Dave Yearout held the holy grail -- for planners at least. The only undamaged, extant copy of the Greensburg, Kansas, Comprehensive Plan. That's because Dave, a planning consultant with Baughman Company in Wichita, had worked on the Comp Plan several years back. He bundled it with him as he headed back to Greensburg shortly after the devastating May 4th twister that demolished most of the town.
Dave's new assignment: to work with the Greensburg Planning Commission and City Council to help get the town back on track, by coordinating a slew of planning and zoning issues facing the community as it starts to rebuild.
But before I continue with the post I do need to note that despite what I'd seen on the national news, actually being in Greensburg and seeing the devastation was a shock.
[you can click on the photos for a larger size view; you can also download and run a 360 degree panorama of a part of Main Street]
I was so distracted & disoriented that I couldn't keep Dave's directions to "City Hall" straight. I wandered through several of the score of trailers parked around the Court House (one of the few structures still standing) before I happened on the City Hall trailer.
On entering City Hall, your eyes are quickly drawn to the oversized aerial photos posted on the walls. Dave's also set up a digitized data base that can quickly pull up details on individual parcels -- even though the only evidence on the ground of many of them is the outline of the foundation or a number on the curb.
Within a couple of minutes of meeting Dave, Mayor John Janssen stopped by, as did Chuck Banks, who runs the Kansas office of the USDA Rural Development program. City Hall has become one of the operational hubs of the recovery effort.
One of the issues Dave touched on is the fact that many of the older residents of Greensburg were woefully underinsured. Few residents recognized the importance of insuring for replacement cost. State and federal officials are figuring out ways of providing grants and low-interest loans to deal with this.
A challenging problem -- in fact, the focus of the City Council's afternoon meeting under a big tent in front of the Court House -- was whether to extend a moratorium on the issuance of building permits in the 16 block central section of Greensburg (an east-west corridor along U.S. Highway 56). With the town essentially wiped out, the City Council obtained a commitment from the Kansas Dept. of Transportation to cancel a bypass highway planned to run south of downtown, and instead do major arterial improvements through the center of town.
But area property owners are chomping at the bit to start rebuilding -- or at least know how they'll be affected by K-DOT's revised plans.
K-DOT says it is moving at lightning speed on the revised routing -- compared to normal procedures -- but residents and some of the city councilors are pushing the agency to move even faster.
One thing that has helped, according to Dave, is the Governor's involvement -- through a full-time aide in Greensburg -- in resolving inter-agency disputes and keeping things moving. Governor Kathleen Sebelius also sponsored a major community-wide visioning process to be finished by the end of the month. This will provide valuable citizen input when work begins on a new comprehensive plan.
On the planning front, the Council made a quick ordinance change to reduce the planning commission's size to a more manageable number, five. Permit requests are starting to pick up, and the planning commission's first hearing on a rezoning will be this coming week. A number of building officials from other communities in Kansas (and beyond) are volunteering their time to help out.
To this point, most Greensburg residents have been living temporarily in nearby communities. But some 391 FEMA trailers should be available at one end of town within a few weeks. Plans are to have a temporary school house ready by the start of the school year in mid-August.
It was truly an amazing scene in Greensburg. Blocks of total devastation. But City Hall in action, and trailers full of support people from just about every agency. And thousands of volunteers, from high school students to surveyors to building officials have given their time to make sure Greensburg not only stays on the map* -- but re-emerges stronger than before.
But the City will be phasing out reliance on volunteers soon. It needs full-time staff; and will get federal and state assistance in funding this. Hopefully, there will be building code officials & planners willing to come out to rural Western Kansas for a year or more to take on this task.
*according to yesterday's online edition of The Pratt Tribune (a city near Greensburg), "6,739 registered volunteers have contributed 114,410 hours to date. Workers have hauled 293,380 cubic yards of debris requiring 31,454 truck loads. The debris removal process is approximately 83.8 percent complete."
p.s., thanks to attorney Dwight Merriam for putting me in touch with Dave Yearout.