By BECKY KISER
In a 3-2 vote Thursday night, Hays city commissioners agreed the city will move ahead with the purchase of 91 acres in the northeast corner of the 27th Street and Commerce Parkway intersection at the east Interstate 70 Exit 161.
In April 2018, the city purchased an 18-month irrevocable option to buy the land. The option expires this year on Sept. 19.
Although Vice-Mayor Shaun Musil and Commissioner James Meier previously said they would be voting against the purchase, Thursday they both said they understand why the majority of the commission supports it.
“At this time, I think we could get better use out of this money somewhere else,” Meier said.
“In my opinion, from what I’ve heard from Retail Strategies (the city’s retail consultant) and all the information you read, is that retail is just not expanding anywhere in the United States,” said Musil. “I don’t think it’s a bad deal for Hays, but I don’t think we’re desperate. … I want to help Hays grow, and I think it will. We need to grow faster, but I don’t think this is the answer.”
Commissioner Ron Mellick read a statement focusing on the high cost of land in Hays hampering development.
“A few years ago, we extended 22nd Street from Canterbury east to Commerce Parkway for better traffic flow … and we hoped that we could get retail businesses and affordable housing developed along that street. Taxpayers paid for the land, right of way, and utilities along that stretch,” Mellick said. “Overnight, this $4,000-an-acre farm ground is suddenly $80,000 to $130,000 price per acre. … I don’t have a problem with the private sector making a profit, but it is starting to hinder the city of Hays’ growth.”
Meier agreed with Mellick but said “it’s developing into a kind of chicken or egg situation.”
“I don’t think it’s a bad model to wait for the development and then put in the infrastructure,” Meier said. “On the one hand, we say that we want to put in a bunch of infrastructure. But then the land costs goes up and we feel like that’s hindering development and so then we have to buy the land. I’m just not really sure where that stops.”
Mellick noted the land would have to be sold by the city for development before the city would put in the infrastructure.
“We can buy this land for $8,800 per acre,” Mellick figured. “We can purchase this 91 acres for the same price that you can only buy one-and-a-quarter acres on north Vine Street.
“We could then offer this land for retail, manufacturing, business and even affordable housing development. … Now is the time and place for us to invest in the future of Hays.”
Sales tax is the primary driver of the city’s budget.
The city will pay the remaining $782,608 to the landowner, the Cathy A. Braun Revocable Trust of Hays, along with shared closing costs and title insurance. The money will come out of the Commission Capital Reserve fund.