Manhattan city commissioners pass zoning, public comment measures

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The Manhattan City Commission met for their bimonthly legislative meeting at City Hall Tuesday night. Top among agenda items was a proposal to rezone a five-block area of the city to allow for development of high density residential buildings.

“It has the potential into a more populous and vibrant place, using existing infrastructure efficiently and reducing sprawl,” said Manhattan Senior Planner John Adam, who presented the proposal.

The rezoning would run between Manhattan Boulevard and 12th Street from Ratone to Vattier. Despite the overall warm reception of the proposal, commissioners had some concerns regarding parking accomodations for the increased population in that area.

“I guess I haven’t quite wrapped my head around how does the density affect the parking in that area, because it doesn’t seem its adequate right now,” said Commissioner Usha Reddi.

Adam assured the proposal had provisions requiring developers to account for the increase in residents and provide parking in the form of new parking structures.

“We’re probably looking at most cases there’s going to be one or two decks — in some cases three decks — of parking,” said Adam. “The design requirements say that those either have to be tucked behind buildings or they have to be screened if they’re visible from a public right of way other than an alley.”

The proposal passed by unanimous vote.

The commission also discussed new protocol at commission meetings. The proposed guidelines would set an adjournment time for legislative commission meetings at midnight and limit public comments to five minutes to speaker, though reserving the right to reduce that to three minutes in the case of high turnout for public comments.

“Overall what we’re trying to do here is to achieve some equity — making sure that every citizen has the ability to speak before the body and everybody gets a fair chance to have a dialogue,” said Mayor Pro Tempore Mike Dodson. “It’s a balance between that and getting the business of the city done and I think this thing fairly represents that.”

Though time per speaker would be limited under the guidelines, there would be no limit placed on the total number of speakers per meeting.

“It’s imperative for me for people to feel like this is an open place where they can come speak,” said Commissioner Jerred McKee. “If 30 people come and want to speak on one issue, all of those 30 people should be able to speak on that issue.”

Richard Hill, a representative of the group Landlords of Manhattan, Kansas, spoke during public comments and expressed concern over the time limit. He said that there are times that more than five minutes is needed to address issues affecting he and others in his group’s livelihood.

“The five minute [limit]should not be a situation that we are dealing with and is a violation of my first amendment right,” Hill said.

In response, the commission discussed possible processes to grant exemptions for registered group representatives in future edits of the policy. Ultimately, the resolution on the new guidelines was passed by unanimous vote.

Multiple representatives of Manhattan Parks and Recreation also spoke as part of their quarterly report. They updated the council on community engagement as well as planned projects such as the Johnny Kaw area improvements, two new indoor recreation facilities and a new section at the city zoo.

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