Residents of a relatively new and expanding Salina neighborhood are embroiled in a flap with city officials over zoning, golf and safety.
The upscale Grand Prairie residential subdivision, that’s been growing into a neighborhood for more than a decade, is nestled into a wooded area adjacent to the south side of Salina Municipal Golf Course.
What started with concern over an effort to rezone and re-plat the third phase of the Grand Prairie development — and how that change might affect property values of existing homes — has mushroomed into a debate over the existence, or not, of an emergency access road.
That road is designed to cut across 375 yards of the public golf course, nicknamed The Muni.
“I have a safety concern for my family,” said Don Wendt, who lives in Grand Prairie.
After weeks of poring over public records and speaking at Salina Planning Commission meetings, Justin Hanke, another Grand Prairie resident, provided this statement: “While going through this process I have become increasingly concerned about the city’s transparency and willingness to sacrifice safety in order to make sure developers are able to maximize their profits on land.”
He’s also concerned about The Muni.
“That is a great municipal golf course and it should be protected,” Hanke wrote, “not exploited by having a road built through the middle of fairways for this type of purpose.”
More discussion is on the agenda at Tuesday’s Salina Planning Commission meeting, beginning at 4 p.m. in Room 107 of the City-County Building.
A number of officials plan to attend, among them city manager Mike Schrage.
“The staff report that’s provided to the planning commission for Tuesday’s meeting is extremely thorough,” he said. “City staff put in an exceptional amount work to review and inventory each of the concerns that were raised, and track down information for each one.”
Grand Prairie developer, Bill Sheppard, owner of Cornerstone Development, of Salina, said the neighborhood has been in the works for 10 years, and he planned on Phase 3 being “luxury villas,” or “55-plus housing from the beginning.”
But early on, he said, the project was still evolving.
“At the time (2010) we didn’t know how we were going to design it,” Sheppard said. “We were years off from this, so we told engineers we’ll lay it out as single family lots and re-plat it when we get to that point.”
Sheppard’s attempt to increase the number of lots from 19 that are 100 feet wide to 30 lots that are an average of 60 feet wide, is the reason for the Tuesday discussion before the planning commission, said Dean Andrew, planning and zoning administrator.
“That’s the only reason that it came before the planning commission at all,” he said.
Sheppard compared his Phase 3 to the nearby Flor De Sol development.
“We worked on (Grand Prairie) 10 years. Why would I do anything different?” Sheppard said.
Reading from the Sept. 3 planning commission minutes, Andrew said Sheppard priced the luxury villas from the “low 300 thousands to the mid 400 thousands, and the rest of the subdivision single family homes from the mid-300s to 700 thousand.”
Earlier in the fall, Wendt and Hanke placed the high end at roughly $1 million.
City officials say the issue was a misunderstanding. Andrew said he was “misinformed” into thinking the access road was in place, when in fact one is in the plans. But remnants of an access road do exist from when fireworks were launched from the golf course, Andrew said.
Hanke refers to that road as a dirt path used by golf course maintenance vehicles. Sheppard agreed, saying the golf course path “has nothing to do with my development.”
Schrage described the planned access road as “going in-between tee boxes and into the rough” in the middle of the 18-hole course.
Among the cruxes of the matter is what Andrew reported to the planning commission, admitting he was confused.
“Even when I read the minutes and watch (meeting videos), I can’t tell whether I inferred it or gave the impression,” Andrew said, “but it seems I led them to believe that the road was already in place as an emergency access road. I was under the impression that the access road was going to be built because the design plans for the road were in Phase One.”
Sheppard praised Andrew as a hard worker and disagreed with the blame being aimed at him.
“If he missed something, he missed it, but he doesn’t deserve to be chastised for it,” Sheppard said.
The road ahead
Before construction can begin in Phase 3, he must build a road 20 feet wide, Andrew said, and capable of supporting the weight of a 75,000-pound fire truck.
An emergency access road was not needed for Grand Prairie Phases 1 and 2, Sheppard said, because the entry to the subdivision was a boulevard with a median down the middle.
“In an emergency, you can still go down the other side,” he said.
The emergency access was always part of the plan for Phase 3, Sheppard said.
Planning commissioner Dan Baffa is not pointing fingers at Andrew, but he does throw some blame at the 2008 planning commission and city commission “when they approved the plats for these homes without the access road. That was a mistake back then. I don’t think the misinformation was intentional on Andrew’s part.”
Schrage weighed in on that piece of history.
“I think the fire marshal had discretion to be applied at the time of the original plat approval, and now that we’re at the third phase of the subdivision, all that’s back up for discussion,” he said. “I would say the core issue is the developer’s request to re-plat the third phase of the subdivision.”
Baffa added that “drainage is an issue, too.”
That involved the Mariposa subdivision to the west. The city, Grand Prairie and Mariposa’s home owners association, agreed in 2009 to accept Grand Prairie’s drainage into its retention pond, based on the original 70 lots in Grand Prairie, but not from the additional proposed lots, according to information provided by Hanke.
That’s wrong, Sheppard said.
“When they do a drainage study it’s based on units per acre, and the units per acre is still below what the drainage study is based on,” he said. “It’s not based on lots.”
That issue will be discussed at the Tuesday meeting.
Hanke and Wendt both expressed concern that a homeowners association hasn’t yet been formed. Sheppard said he would organize that “after the first of the year.”
Following the Oct. 15 planning commission meeting, a moratorium was recommended on all building permits in Grand Prairie, until issues are resolved.
That didn’t sit well with Braeden Johnson. His family purchased a lot in Phase 1 of Grand Prairie in November 2017, intending to build a home. Months later, the Johnsons purchased a home near Salina Country Club and put their Grand Prairie lot up for sale.
Now they wonder what the future holds.
“I’m not sure anyone would even be willing to buy a (Grand Prairie) lot. The other thing we didn’t really know was the intention of Phase Three (to rezone and re-plat),” said Johnson. “Seems like we’ve been out of the loop on a lot of things.”
The Johnsons are still paying nearly $3,000 a year in property taxes in Grand Prairie.
Neither of them will be able to attend Tuesday’s planning commission meeting.
Andrew has recused himself from further discussion with planning commissioners on Grand Prairie, and has deferred that comment to the Salina Fire Department, city engineering department and Salina Parks and Recreation.
“We want the planning commission to hear from the departments themselves rather than from people attending the hearing that are reporting what these departments are saying,” Andrew said. “The director of parks and recreation (Chris Cotten) is the person to speak on behalf of the golf course, and if he is opposed to this road, then he is capable of coming to the meeting or providing his comments in writing.”
Fire Marshall Troy Long and Mike Hargrave, general manager and PGA professional at The Muni, both confirmed Saturday that they will attend. PGA stands for Professional Golfers Association.
Andrew added “it’s my understanding” that Cotten and Dan Stack, city engineer, will be present, as well.
“That will be be one of the benefits of the meeting on Tuesday,” Andrew said.
There are provisions in the International Fire Code that allow only 30 homes in a subdivision with just one point of access, he said, and currently there are 28 in Grand Prairie.
“It was out of an abundance of caution for public safety for the fire department to have a chance to look at the situation and take a position,” he said.
Grand Prairie shouldn’t be the only Salina development in the cross-hairs over emergency access, Sheppard said, mentioning other subdivisions with similar issues.
For the same reason, City Commissioner Melissa Hodges is concerned, and is planning to attend the Tuesday meeting “strictly as an observer.”
“The city commission has received a basic update on the Grand Prairie subject. I watched three different planning commission meetings (videos) that dealt with it,” she said. “My goal is to make sure residents who live there right now are safe for one issue or multiple issues that occur at the same time.”
She imagined a scenario with firefighters responding to a fire at the same time a resident has a medical emergency.
“We need to plan for the worst and hope for the best,” Hodges said. “I think it’s an issue that could affect other subdivisions. It’s a concern I’ve brought up in the past.
“We need to make sure that everything that has been promised has been delivered.”
After stepping to the podium several times at three planning commission meetings, Hanke said he sought a private pow-wow Nov. 7 to settle issues with Andrew.
Instead, he was given an audience with Dustin Herrs, city planner, and Lauren Driscoll, director of community and development services.
“I think there was information shared, but maybe the outcome that Dr. Hanke wanted was not achievable,” Driscoll said.
She agreed that Hanke wanted resolution, “but I think we disagree on maybe how he perceives some of the facts.”