Reassured by staff reports that the area can handle the traffic, Overland Park City Council members approved the BluHawk development for an arena, hotels and a satellite branch of the Cosmosphere space museum near 159th Street and Antioch Road.
The three votes on rezoning and special use permits for the development came after a lengthy public comment period from neighbors who were mostly against the arena, which was a relatively new aspect of the plan. The council chambers were packed with more than 100 attendees, some of whom had to stand or move into another room to watch on a monitor.
Council member Terry Goodman voted no all three times, saying he was disturbed at the prospect of what would happen to the development if the tourist attractions failed. He was the lone no vote on the 11-1 approval of the rezoning. He was joined by Councilman Jim Kite on a special use permit for hotels and by Kite and Council President Rick Collins on the special use permit that involved the arena.
A second public hearing was opened after the land use votes for input on boundaries for a sales tax revenue (STAR) bonds district. However that discussion was continued to July 11 because the city is waiting for word from state regulators on whether the area qualifies.
The entire BluHawk development covers a 300-acre area and includes a health care facility, homes, shopping and hotels. The action Monday involved about 117.5 acres in the northern part, where developers want to put a 7,500-seat arena and a branch of the Hutchinson-based Cosmosphere space museum.
The arena is intended as a home for the United States Hockey League, an amateur league that has been a recruiting ground for professional hockey. It could seat 6,000 for hockey, but its space could also be converted to include more seats for events such as concerts and graduation ceremonies.
At both the council meeting and an earlier planning commission meeting, many residents were adamantly opposed to the arena. Their chief concerns were that it would add traffic to U.S. 69, which is already becoming clogged during peak hours. Some also feared the arena would bring more drivers — possibly intoxicated — cutting through neighborhoods after hockey games and cause parking problems.
They also worried that the increased traffic would threaten the safety of inexperienced drivers at the nearby Blue Valley schools.
Kansas Sen. Molly Baumgardner was one of the first speakers against the proposal. Although the Kansas Legislature is also under the gun right now on school funding, Baumgardner said she’s received far more emails about the BluHawk development.
“Their concerns echo mine — safety,” she said, adding that the projected traffic increase of 57,000 cars per day could slow people down who are driving loved ones to the health care facilities in an emergency.
“This location was never a good fit for this type of project,” she said, urging the city to help the developer find another location for the arena.
There were some arena supporters in the crowd, however. Some who lived nearest the proposed arena said they preferred it to an earlier development plan that would have put 600 apartment units in the space.
Apartments would bring a higher level of traffic all the time, not just during events, they said, and would also crowd the school system. Plus, the residents would at least be able to get some use out of arena events, said Donald Montgomery, one of the nearby residents.
“If it’s 600 apartments crammed into the little space or an arena, I’m going to go with the arena all day long,” Montgomery said. “Nobody wants 600 units in their back yard.”
City staffers rebutted traffic concerns earlier in the meeting, saying the roads are well able to handle the extra capacity, given that the arena events are not daily and not usually during rush hours.
Neighbors could reasonably expect about 40 hockey games a year and 80 other events, with a typical start time of 7 p.m., said Jack Messer, director of the city’s planning and development services. Spillover parking at the school is unlikely, he said, because of the length of the walk to the arena.
“It’s not the Sprint Center, Royals Stadium or Arrowhead,” he said.
Police Chief Frank Donchez Jr. also told the council that a high crime rate is also unlikely. A comparable arena in Independence has seen 61 reported crimes in a five-and-a-half-year period, he said.
“Given the amount of events that is not surprising nor is it distressing,” he said.
Ultimately, the council majority decided to follow the staff recommendation to approve the rezoning and permits.
The council had expected to discuss boundaries for the STAR bonds district as well, but instead decided to continue the public hearing until they hear from the state whether the project qualifies.
The sales tax revenue (STAR) bonds are a special type of public financing that allows developers to use some of the proceeds from sales tax generated by tourist attractions to pay off some of the costs of building them. The bonds are intended for regional tourist attractions bringing in visitors from at least 100 miles away.
State regulators must sign off on STAR bond projects. The Kansas Commerce Commission has not yet issued a ruling.
In other action, the council briefly discussed a motion to rescind their recent approval of a rezoning for the Brookridge development near Interstate 435 and Antioch Road. Collins asked the council to rescind so it could change the building phasing plan. The motion failed 3-8, with Collins, Spears and Kite in favor.
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