A public hearing on a redevelopment plan for the deteriorating Westbrooke Village Shopping Center in Shawnee got briefly entangled in politics Monday night as city council members debated a hearing date on its proposed public financing.
At issue was a suggestion by council member Mike Kemmling that the council delay the hearing on the controversial plan until two new council members are seated in January. Ultimately the council decided to go ahead with the public hearing Nov. 13. That’s one week after voters choose two new people to represent wards three and four. Incumbents in both those wards were defeated in the August primary.
Council members blamed the problem on the election calendar, which was recently changed to put city elections in the fall instead of the spring. With the new calendar, city council members who lose in August will still keep their seats for six months until new council members are sworn in.
That happened to Brandon Kenig and Jeff Vaught, who lost their places to primary challengers this year. Kemmling suggested that since residents voted for a change, their replacements should be the ones to decide on what is becoming a controversial plan to put apartments and retail at 75th Street and Quivira Road.
The redevelopment plan is for 530 apartment units, 108,500 square feet of retail and a parking structure. The $113 million project would raise about $25.3 million from public financing — $5.6 million from a community improvement special sales tax of 1.5 percent within the taxing district and another $19.7 million from property and sales tax increments.
The decaying and mostly empty Westbrooke center has lately been marred by broken windows and graffiti. Even so, neighborhood opposition has grown. Neighbor Mike Pezza supported a delay in the hearing, saying nearby residents need more time to learn about the project.
Neighbors are also concerned about the scope of the project. Bernadette Coulter, who lives two blocks from the property, said the five-story building is too close to residences and that there are already too many apartments in the area. She and others also worried about the apartments boosting the crime rate.
During a strained discussion, council members debated whether a delay was justified. Council member Jeff Vaught and Stephanie Meyer argued that the exiting incumbents were all duly elected and that property owners shouldn’t have to wait months to get a verdict on their redevelopment project.
“I think it is a bad precedent to set that we are deciding that some projects rise to the level that we’re waiting for new council members. These folks here have been elected just like the rest of us and they should get to serve out the rest of their terms,” Meyer said. It’s not fair to the people who own the property, “that we’re going to just shut down government because it’s an issue that might be controversial.”
Mayor Michelle Distler also said she was uncomfortable with the idea.
“Why do we need to wait four months to have a public hearing? When do you choose who has more rights, the property owner or the resident?” she said.
Kemmling and council member Eric Jenkins voted against the Nov. 13 date.
“All I’m saying is maybe people want the views of the people that they’re going to elect to represent them,” Kemmling said.