By Jill Draper
Would a proposed development be a boon to the local economy or the devastation of a Blue River watershed and wildlife area? Flint Development held an online public meeting on March 29 to discuss plans to build a 1.2 million-square-foot industrial complex on 101 acres at the northeast corner of I-435 and 87th Street. Most of the land is heavily wooded and adjoins the western edge of the Oldham Farms neighborhood.
The complex, to be called the 87th Street Logistics Center, would require a change in zoning from low-density residential and a small amount of commercial to light and/or heavy industrial. Residents who live nearby said they were shocked and unhappy with the proposal.
“I feel that 99.9% of the people on this call are gonna fight this, and that may be a low estimate,” said Therese Rhodes, while Seth Powers commented, “We moved here because it was like a little bit of country in the city. It’s probably not a situation where we could find a happy medium.”
Flint Development is run by two partners, Hunter Harris and Devin Schuster, who formed the business last August. Both previously worked for Lane 4 Development. They said the 101-acre property was under contract, but they have not closed on the deal, nor have they submitted a rezoning application. “This is just the opening of a conversation, the very first step of the process,” Schuster said.
He also said the $75 million project was totally speculative. “It’s an opportunity to attract a diverse group of high quality tenants who hopefully will create a pretty stunning amount of jobs for the community.”
Neighboring residents were doubtful about how many new jobs might result, and repeatedly said they saw no benefit to the rezoning. Some pointed to other speculative warehouses in the vicinity, and worried that developers might be overbuilding industrial parks just as they overbuilt shopping centers in the 1990s.
Schuster disagreed, noting a resurgence of manufacturing and shipping, especially since the pandemic. “We think a lot of consumer habits have changed forever.”
A tentative site plan shows a large 850,000-square-foot building and three smaller ones ranging from 20,000 to 40,000 square feet with little buffer space between parking lots and adjacent homes. When this was pointed out, Schuster replied, “Duly noted. We may need to alter the plan.” He also voiced the possibility of adding moderate density residential housing to the edges. “It’s an evolution how these plans transform,” he said.
Neighboring residents voiced concerns about pollution from truck exhaust, noise, lights and water runoff. “Will nighttime ever be completely dark in the area?” asked Robert Burney. And in a neighborhood forum that preceded the meeting, Amanda Gehin took issue with regarding the woods as vacant land.
It’s anything but vacant, she said. “It is a biodiverse ecosystem composed of a creek and hackberry, shingle oak, honey locust, Osage orange and walnut trees, and the animals that depend upon these trees for survival…It absorbs stormwater runoff like a sponge, cools the environment with evapotranspiration from trees, sequesters carbon dioxide, provides habitat for wildlife, removes harmful pollutants from the atmosphere, and encourages neighborhood residents to engage in an active, healthy lifestyle.”
Schuster reminded the neighbors that the acreage was not a protected forest, and if the private owners wanted to cut down all the trees today, it would be within their rights.
The meeting ended when Flint Development agreed to regroup with their Polsinelli law firm attorney to consider how the project might go forward. Meanwhile, opponents announced they can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A legislative aide for Ryana Parks-Shaw said the 5th District Councilwoman has not taken a position on the rezoning because it’s too early in the process. “This kind of development will go through Board of Zoning Adjustment, then to City Plan Commission then to Neighborhood, Planning and Development before it comes to council,” said Angela Pearson.