When Travis Snyder bought his home in Olathe nearly 10 years ago, he knew the vast green bean field twinkling in the sun behind his house wouldn’t last forever.
The land had been zoned light industrial since 1986, with six individual buildings allowed.
He would miss the open space one day, Snyder mused, but he accepted the reality of a potential business park without a fuss. It was, after all, what he signed up for.
But this fall, that all changed when Garmin International Inc. announced its plans for a major expansion that calls for one massive building instead of six smaller ones.
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The company’s operational headquarters, located near 151st Street and Ridgeview Road, is north of Snyder’s home.
In 2000, Garmin had bought the field with hopes of expansion. Now that the company has reached capacity in its warehouse and offices, with nearly 3,000 employees on site, that time has come.
On Dec. 1, the Olathe City Council will vote on the proposed expansion.
Instead of six individual lots, Garmin hopes to build a 712,842-square-foot building, roughly doubling the size of its campus. The new facility would house manufacturing, distribution and offices.
And if approved, the 44-foot building will sit 107.5 feet away from Snyder’s backyard.
“Right now, I can go out on my deck and see the sunset,” Snyder said. “With this monstrosity, I won’t see anything. It will create a huge shadow over my house. It would be like having the Great Mall in my backyard.”
To address the visual impact for the single family-homes, Garmin said it is constructing the building seven feet below the grade of the adjacent neighborhood and it is proposing a five-foot berm with landscaping.
For Snyder and his neighbors, however, the gesture is not enough.
They would like Garmin to follow the original plan for the lot, with six smaller buildings, instead a large one. Or, they would like to see the company build its expansion elsewhere.
For Garmin, however, both of those concepts simply wouldn’t work, said Patrick Desbois, vice president of operations.
The company, which specializes in navigation devices for industry and personal use, is vertically integrated, meaning Garmin designs, develops, manufactures and sells its own products in one spot.
Inside its current warehouse, a steady rhythm of teamwork among employees and a long, winding conveyer belt help ensure Garmin’s success.
In the manufacturing department, circuit boards are pieced together and painstakingly inspected for flaws.
Finished products are organized into endless rows, ready for packaging.
Millions of boxed products line shelves in the distribution center, waiting to be shipped.
And scrolling above the hustle and bustle in every room is a gigantic conveyer belt, moving parts, like motors and plastic pieces, to each department.
Breaking the warehouse up into smaller buildings would force employees to constantly load bits and parts onto trucks to be driven to the next building a few feet away, over and over again, disrupting workflow.
It would be a huge waste of time, manpower and resources, Desbois said. Plus, it would create a lot of truck noise for nearby residents.
Building the expansion in a different location would also diminish efficiency, since employees in every department work closely together, he said.
“Instead of flying to China or driving to another part of town, we want our engineers to be able to just walk down the hallway to manufacturing, which they often do,” Desbois said.
Another obstacle Garmin is facing is a major natural gas line sitting underneath the vacant field, preventing a repositioning of the proposed building layout.
Because Garmin cannot build over the line for safety reasons, the situation presented an opportunity to provide more green space. The company will be adding a full-size soccer field, a softball field and a walking trail.
Garmin has also tried addressing other concerns from neighbors, such as a fear of increased traffic in the area, semi-truck noise and light going into bedroom windows at night.
To combat traffic, Garmin plans to add or expand turn lanes and install a median and traffic signal on nearby streets.
Desbois said an independent firm Garmin hired found the new warehouse would actually shield noise from the interstate and trains for neighbors.
As for lighting, translucent material will be used to minimize glow and lighting fixtures will be repositioned so they won’t shine directly on nearby homes, he said.
Neighbors living nearby remain unconvinced.
Bill Thomas, who lives northwest of the site, feels blindsided by the expansion plans.
He thinks the proposed warehouse is simply too large for the field behind his house, especially when it’s so close to residential homes.
He and Snyder are also concerned about the proposed liquid nitrogen tanks to be placed on the property.
Although Garmin insists the inert, non-combustible gas is not a safety risk and is essential for its manufacturing process, the two men are not convinced.
They worry it could be a potential risk for explosions.
“All of these issues are just going to hurt us,” he said. “Once our property values go down it will be like a cancer for the rest of the neighborhood.”
Desbois doesn’t think they have anything to worry about. If anything, he said, property values would most likely increase because many future employees will probably see the adjacent neighborhood as a convenient place to live.
Garmin currently has several employees — many of them engineers — living in the surrounding area, he said.
In the next several years, he anticipates more employees will join the Garmin team.
The proposed expansion has the capacity to support up to 2,700 additional employees, but the job growth won’t happen overnight, Desbois said. It could take several years.
If the plan is passed by the council on Tuesday, the company doesn’t have a set date to begin the expansion.
Construction is expected to take two years to complete. The next move would be transferring certain employees from the old building to the new one and converting the existing warehouse and manufacturing space into office space.
Garmin’s hopes for expansion hit a snag earlier this month, when the Planning Commission denied its plan, with many commissioners citing concerns about the project’s massive size.
Because of the denial, a council super majority — five out of seven votes — will be required to pass the plan Dec. 1.
While no changes have been made to the plan in light of the planning commission’s denial, executives at Garmin remain optimistic.
“As a high-tech company, we have to compete with the Googles and Apples out there, so we want people to be impressed with our campus,” Desbois said. “This is going to be a gorgeous building with beautiful landscaping, not some dingy, dreary warehouse surrounded by weeds. We want to attract the best talent to our company and we want to positively impact the surrounding neighborhood.”
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