Councilwoman upset after residents denied say in proposed industrial park in Independence

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INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — It’s a vote that could have a big impact on the future of Independence.

But some city council members are upset residents won’t get a chance to speak to them about a proposed industrial park in the city’s gateway.

Because of changes made a few years ago,  residents can voice concerns to the Independence City Council about nearly anything — except zoning matters that have already had a public hearing at the City Planning Commission.

Irene Baltrusaitis is still in the process of sending out hundreds of flyers to neighbors after she said she noticed one tiny sign across the street advertising a City Planning Commission meeting last month.

The proposal would rezone a single family residential area between Little Blue Parkway and Jackson Drive to Business Park/PDU.

Plans for the Independence Commerce Center, previously known as the Van Trust Project, would create a pair of warehouses totaling more than 500,000 square feet.

“You are going to take the only nice way into town and put warehouses and semi trucks down there,” Baltrusaitis said.

When neighbors showed up to this week’s council meeting to voice their concerns Mayor Eileeen Weir told them, “Because it is in violation of our council rules, we won’t be hearing citizen comments tonight.”

Weir didn’t return calls for comment.

During the meeting, Councilwoman Karen DeLuccie immediately recommended suspending the rule prohibiting public comment about zoning and pending legal matters involving the city.

“Three or four years ago we changed that rule, and I objected then because I know there’s a big difference between talking to a planing commission member and talking to an elected official.”

Independence City Council voted 4-2 not to allow public comment on the Van Trust Project.

DeLuccie worries the council rules on public comment are eroding the public’s trust in their elected officials. She said she’d be willing to listen to any citizens that want to speak on the project, which she said will shape the gateway to Independence for generations.

“We were elected to do a job, and if the job takes four hours, then the job takes four hours,” DeLuccie said of concerns public comment could extend the meeting. Monday’s meeting where public comment was prohibited lasted about 30 minutes.

A pair of meetings will be held over the next 10 days on the project. The City Council will have a Study Session on Tuesday, Nov. 12, at 6 p.m.

The City Council is then expected to have a first reading on what could be a modified plan for the industrial park at their regular meeting Nov. 18.

“We’re going to be there Tuesday, and we’re going to be there on the 18th to find out what’s going to happen and where this is going,” Baltrusaitis said. “We are still very concerned, and we want them to know that.”

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