After years of false starts and steady resistance from neighbors, it looks like the southwest corner of Shawnee Mission Parkway and Maurer Road may finally become a retail shopping area.
The Shawnee City Council OK’d the public financing districts and a redevelopment plan July 10 after two hours of input from speakers who were mostly against the project. The council took separate votes on the plan and financing. Each vote was 6-3, with members Dan Pflumm, Eric Jenkins and Mike Kemmling voting against.
The $59 million Bellmont Promenade project promises 150,000-200,000 square feet of inline retail plus another 35,000-65,000 square feet on five to seven pads sites. A $19.5 million package is proposed for public funding including a special sales tax, tax increment financing and special property tax assessment.
Public financing for developments is relatively rare for Shawnee. While special taxing districts have become almost routine in other cities, Shawnee had only one active Community Improvement District before Monday’s vote.
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But developing that corner has long been at the top of the city’s to-do list. The rest of the intersection is occupied by the likes of Walmart, Lowes, Home Depot and Target, while for years the southwest corner has remained stubbornly free of retail.
The city’s hopes for the intersection have been crushed repeatedly. A 2007 plan for a Best Buy fell through, followed by the Shawnee Landing project, which fizzled in 2015.
The problems have been mostly to do with the topography. The area is hilly and rocky, making for extra costs to grade it and install a sewer. But the sewer plan, in progress since Shawnee Landing, received fierce objections from downhill neighbors who do not want to lose hundreds of trees and wildlife when the construction begins later this month.
Some of those neighbors showed up at the council meeting Monday. Marlin Cooper, who lives next to the 26-acre development site, said the construction runoff will destroy a pond on his property.
“I would beg that you don’t throw me under the bus for the sake of taxes,” he said.
Speakers objected to other aspects of the plan as well. Some said the public financing puts the city at risk and asked for “claw-back” provisions to get some of the investment back should the development not perform as hoped.
Don Lysaught, who lives in the area affected by the sewer line, questioned how well a retail center could do when stores all over the country are downsizing because of Internet pressure.
“I think the bang for the buck is not there and you’re spending our bucks,” he said. “We can do better than this. I’m very afraid we’ll wind up with more humdrum stores and a couple of fast food places.”
Others said the development will just be more of the same and that the city should try for “exceptional” development, perhaps including villas for senior housing.
The Community Improvement District calls for a 1.3 percent tax on sales in the area and a special property tax assessment, to raise about $9.3 million. Tax Increment Financing plans typically take a portion of the increase in taxes that are a result of development. In this case, the TIF takes 90 percent of the property tax increment plus an increment of the city general sales tax collected in the area. The district is expected to raise $10.2 million.
Not every speaker was against the plan. About a dozen teenagers stood at the back of the packed chamber for the full two hours, expressing support for closer jobs, restaurant and shopping options.
One of them, Ben Snyder, said later he organized the group to help family friend, Steve Beaumont, who owns the land to be developed. “It will definitely affect us now and 20 years from now,” Snyder said.
Others hoped the city’s encouragement of this development will provide a seed for bigger and better projects down the line. Leo Nunnink said the city won’t get the “exceptional” types of projects until it shows it’s willing to step up with support on other development.
His comments were echoed by City Council member Stephanie Meyer, who said her constituents in the western part of the city wanted more restaurants and lower property taxes.
“How does that happen? With projects like this. How does that happen? By broadening our business base,” she said.
However council members who voted no said they were philosophically opposed. “I don’t believe it’s the taxpayers’ job to fund private development,” Kemmling Jenkins said. “When you have this level of government involvement in private enterprise, it makes me really get cold sweats.”
Also at the meeting, the council approved the city’s 2018 budget. The city listed $80.7 million in expenditures with property taxes raising $23.1 million. The mill levy of 26.611 will remain the same as for the current year. A mill equals $1 of tax per each $1,000 of taxable value.