Quality-of-life issues dominate council races in Prairie Village

03/24/2014 1:52 PM

03/24/2014 1:52 PM

The Prairie Village City Council could see a lot of new faces after the general city election April 1.

Four seats on the council are contested in this year’s election and an incumbent is running in only one of them.

Ward 1 incumbent Dale Warman is up against third-grade teacher Jori Nelson.

In Ward 3, Eric Mikkelson or Lauren Wolf will succeed Michael Kelly, who has moved out of the country.

In Ward 5, Charles Clark declined to run again. Dan Runion and Marc Baratta won a primary last month to face off for the seat.

And David Belz’s Ward 6 seat will be filled by either Terrence Gallagher or Paul Gorelick.

Balancing the tax base and spurring development in the landlocked city are main issues with all the candidates.

Ward 1

In Ward 1, Jori Nelson’s initial interest in the Prairie Village council began when she led a neighborhood opposition against Cingular Wireless building a substation in McCrum Park across the street from her house. Nelson said she saw first-hand that one person can make a difference.

She said Prairie Village’s major challenge is promoting responsible residential and commercial growth. She would follow the goals of the Village Vision while engaging the residents that surround any property is being considered for development by holding public meetings.

Prairie Village’s schools and parks make the city attractive to young families, she said. She would like to preserve green space as much as possible and work with residents on what kind of changes to parks they’d like to see. She said she believes a park plan could be an opportunity to provide the types of parks that people of all ages can value.

As a third-grade teacher in the Shawnee Mission School District, Nelson said she thinks there should be more communication between the school board and the city. She would like to see a school board formed on the City Council so the city can can be more proactive on issues involving schools.

Additionally she said citizens must ensure that elected officials are representing the citizens of Prairie Village. Over the past several years, there have been numerous instances where the interests of Prairie Village citizens were overridden in order to accommodate donors and friends of city leaders, she said.

Incumbent Dale Warman has served on the council since 2009 and is the current council president. He said he brings business experience and knowledge of how the city government works.

The city’s major hurdle is moving past some issues, like the Mission Chateau development, which he said have cast the city in a negative light. He said the city needs to focus on positives like schools, security and infrastructure to bring new families in.

Ensuring that property values are good and will continue to rise will be a major factor in bringing new families to the city. He said the city needs to build confidence in residents that their investment in a home is solid. Additionally he wants to make sure the city keeps a good balance between commercial development, which is vital to the tax base, and the needs and wants of residents.

Warman said the council will need to bond more, especially with new members coming on in April. While he doesn’t believe the council members should always vote the same, he said council needs to work together more and build teamwork.

Ward 3

In Ward 3, Eric Mikkelson said he would like to serve on the council to help the community secure a better quality of life. Lauren Wolf is also on the Ward 3 ballot but said she’s not campaigning and supports Mikkelson because he shares her goals.

On the council he would like to enhance parks, green spaces, walk and bike routes, recreation facilities and culture and arts projects. He said development should be smart and fit the character of the city. He said home renovation will strengthen neighborhoods.

Land use and development decisions will continue to be major issues challenging Prairie Village, he said. Mikkelson will seek a proactive and balanced approach with ultimate goal being to create solutions that enhance the quality of life for residents of all ages.

Finding new ways to partner with area schools, businesses, homeowners associations, community groups, neighboring cities and county, state and federal governments would benefit the public, he said. He also wants to find ways the city can innovate with new technologies.

Ward 5

In Ward 5, Marc Baratta wants to be the voice of the next generation of Prairie Village residents while respecting those who have lived in the city for decades. He said that he’s heard concerns that Prairie Village is seen as a retirement community, but he understands the city has a diverse population and serves people of all ages.

Baratta would like to improve public parks, make retail locations in Prairie Village regional destinations and work with festival committees to boost attendance at events like the Jazz Festival. He hopes that attracting shoppers and festival-goers from out of town would boost tax revenue.

Baratta lives near the Mission Chateau development and said it’s important for the City Council to stay involved with the developer, Tutera Group, as construction begins on the project. He said he would be proactive about talking to residents so he could make an informed decision based on the ward’s needs if a similar development comes up.

Dan Runion said he has been interested in running for a seat on the City Council for some time. Runion and his family have lived in Prairie Village since 1993. He believes his experience as a certified public accountant, an attorney and a community volunteer give him the necessary knowledge and skills to navigate the city’s issues and help negotiate resolutions.

Because a considerable amount of time and money was invested in developing the Village Vision, the city’s strategic investment plan, Runion said he’d like to see the city focus on adhering to the plan as much as possible. He said one of the tough issues the city will face is deciding if increased population density is the answer to boosting tax revenue. He said the city does a good job of maintaining infrastructure and public safety, and he would like to see that continue.

Had Runion been involved with the Mission Chateau project, he said, he would have asked more questions so he could be as informed as possible and to ensure that developers have quantitative proof that projects adhere to Prairie Village’s plan for redevelopment and land use and will improve the city. If elected, he said he would use that standard for any new development.

Ward 6

Terrence Gallagher would like to represent Ward 6 while being a strong voice for all residents of Prairie Village. The 19-year resident said he’s had career opportunities to move away, but has stayed in Prairie Village for the sense of the community.

Gallagher said he’s seen a lot of empty homes in Ward 6. He’d like the city to get involved somehow to make those properties more attractive to young families. Gallagher would like to see new families move into Prairie Village while attracting other development. That development should stay true to the characteristic of Prairie Village.

Also, Gallagher wants to make sure the city monitors its spending wisely. He said the city’s expenses should not be above the tax revenue.

As a member of the Village Vision steering committee and the 75th Street corridor study committee, he said he understands how important resident input is in making a decision. He plans to put resident opinions ahead of other interests.

Paul Gorelick, a Prairie Village resident since 1999, said the city has a diverse population and he wants it to continue to thrive. With starter homes and larger houses, he said the city should be an attractive place for young and old alike to live.

He said the city will have to decide whether several parcels of land remain residential only or if they can be rezoned for commercial use. Gorelick said because Prairie Village is heavily residential, the city will need to expand its commercial tax base. Doing so will help curb rising residential taxes while maintain a revenue stream. Properties like a spot on 75th and Mission and the Homestead Country Club are areas he said the city should study for redevelopment. He thinks mixed-use development would be good for the city as long as it blends in with the neighborhood.

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