Marion residents ponder scenarios for city’s economic future

Marion residents suggested their city?s future could develop as an ?end retirement spot? for baby boomers looking for a nice place to live.

About 70 residents gathered Monday night, Oct. 29, to share ideas for economic development that could be sponsored by the city.

Participants pictured condominiums and patio homes as part of the development picture for living in a small town that is easy to get around in and has a low crime rate.

The participants seemed to agree that the thrust of the city?s development is toward Marion County Lake with eventual annexation of that area. Some suggested that the city?s ?valley? vicinity has the potential to provide starter homes for younger people.

Roger Schwab, chairman of the Marion Planning Commission, presided over the meeting. The purpose was to draw ideas from the public on the directions they would like to see the city move in securing a future.

The retirement-spot idea was preceded by a discussion about keeping Marion?s young people in the community for their careers. It was pointed out that becoming a retirement spot for seniors would provide many service jobs for younger people.

Schwab acknowledged a need for more types of housing. When it comes to senior citizens, he said Marion needs both more assisted living and more housing for seniors with higher incomes.

One person said her mother had to move to Derby because Marion only had homes designed for lower-income residents.

Schwab also suggested a need for Marion to expand to include more land because persons who want to build more expensive homes usually don?t want to locate them in older neighborhoods.

Participants discussed whether the city should build new streets for developers or whether the developers should pay that expense themselves. Some suggested the city should only be expected to maintain streets after they are built.

Roger Hannaford III confirmed from a developer?s perspective that getting a return on invested money even after six or seven years is difficult. He and others said that if the city wants developers to invest money, it should find ways to give them financial breaks.

Mayor Mary Olson said the city already is working on securing grant money to upgrade street and needs residents to return the required income surveys issued for that purpose.

Without the surveys, she said, Marion could miss out on more than $400,000 in grant money.

Olson added that city workers are taking the time to call on residents who received the surveys. She asked that if residents care about the future of their streets, they should return the completed surveys in a timely manor.

Former Mayor Max Hayen said that in some counties, the county pays half the cost of new street development with in cities.

Dan Crumrine suggested amending uses allowed in Marion?s two industrial parks along U.S. Highway 56 so that more retailers could line the highway to bring revenue into the community.

?We need more restaurants, more food choices here,? he said. ?We need motels out there.?

Harry Bennett suggested striking a deal with the county to allow developments with homes on much smaller plots of land in the city?s zone of influence going toward Marion County Lake. He said property owners in that direction should be surveyed to see if they are willing to sell land for development.

Bob Brookens said the tradition over the past 20 years has been for the city not to annex land unless the owners request it. He said the city and the county could cooperate on anything ?if they both really want to.?

Bennett also suggested that when the city soon renegotiates its electrical contract with Westar Energy, it also begins creating its own wind-turbine electrical-generation farm to offset costs.

Bennett said the city is fortunate to own its electrical infrastructure to give it some flexibility.

After the meeting, some residents reported that the City of Larned cooperated with a wind-farm company to secure such generation capacity.

Several persons pointed out that Marion is ?quaint? and pleasant, but that sidewalks in many areas have degraded to the point where they unpleasant to walk on, particularly for older residents.

Others called for developing a a street parallel to Main, going from the hill to the valley.

Schwab cited the school?s and city?s swimming-pool development and walking trails being established as examples of what can happen when elements of the community cooperate.

Allen Meyers said the city should inventory the land it owns throughout the town to see what development uses it could be accommodate.

Dick Varenhorst described ?little pockets of land? the city owns in the northwest part of town that could be developed for housing.

One person asked what development opportunities the city might see in the Martin Marietta Quarry land owned by the Rocky Hett family, since it is a large acreage.

Feebie Holdeman said the city frequently seems to forget the potentials associated with Marion Reservoir.

?Thousands of people are going out there who don?t even know Marion is down here,? she said.

Jeremy Armstrong, chief executive officer at St. Luke Hospital, said his institution is heavily involved in planning what will happen to its enterprise over the next five or six years. He said what happens with the city could be ?critical? to what happens with the hospital.

Margo Yates said she hope residents would see the county?s efforts to build a new correctional facility in Marion as a positive economic development.

There were calls for a new community center. Jeff Cady said the Marion Advancement Campaign has about $50,000 toward such a facility, and would build it when it has $100,000 to $150,000.

Cady confirmed that plans to include a theater with the community center could have been done if the group had been able to raise $200,000 to match $800,000 in grant money it was approved for. The grant money is gone, he said, but could be reapplied for if the city?s share is ever raised.

?It all boils down to money,? he said.

Chris Costello asked about establishing a historical district to protect such things as brick streets from destruction.

Marty Fredrickson, city street superintendent, acknowledged such a thing could be done, but cautioned that brick streets could cost as much as $35,000 a block to replace. He said bricks do have to be replaced from time to time because of things such as excavations for water-line breaks.

Schwab said providing parking for semi-trucks driven by owner-operators who live in Marion has become an issue. He suggested residents might want to support a parking area for the trucks because of the hundreds of thousands of dollars their economic activities generate.

Others said there needs to be a truck rest area at the industrial parks for drivers from out of town who need to stop.

Schwab asked residents to consider that the latest census shows Marion to have the most jobs in manufacturing (165) compared to health care (149), the next highest category.

?Should we become a manufacturing town?? he asked.

Sentiment seemed to lean toward making Marion a place people would seek because it would be a pleasant place to live.

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