(St. Joseph,MO) St. Joseph could soon be home to a $250million biofuel energy plant, but the proposed project cannot go forward without permanently closing a portion of Monterey Street. Monday the city council met in a work session to discuss the public’s concerns about the placement of the energy plant and the potential closing of Monterey Street from 6th Street to 8th Street.
Brady McKinley, Assistant Director of Public Works, said the company has not provided the city with an analysis of how the closure of Monterey would impact traffic.
“All they have done is requested a vacation of the street with no supporting data other than they would need to do that to make their development work,” McKinley said. “We require a traffic study to determine what traffic is going across that street, where they are going to reroute to; how long it’s going to take them to do that detour and then we also look at a cost benefit of that,” McKinley said.
The plant would provide 55-60 new jobs with a median income of $65,000, but requires the closing of Monterey to make room for a 100 car train to move the jet fuel product.
Developer Geoffrey Hirson said the proposed project isn’t a pilot, there is a smaller, but similar plant in Florida, but unlike the company’s pilot plant in Florida, the new plant would be operating outside an industrial park.
“When he mentioned there was a pilot facility in Florida, I looked it up on the internet while someone else was speaking and it’s in an industrial park,”City Councilmember At Large, Brian Myers said. “It’s nowhere near any type of residential facility and when I asked the developer the question ‘Is this in an industrial park?’ he confirmed that is was.We have industrial parks for a reason. ”
Myers is concerned the biofuel plant could negatively impact property values in the area.
“This is a lower-middle class part of our community that we are already fighting blithe with,” Myers said. “A lot of these folks, their home that they occupy, is their only investment and if it’s not their only investment it could certainly be their largest single investment and to diminish their property value would mean we are lowering our tax base.”
The city notified people living within 185 feet of the potential plant of the possibility of the city closing down Monterey Street. City Planner Nic Hutchison estimates approximately 15 residents and businesses in the area where notified, but Myers said he would like that radius expanded to cover more people living in private residence and at the Mitchell Park Plaza apartment complex.
"If I owned a property within a stone's throw of this proposed site, I would want notification from the city that we are considering doing it," Myers said.
Brad Lau, Vice President of Economic Development for St. Joseph’s Chamber of Commerce, said the property is already zoned to accommodate this type of business, but Myers thinks the city needs to reconsider how the property is zoned.
“Bottom line this is zoned M-2 [manufacturing], I think this really points to a larger problem we have in the city, that we haven’t updated our zoning for a long time and we need to seriously look at our zoning map,” Myers said. “There is no reason something should be zoned M-2 that’s this close to a school,that’s this close to a daycare. I like the fact that the railroad runs close to the property and the railroad could be used for other types of projects in the area, but maybe what we need to look at is rezoning this as M-1 and get light manufacturing in there.”
Public safety is also raising some flags about the potential street closure.The railroad has offered to work with first responders in notifying them when a train is blocking specific tracks and for how long, but McKinley is still worried this could hurt response times.
"If they have an incident on one side of the tracks or another and they cannot use that, they have to detour around. In life safety means that could either mean a house is burnt down or saved or a person doesn't receive the medical attention as fast as they can," McKinley said.
The city council will vote on whether or not to close the street at their next meeting on Monday, October 22.
"I think the entire council is really questioning both sides of this issue, and I hope it's one that all of us take seriously, because this is a serious issue,"Myers said.