“Let’s agree to disagree agreeably…help us to see the need to do what’s right in your eyes, and for the community,” said newly installed Greensburg Mayor Jon Janssen to open Wednesday evening’s city council meeting.
Though the words were spoken as an opening prayer, the message seemed aimed at the sizeable crowd gathered, as much as the higher power overlooking the ruins.
Determined to avoid the sometimes contentious discussion that dominated much of the May 21 council meeting—the last presided over by former Mayor Lonnie McCollum—Janssen either ignored random questions shouted from the crowd, or directed attention back to the agenda at hand.
“The meeting got away from us last week and that’s not going to happen tonight,” Janssen told one disgruntled resident who repeatedly asked whether the City intended to buy her lot for future downtown development.
Councilman Gary Goodheart, who was elected to replace Janssen as president of the council, echoed the new mayor’s sentiments later when he said, “We don’t have the time to answer everybody’s questions in this meeting. But there is a time and a place to get those questions answered, and it’s tomorrow at city hall.”
With Janssen moving from council president to mayor and council member Marsha Klein resigning, the council membership was cut to five, a good time to fix the membership at that number, rather than seven, according to City Administrator Steve Hewitt.
“This may be the proper time to reorganize the council,” Hewitt suggested. With the tornadic destruction having wiped out council districts, Hewitt suggested five at-large members might better suit the needs of the community. It was agreed to have City Attorney Gordon Stull prepare a charter ordinance to that effect to be considered at Monday’s meeting.
The council also agreed to allow Hewitt and Stull to pursue coming to an agreement with PEC Engineering of Wichita in regard to developing a long-term strategy for the city’s recovery and rebuilding process. It was through PEC that a conceptual drawing of a newly laid out Greensburg incorporating a four-lane version of US 54 running through town was unveiled at last week’s meeting.
It was also agreed to consider approval at next Monday’s meeting of a 15-day moratorium on building permits north of Illinois Street, where the four-lane version of US 54 may be built, as well as the central area of town where the business district and town square would likely be located if the highway does in fact pass through town. The moratorium can be extended as far as August 1 if passed next week.
“If KDOT decides to bypass Greensburg to the south with the highway businesses will want to build there,” Hewitt said. “If they decide to go through town we can utilize the former downtown area.” The City is pushing the department of transportation to make a decision on the route by the end of June.
Hewitt also announced there being 120 properties in town on which “no progress has been made in removing debris.” He stated the city needed a “drop dead date on removal of debris from these properties, after which we can contract to have the stuff removed and billed to the property owner.”
June 15 was agreed to as the drop-dead date, after which properties still cluttered can start to be cleared by the City if the owners have failed to notify city hall of having made arrangements to clear their lot.
“Some of these people have left town or left it for the government to clean up,” Hewitt said. “After June 15 the government needs to be able to go on those properties to clear them and assess the cost to the owner.”
Don Stimpson spoke of Exploration Place of Wichita being willing to display the 1,000 pound meteorite formerly kept at the Big Well, and taking donations to aid the town’s rebuilding effort. It was decided to have Stull look over the proposed contract before council takes action. Stimpson also said Hutchinson’s Cosmosphere indicated a willingness to display the rock, and provide for transportation as well.
In other matters:
*Hewitt said over half the town now has access to drinkable water, and that US 54 will open to general travel Monday, June 4. He also said that without permanent water, sewer and electricity FEMA will not allow trailers on private property.
*A town hall meeting will be held Thursday, June 7 at the red and white tent at Davis Park at 6 p.m. FEMA officials heading up the long-term recovery team will be on hand to answer residents’ questions. A picnic meal presented by the Lions Club will precede that meeting at 5 p.m.
*It was decided on a 3-2 vote to raise the permit fee for mechanical, plumbing and roofing work on existing homes from $35 to $50. For: Mitchum, Goodheart, Hosheit. Against: Butler and Thronesbery.
*Hewitt was instructed to not publish a previous decision by council to allow construction on surviving foundations without regard for proximity to setbacks and easements. The move effectively voids the decision.
*It was finally decided to leave the building permit fee at $35 for new construction.
*Three vacancies on the planning commission were filled by Michelle Brown, Farrell Allison and Dana Myer.
*FEMA representatives clarified residential construction restrictions by stating modular homes, as well as doublewides that meet appearance criteria of the City’s code will be allowed in Greensburg. Not allowed are singlewides and doublewides that do not meet appearance requirements.
*Hewitt said after the meeting he will meet today (May 31) with officials of Kroger’s in regard to the company possibly replacing its Dillons store in Greensburg.