Proposed taxing district for streetcar extensions shrinks

05/15/2014 4:38 PM

05/15/2014 4:38 PM

The next round of Kansas City streetcar tracks probably will not reach all the way south to Brookside after all.

Vocal opposition to that extension flared up in recent months, and on Tuesday an advisory committee recommended that a proposed streetcar taxing district not include Brookside or Waldo.

The committee also recommended that a special property tax assessment apply only to property owners within a third of a mile of the streetcar extensions, instead of a half mile as earlier envisioned.

The City Council will vote on those and other recommendations Thursday.

The recommendation to exclude the southwest corridor from the next phase of streetcars — based on cost as well as community opposition — prompted both cheers and laments after Tuesday’s meeting.

Brookside resident Charlotte Rinehart said it was a recognition that many in the neighborhood didn’t want streetcars and that the system should go to parts of the city where residents actually need and ride mass transit.

“I am very pleased that they listened to the people,” Rinehart said. “I think many people will be happy that it is going where it will be utilized.”

But Chris Lewellen, who co-owns The Well and Lew’s Bar and Grill in Waldo, was disappointed, even though the smaller taxing district means his businesses wouldn’t be subject to the higher taxes.

“I saw the great potential,” he said of getting the streetcar south of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. “Especially Waldo would have benefited from it.”

This week’s recommendations were in preparation for Jackson County court hearings April 1 and 2 to consider the legality of the proposed streetcar taxing district. If the court approves, people living within the taxing district boundaries will consider a 1-cent sales tax increase and property tax assessments in elections later this year.

The key recommendations of the NextRail KC Advisory Committee on Tuesday were to approve three extensions to the existing downtown streetcar starter line:

• Independence Avenue, for 2.2 miles, east to Benton Boulevard.

• Linwood Boulevard, 1.8 miles, to Prospect Avenue.

• Main Street, 3.56 miles, to the northern end of UMKC, about 51st Street.

Planners said that would add nearly 8 miles of track to the 2.2-mile downtown starter line. It would cost an estimated $472 million. The system also would include 9 miles of a Prospect Avenue MAX bus rapid transit line, from 75th Street north to 12th street, at a cost of $43 million. The total cost would be $515 million.

“We are trying to reweave the urban fabric of Kansas City,” said Vincent Gauthier, director of planning with BNIM Architects.

City Councilman Russ Johnson, who has been the council’s point person on streetcars, said city officials think they can get the federal government to pay half the cost — a $250 million federal grant — even though that would be the largest federal grant the city has ever received. But to get that, the city has to come up with half the cost in local funding, and the proposed taxing district does that.

Attorney Doug Stone said the earlier proposed taxing district involved extending a streetcar line through Brookside and Waldo, possibly to 85th Street.

But Stone, who will represent the City Council in the streetcar petition before the court, said the cost of building that extension far exceeded available local and federal funding sources. Plus, it ran into significant community resistance. So Stone said planners now propose that the taxing district boundaries extend south along Main Street only to UMKC.

Stone said the reduced boundaries still provide the tax base necessary to generate the money needed to pay the local match for the streetcar and Prospect MAX lines. The property tax assessments would apply to people living within three to four blocks of the streetcar extensions because those property owners are deemed to get the greatest economic development benefit from the lines.

At Tuesday’s meeting, several East Side advocates questioned whether extending the taxing district east all the way to Interstate 435 poses an undue burden to many low-income residents.

Planners responded that the streetcar extensions and Prospect MAX both benefit the East Side, so the taxing district needs to extend east as well. And East Side voters will have a say in whether to tax themselves in elections planned in August and November.

Dwayne Williams, president and CEO of the 12th Street Heritage community development corporation, said it’s imperative that the Independence and Linwood lines go farther east, preferably to Van Brunt, to assist all the people using mass transit.

Planners said they may be able to accomplish that goal if the city can identify other creative funding sources, or if Jackson County’s commuter rail proposal becomes reality.

The City Council will hold a meeting at 9 a.m. Thursday in the 26th floor council chambers of City Hall, 414 E. 12th St., to consider the advisory committee’s streetcar recommendations. A formal City Council vote is expected at the 3 p.m. legislative meeting Thursday.

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