Buchanan Planning Commission considers multi-million dollar development

Published 2:23 pm Thursday, September 24, 2020

BUCHANAN – A new multi-million dollar development looks to be closer to moving forward after action by the Buchanan Planning Commission Wednesday night, but the vote on that — plus the expansion of a marijuana business — were not without some controversy.

Green Construction and Engineering plans to build a “spec” building on 11.4 acres the company owns off of E. Third Street on brownfield land which was once part of the Clark Equipment complex. The company has already built and opened a fitness center on part of the land.

The planning commission’s action was to recommend approval of Green’s planned unit development amendment to the Buchanan City Commission. City Manager Bill Marx said the commission is likely to take up the matter at Monday night’s commission meeting.

Marx and Planning Commission Chairman Jason Lietz emphasized that approving the planned unit development amendment does not mean that the Greens will not have to provide more specific details about the proposed project in the future.

As currently outlined by Bill Green and his son, Mack, at Wednesday’s planning commission meeting, they want to start work on building a “spec” building this fall and later build a 12,000 square foot health food store/commercial building as well as low-rise condominiums on the property.

The amendment is needed because their original planned unit development only included the fitness center which opened in 2018 as well as plans for “high rise” condos. Bill Green said the “high rise” condo project is no longer part of the plans because the market demand for them is not there.

Controversy has been swirling around the project in recent weeks as news has come out about the city possibly leasing the 20,000 square foot “spec” building to be the new home of the city’s Department of Public Works. The current DPW building on the city’s south side has fallen into disrepair.

People spoke out at the start of the meeting about both the “spec” building proposal and whether planning commissioner and architect Kevin Barker should recuse himself since he has been involved in drawing up the plans. Barker did end up recusing himself from both the Green vote and the Redbud Roots expansion since he made those plans as well.

Jen Tabor lives nearby and questioned why the Green proposal is being pushed through so fast.

“If all is well with the plan, it should be able to go through the proper channels,” she said.

Monroe Lemay questioned why more details aren’t known.

“There’s no information about leasing in the plans, they just want to build the building and we don’t know who’s going into it,” she said. “It seems like hidden transparency. The city said this would be where the DPW sill be, now they’re saying they don’t know what it could be.”

Marx did not speak at Wednesday’s meeting but said Thursday that the Greens’ plans are a win for everybody. The Greens will be able to move forward with their development plans and the city could have a new home for the DPW if a lease agreement can be reached.

He said replacing the DPW building at its current location would cost $5.4 million and would come with other constraints, as that site is in the flood plain along McCoy’s Creek. In contrast, the city is looking to lease the “spec” building long term at a cost of less than half that amount.

“It’s a good deal, we would be saving money,” he said.

As for claims that the city has not been transparent in their dealings with the Greens, Marx said the city commission has met with the Greens in open work sessions that no one from the public attended. He added that the lease arrangement would mean that that the property will stay on the tax rolls, increase the city’s tax base and provide revenue to the city.

For their part, planning commissioners said they did not want to discourage the Green development plans but want to have more details before approving a final site plan. Besides the proposal to lease the building to the city, there are also two private parties interested in the building to use as a warehouse.

Mack Green said they want the planned unit development amendment approved so they can move forward with getting the footings and concrete in for the building before winter.

“We’re pushing this because winter is coming and the concrete and labor are more expensive in the winter,” he said.

“The Greens are trying to do the city a big, huge favor,” planning and city commissioner Dale Toerne said. “I don’t want to delay them, we should go ahead and agree with this so they can move forward. They’ve been good to the city and we should be good to them.”

“No one is interested in holding up the project, but we need to get it right,” said planning commissioner Ralph McDonald. “We can approve it conceptually and on a conditional basis. We do not want to hold this up. This is a significant investment in our community.”