Sometimes it makes me laugh, sometimes it’s really frustrating, not only as a resident, but as a city commissioner. I read several stories from people that shared saying that the city is trying to put one business out of business. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.”
In reality, one business will actually gain land, Musil said.
“With me being a small business owner, that would be the last thing I’d want to do, is put somebody out of business,” he said. “I just truly believe, it’s going to be really hard, but once this goes through, this is going to be good for the city of Hays way past when I’m a commissioner. That’s why I’m for it.”
The city and property owners can continue to negotiate and try to reach a deal, but Bird urged caution.
“Hope springs eternal and we hope that we can come back to you and tell you that it won’t be necessary at all,” he said. “But I don’t want you to be overly optimistic on that, we just don’t know.”
City Manager Toby Dougherty told the commissioners they’ll receive their agenda packets for Thursday’s work session this Monday, like they usually do, but he won’t include the identifying information about the land parcels that are the holdouts, “in order to give the few remaining property owners time to come to an agreement before those legal descriptions become published,” he said.
The city commission in September authorized more than $390,000 to buy the easements and rights-of-way. In all, it needs to acquire 19 parcels of private land.
The properties are located along Vine Street/US-183 highway, and along the 37th and Skyline area where it will connect to 41st Street.
All the properties are zoned commercial, with the exception of one agricultural parcel; none involve any structure or facility and none of the land being taken will interfere with a business’s ability to function, Dougherty has said.
The parcels range in size from 100 square feet to over an acre. Purchases range from a couple hundred dollars to tens of thousands where new streets are being created, according to Dougherty. Most of the parcels are extremely small, with only two large tracts, he’s said.
While deals have been reached on most of the properties, which are nearly all developed commercial properties but at least one agricultural, a few remain to be settled, Dougherty said.
Roundabout design is 90% complete, with land acquisition the last step. The design calls for two roundabouts straddling either side of Interstate 70; a third farther south at the entrance to the former Ambassador Hotel redevelopment; and a fourth shaped like an hourglass at 32nd and 33rd streets.