The City Commission of Arkansas City voted 5-0 on Tuesday night to approve two ordinances annexing property owned by a local meatpacking plant and rezoning it for heavy industrial use.
The move clears the way for a large expansion at Creekstone Farms Premium Beef, which the company announced late last year in a press release.
The first phase of the expansion, which already is under way, will bring the plant back to full production capacity after a fire damaged the building last fall.
Later phases will add on to the company's cold storage areas and possibly add an additional shift.
The latter, if it comes to pass, could turn Creekstone into Cowley County's largest employer, City Manager Nick Hernandez said Tuesday night.
The first step was to annex farmland owned by Creekstone that is located east of the current plant.
Creekstone submitted a letter of consent to annexation on Jan. 16 for approximately 9.47 acres adjacent to the plant.
The Arkansas City Planning Commission met Feb. 11 and voted to recommend the annexation's approval.
The request was fast-tracked, with the ordinance being adopted upon first reading, at Creekstone's request.
"As you are aware, time is of the essence and we need to be on the City Council's Agenda for February 2014,” Creekstone's general counsel and human resources director, Doug Mackay, said in the letter.
The City Commission's vote brings the last of Creekstone's land into the city limits.
"Everything else they own is already annexed into the city,” Hernandez said Tuesday night.
Before the matter was put to rest, Commissioner Dan Jurkovich asked rhetorically why Creekstone would want to be annexed.
His comment referred to the recent upheaval caused by a first draft of the city's new comprehensive plan that mentioned extraterritorial zoning.
Numerous county residents who would have been affected by the proposal showed up to voice their opposition at several city meetings in the last month, prompting the City Commission to send the plan back to the Planning Commission, which later deleted all references to such zoning in the plan.
As for Creekstone, it's a simple matter of clarity — all of the plant should be within the city limits, as opposed to part of it being out in the county — and necessity.
"It comes down to the (industrial) revenue bonds,” Hernandez said. "They have to be in the city to get them.”
That's because the city acts as a "financing conduit” or intermediary for Creekstone to obtain the financing, even though the city itself is not liable for paying off the bonds.
Because all property that is annexed into the city automatically comes in zoned for low-density residential use, or R-1, the city had to pass an additional ordinance Tuesday.
It changed that zoning to a more appropriate heavy industrial designation, or I-3, as recommended by the Planning Commission. Creekstone's current plant is zoned I-3, as are many other properties in Goff Industrial Park.
That zoning also conforms with the intentions for the land laid out in the city's current comprehensive plan, which was developed in 2003, said city planner Josh White.
"This is just a housekeeping issue,” White explained.
The decision to recommend the zoning was based primarily on three factors, he said — the amount of time the property, which has been targeted for economic incentives, has been vacant, which is indefinitely; its conformity with the comprehensive plan; and its impact on community facilities, which hopefully will be positive due to increased tax revenue.
An rural resident who lives north of town, Charla Myrick, asked city officials if the expansion would cause the plant to start to smell bad.
Hernandez asked her if it smelled bad now, and she said it did not. He said that shouldn't change.
"In the actual processing facility, air handling units and scrubbers remove all that smell,” he explained.
"The clean air comes in from east and the ‘bad' air goes out the west side, but the air you smell is not ‘bad.'”
"One of the things that helps this is there are no outdoor storage or live pens,” he added.
"Second, there is no blood drying or any processes using large furnaces to dry product or render it down.”
Hernandez admitted that the south side of Ark City still has smell issues due to Kan-Pak's operations there.
"If you live in that area, you do smell that,” he said.
"That's where zoning comes into play — it can help to create those buffers to discourage that type of thing.”
In other business, the commission:
• heard from resident Barbara Walker, who was concerned about possible contention between the city and the county over extraterritorial zoning.
Hernandez confirmed that such zoning will not be in either the comprehensive plan or zoning regulations being drafted by the Planning Commission. Nor will members from outside the city be sought for that board, he said.
"It's a dead issue,” he said.
"We're working with the county,” said Mayor Jay Warren. "We have no hard feelings with the county.”
• unanimously approved the following consent agenda items: approval of the Feb. 4 minutes as written; ratifying Warren's appointment of Sydney Bland to the Historic Preservation Board; and approving a countywide comprehensive housing study proposal.
• heard a first reading of and tabled an ordinance amending municipal code to change how appeals of property maintenance violations are handled.