Faris Farassati became Overland Park’s newest city council member Monday, filling the vacancy created when John Skubal resigned last month.
The council appointed Farassati to represent Ward 5 until January, 2018. The seat will be on the ballot in the regular council elections this November.
Farassati was one of seven applicants for the job. The pool was reduced to Farassati and Nicole Novak after interviews by a special committee consisting of Mayor Carl Gerlach, Council President John Thompson and Terry Goodman, chairman of the council’s Finance, Administration and Economic Development committee.
Novak is an account manager at a marketing company who is currently on the city’s citizen advisory committee for Community Development Block Grants.
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Farassati is a cancer research scientist at the Kansas City Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a former associate professor at the University of Kansas Medical School. His specialty is research on novel anti-cancer therapeutics.
The committee chose Farassati to send to the full council for approval.
The council accepted the committee’s recommendation and Farassati was sworn in Monday.
“You have formed such a coalition of good will,” he said of the council. “I hope and pray it goes up to the state level.”
Ward 5 covers the east-central part of the city.
The council on Monday also decided to approve tax incentives for the Avenue 81 development in the city’s downtown and OKed an earth-moving operation for the BluHawk development south of 159th Street.
The Avenue 81 decision gives the developer EPC Real Estate an exemption on sales tax for construction and furnishings for the building. The agreement would exempt the developer from about $1.5 million in sales tax on $17 million in expected purchases. The city would forgo $190,000 for its share of those taxes.
In return, the developer will pay $200,000 toward a pedestrian crossing on Metcalf Avenue.
The development was resurrected after failing a month ago and has been stalled as council members debated whether the incentive fits in with the city’s public financing philosophy. Some of that debate continued Monday before getting unanimous approval.
Goodman decided to support the plan this time because the developer’s payment for the crossing roughly equaled the amount of a tax break it will get, he said. However, he still had reservations about whether the incentive is right for the downtown area, now that redevelopment there has gained momentum.
“This approval sets a very low bar and the council will, going forward, have to deal with the question of when, if ever, do we say no,” he said.
Council member Curt Skoog disagreed.
“We’ve been waiting for over 50 years for downtown Overland Park to do something. Now we’re seeing action downtown and I think now is the time for us to tell the development community we’re open for business, not issue warnings,” he said.
Avenue 81 is a mixed-use development on the northeast corner of 81st Street and Metcalf Avenue. It would be a predominantly four-story building, with first floor retail and residential apartments. The developer plans 11,078 square feet of retail and 157 residential units, which would be a mixture of independent senior living and assisted living spaces.
Later, after an extended discussion, the council unanimously approved a plan to transport dirt for construction of the BluHawk development at 159th Street and Antioch Road.
The special use permit allows Price Commercial Realty to move dirt from 101 acres of land at the southeast corner of 167th and Hardy Streets. Neighbors concerned about dust, noise and traffic from the dump trucks had filed a protest petition against the project. However, no neighbors spoke at the meeting.
The grading project would bring intensive truck traffic over the four-month period it is expected to be in use. All told, 10,000 to 13,000 truckloads would be required to move about 200,000 cubic yards of dirt over the four months.
The council’s decision to allow the permit hinged on the truck route. City staff had recommended the trucks go up U.S. 69 to get their loads from the grading site at 167th Street to the development at 159th Street. But council members were concerned about getting the developer to pay for street damage, since it would be difficult to prove the damage was caused by the trucks alone.
Instead, the council accepted Price’s offer to repair or replace the street without requiring proof they caused the damage if the hauling route was changed to the smaller Lowell Avenue, which takes a more direct route. Although that street has three roundabouts, Price’s attorney John Petersen said the company is confident that the hauling would not ruin the street. He added that it is in the company’s interest to leave the area in good condition, since the street serves an area Price is developing.
The council also limited hauling hours from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Petersen said Price owns the land it is getting the dirt from and hopes to eventually develop it. The company will scrape off the topsoil and replace and reseed it after the construction dirt is removed.