After nearly 90 minutes of public testimony Tuesday, the city council unanimously approved a blighted designation for 374 acres on the east side of the city.
The designation opens the door for redevelopment of an old city wastewater lagoon that was abandoned a decade ago when the city waste treatment plant was modernized.
At the hearing, more than a dozen people spoke against the blighted designation. Four spoke in a neutral capacity or in favor.
Most objections were based on threats that development would pose to wildlife and wetlands nearby.
Chamber and DevCo CEO Gary Person said a designated wetland consisting of about 70 acres is included in the blighted and substandard area, but those acres would not be developed. The wetland was included in the blighted and substandard study because the designation calls for a land base that adjoins.
“There are no plans to develop that,” Person said of the designated wetland.
Nevertheless, other residents asked for an environmental impact study. City officials said an environmental impact study is a possibility if development moves ahead and a redevelopment plan is written. More wetlands could even be created, said Keith Carl of Hanna: Keelan Associates of Lincoln, the firm that conducted the study to see if the area met the state criteria for blighted and substandard.
“I have difficulty seeing it as anything but a wetland and wildlife habitat,” a resident of Burlington Ave. said. “It is at the confluence of two rivers. It is a transitional area.”
Critics said development would disrupt waterfowl migrations and habitat for eagles, foxes and deer.
Sophia Klein, who lives at 1003 E. Fourth, said some residents are confused as to where to ask questions and how to ask them. She said it is a “huge fear” that if the blighted and substandard designation is approved, “it means it’s done” and a proposed meat packing plant will be built there.
In response to Klein, tax increment financing attorney Mike Bacon of Gothenburg said any development in the blighted area must go through more steps and hearings, which would take at least 60 days.
Bacon said the Community Redevelopment Authority would advertise for development proposals, which could be submitted by any prospective developer. The CRA selects the best proposal, and once they do, hearings are held before the planning commission and city council to consider the plan, the details of which would potentially qualify the development for tax increment financing.
If the area is blighted, is would be open to other businesses besides a packing plant, Bacon said.
Klein indicated she might also apply for the redevelopment rights. She has said it’s been a vision of she and her husband to develop a hunting and fishing area there.
Sophia’s husband Johnny said residents are being told that North Platte needs the development, or it will die, despite the fact that city sales tax receipts hit a 16-year high in January.
David Huebner, who lives on Airport Road within sight of the property, said “Heavy industrial has no place in such a vulnerable location. It is home to four dozen bald eagles. And, blighted areas that are open to heavy industry invite “border area crime into our community. This is a legitimate concern.”
Huebner is a retired border patrol agent.
After the public hearing, Councilman Ed Rieker moved to adopt the blighted and substandard designation and Councilman Ty Lucas seconded the motion.
During discussion, Councilman Pete Volz noted that the designation is the first step in a longer process toward developing the area, and the end use is not yet determined.
Councilman Jim Carman agreed with Volz about that and thanked people for attending the meeting and speaking. Carman said he must think about the greater good and the best interests of the community, knowing there are some negatives in just about everything.
Councilwoman Donna Tyron said more studies will be conducted before the end user is determined, and “this just opens the door for options for the city in a favorable way.”
Rieker believes the habitat and wildlife will be protected and added, “I live here too. I’ve seen the population and standards of living decrease because we haven’t had high number of high paying jobs.”
Rieker said development would elevate the economy of the entire area, not just North Platte, increasing the demand for employees and thereby raising overall wages. And in North Platte, new employees would eat at restaurants, buy new tires and windshields.
He said he is aware of the challenges but excited about the proposition.
“We will be proud to live in North Platte,” he predicted.
The council voted 8-0 in favor of the blighted and substandard designation.
To watch a video of the council meeting, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PJUKYiQrvQ. The blighted and substandard discussion begins about 1 hour and 18 minutes into the meeting.
Top photo: Sophia Klein addresses the council.