KAKE NEWS INVESTIGATES: Bel Aire Boom or Bust?

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Living in the City of Bel Aire comes with perks. The schools are highly rated, neighborhoods are pretty safe and all of it is close to the amenities of Wichita.

“You do feel like you are in a big neighborhood,” said Hillary Allen, a former realtor and resident. “But at the same time, you do feel like you are away from everything.”

However, Allen said the city is still missing something big.

“There definitely needs to be some shops, something close by to kind of tie in the Bel Aire residents, bring everybody together, really.”

The city admits there’s a lot of housing, but economically, the area needs to diversify.

“Gathering space is not only something that’s needed but wanted by our community,” said Ty Lasher, the Bel Aire City Manager.”

Residents have tried. In 2009, city leaders approved a development project at 49th and Webb. A $3 million levy was passed to pave roads and build water and sewer lines in the area.

That cleared the way for Tierra Verde Development, who bought the land to build a grand project. Blueprints called for a culinary school, art institute, hotel and restaurants.

But ten years later the sign is up – and that’s about it. So what went wrong?

“The sales didn’t come, the development didn’t move forward,” Lasher said. “So she failed to pay taxes and special assessments on the open property.”

Records show that development company never paid the $600,000 for the taxes and loan payment. The city ran up a tab for years, until the land foreclosed.

“So now we’ve got roughly… $700,000 into it,” Lasher said.

So the City of Bel Aire faces a new issue with the space – how to get the cash back. It’s solution – even more homes.

“Actually custom designed the homes from the floor plan on up,” said Andrew Reece with Banister Realty.

Custom homes that will sell for at least $500,000. The sale of the land for the homes are how residents will be repaid.

“So if we were to sell ten lots at $100,000 per lot, that recoups the profit that was spent or the special assessments that were paid,” Lasher said.

The plan seems ambitious according to skeptics.

“I think that’s great, positive thinking but I do feel as though with Bel Aire property taxes already through the roof…. What does Bel Aire have to offer these people that are buying these homes?” Allen said. “They still have to leave Bel Aire and go into Wichita to simply get a coffee.”

That issue doesn’t seem to worry the city manager, who insists there’s a solution to that, too.

“Across from City Hall is the location that we really want to focus on for retail like restaurants,” Lasher said. “We have a major gathering space we’re looking at constructing.”

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