OLATHE, Kan. — Johnson County leaders have reached new agreement terms for the development of the former Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant in De Soto.
On Thursday, the Board of Commissioners voted 4-2 to dissolve the Sunflower Community Redevelopment Authority. Commissioners Michael Ashcraft and Charlotte O’Hara voted against the resolution. Commissioner Jeff Meyers was absent from the meeting.
The commission also approved amending a predevelopment agreement between the county and Sunflower Redevelopment LLC (SRL).
“I think both of these steps are necessary to move forward and to help bring any blighted property into a productive resource for the county,” Board Chair Ed Eilert said.
History of the plant
The Sunflower Army Ammunition Plant closed in 1992 and was declared an excess of the U.S. Army’s needs in 1998. In 2004, Congress created special legislation to transfer the property to a private developer that the Johnson County Board of Commissioners would select.
In 2004, the county created the Sunflower Community Redevelopment Authority to assist with the redevelopment of the plant. In 2005, the U.S. Army transferred the former ammunition plant property to Sunflower Redevelopment, LLC (SRL).
In connection to the transfer, the Army entered into a remediation agreement with SRL and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) to clean up the plant. SRL then signed a predevelopment agreement with Johnson County.
In November 2021, the De Soto City Council approved the annexation of approximately 6,000 acres of land within the former Sunflower Army plant.
Last month the De Soto City Council approved a resolution to create a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) District on the former ammunition plant property.
Under a pre-development agreement between SRL and the city of De Soto, if the TIF district isn’t formed, the first phase of the plan isn’t approved, or the master development plan isn’t executed by May 22, the city is obligated to de-annex the property back to the unincorporated portion of Johnson County.
“The Army has an obligation to clean this site up with federal money. This is a federal issue. Federal entities created this problem, and they have indicated by 2028 they will have completed their clean up. This is a huge issue. I do not believe it has been vetted properly,” O’Hara said.
Peg Trent, chief legal counsel for the county, said because the county was not responsible for cleanup efforts, it has not had a large involvement with the former ammunition site in recent years.
“The county had no ownership or liability for that cleanup, but you (the county) stepped into that role to facilitate the meeting and that transfer of property that occurred between SRL and the Army,” Trent said.
Under the original agreement with KDHE and SRL, the entire 9,000-acre property was to be cleaned up to residential standards. Since two-thirds of the property was annexed into the city of De Soto, Trent said the cleaning standards for the 6,000 acres will be determined by the city.
The Army will continue remediation efforts for the remaining 3,000 acres in unincorporated Johnson County. Mary Beverly, Environmental Division Director of JCDHE, said her office has reached out to the Army and KDHE to determine how much more cleanup is needed.
“We are trying to get an understanding of what needs to be cleaned upon the 3,000 acres and that will give us a better idea, really overall. We are working on that. We have yet to receive that report,” Beverly said.
Ashcraft said prior to the meeting, he spoke with Beverly to determine what level of mitigation KDHE was currently implementing on the 3,000 acres the county is responsible for.
“The 3,000 acres — is it better than, worse than or about the same as everything else that’s in play here (the 6,000 acres)? We didn’t have an answer, and that challenges me,” Ashcraft said.
“While I commend the city of De Soto and I commend this going forward for the 6,000 [acres], I still don’t know what the long term implications are going to be for the county and county government. I have those reservations.”
According to the approved amendment to predevelopment agreement, the developer intends to donate approximately 5 acres of land within the Sunflower property to the Northwest Consolidated Fire District to create a new fire station.
The developer has also indicated plans to dedicate approximately 2,000 acres to Johnson County Parks. Trent said all public land within county parks is required to be cleaned up to residential standards.
Roughly 500 acres of land will be used by Kansas State University (KSU) and the University of Kansas (KU). Sunflower Redevelopment’s attorney John Petersen said land owned by K-State is located within the 3,000 acres managed by the county.
“K-State land, primarily used for agricultural research, those kinds of activities. A big portion of the K-State land is part of the early transfer, so they own their land today,” Petersen said.
Petersen said approximately 130 acres of land will also be transferred to K-State in the future. The KU property is located further north in the development and was part of the annexation into the city of De Soto.
“We have a separate agreement with the University of Kansas for a joint development when that property is ready to move forward for commercial uses,” Petersen said.
Commissioner Shirley Allenbrand represents the De Soto area. She said the project will address blight and create new opportunity for both the county and the city.
“There is a partnership in our planning department. There’s partnerships with the city. There is a partnership in seeing something done here and getting it done. That’s the whole point of this; creating something for the citizens of De Soto,” Allenbrand said.