The Fort Scott City Commission approved two zoning changes on the south side of town as well as decided to move forward with a conditional use permit during their meeting Tuesday evening, which drew a full room of residents with differing opinions on the land’s use.
Deputy Chief and Fire Marshal David Bruner presented the requests to change a piece of more than 50 acres just south of the Kansas Department of Transportation from agricultural to heavy industrial, and a second, smaller plot south of the Jayhawk and Liberty Bell Road intersection from agricultural to commercial.
“This is an open and transparent government, and this is what it’s all about,” City Manager Dave Martin said. “Our job is to encourage development and to look at ways to help us move forward as a city, and sometimes developments are not going to viewed as good as others.”
Martin and Bourbon County Economic Development Council president Steve Buerge both said the city is always trying to find businesses interested in purchasing the land near the Industrial Park to continue building the city towards the south. But in recent years, few businesses have shown interest because of the nature of the terrain as well as the lack of a workforce in the city with an unemployment rate of only 4.3 percent.
But the Kraft family and others involved have expressed interest in using some of that land to bring a vet clinic and a dirt bike track to the community. The rezoning and special permit approved by the commission allows them to begin planning for those projects.
“Great West Vet Clinic is something we feel like will be a great addition to Fort Scott,” Nathan Wells said during his first presentation concerning the new veterinary services they plan to bring to Fort Scott.
The clinic will provide care for both small and large animals, such as through surgeries, dental care, grooming, boarding, water therapy and radiology. It will also host laboratories for the study of artificial insemination (AI) and in vitro fertilization (IVF) for cattle, attracting students interested in training in that field.
Wells said their goal with the clinic is to keep business local, such as that of owners of horses who said they often travel hours and out of state for such care for their animals, and also to make it a destination since the place for studies on AI and IVF will be one of the only such places available in the country.
“This would be such a huge opportunity,” Nikki Traul said, pointing out local rodeo and livestock judging teams could benefit as well. “And what a neat thing to say we even have it in our town…We’d be getting in our way if we’re not providing additional business in this community and providing something that we’d be proud to stand up for and say that we have this as a business here.”
The second piece of land was rezoned to make it possible for a tiller track to be put in for dirt bike races, which Wells said would be held several Saturdays from March through October each year according to their current plan, bringing in racers and their families who would utilize local businesses while in Fort Scott.
A number of citizens present at the meeting raised concerns over the track due to noise, dust and the atmosphere it might bring, while others spoke in favor of it because of the new business it would bring and its entertainment factor on a piece of property no other business had shown interest in because of its uneven terrain.
Wells said those invested in putting in the track will do everything possible to cut down dust, such as through using sawdust and spraying water on the track regularly, as well as the sound by setting specific regulations on the bikes and also using vegetation and other barriers to help shield the sound.
Some residents said they did not believe those steps would have a significant impact on the sound, which could decrease property values, interrupt quality of life for the residential areas there and could deter other business from coming.
“If we get this wrong, this could have, I think, a very devastating effect on our community,” attorney Charles Gentry said, speaking on behalf of the Countryside Addition residents.
Buerge said the economic development council takes seriously their responsibility of bringing businesses into that area, and said he trusts the Kraft family to handle the project carefully so the community benefits from it. But as with most developments, Buerge said there is “give and take.”
“I have mixed emotions about it,” commissioner Sam Mason said, but he and commissioner Randy Nichols both said they are in favor of moving forward with the zoning and the permit to give Wells and others involved an opportunity to continue their planning so they can bring further details to the commission.
“We need to work together as a team to ensure that this is successful and that we continue to take care of the people and the concerns they have,” Wells said of the importance of their partnership with the city.
The conditional use permit for the track will be drafted by the city staff, including any regulations they desire as well as an expiration date of the permit, allowing them to reverse the decision if the track seems to be hurting the community. With the draft complete, the commission will then decide to approve that permit or not.
“This is by no means the end of the discussion,” commissioner Jim Adams said, saying the members of the commission have a lot of information to digest and consider.