After a sometimes contentious public hearing and two years of scrutiny, the Overland Park City Council voted just after midnight Tuesday morning 7-4 to rezone the 131-acre Brookridge Golf and Fitness Club site near Interstate 435 and Antioch Road for a 5 million square foot redevelopment project of office, residential, retail and entertainment space.
The project first proposed in 2014 by Curtin Property Co. was controversial from the start, with neighbors dreading the loss of the green space and the increased traffic to be generated by 2,076 apartments, 1.84 million square feet of office space, 251,000 square feet of retail space, a 650-seat movie theater and 500 hotel rooms, not to mention a 3,500-seat performance venue.
The council rejected the rezoning at its March 14 meeting on a 10-1 vote, sending it back to the Planning Commission and triggering a lawsuit by the developer. After some negotiations with the city, Curtin pledged to drop the suit and won approval of the Planning Commission at its May 9 meeting.
That set up the council meeting that began Monday night and featured more than four hours of testimony, including remarks by more than two dozen neighbors, all but one of whom spoke against the proposal.
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There was talk of phasing, stipulations, “speculative” street improvements, character, quality, vision, flood plains and legal precedents. Opponents decried the project’s density and the alleged “gerrymandering” by the developer to prevent a valid protest petition. Had the protest petition been validated, the rezoning would have required a supermajority vote of the council to pass.
Former Overland Park Mayor Marvin Rainey spoke of “the elephant in the room … the $600 million in subsidies” the developer has said he would seek from the city in the form of Tax Increment Financing, STAR (Sales Tax Revenue) bonds and a Community Improvement District “to help him pay for it.”
At one point, Mayor Carl Gerlach threatened to have an audience member removed from the council chamber for laughing derisively at a comment.
Much of the council members’ comments centered around the phasing discussion. According to commitments the developer made to win the Planning Commission’s approval, work on each of the project’s three phases will be tied to road improvements.
Curtin will have to buy a dozen residential properties on the east side of Antioch Road south of 103rd Street in order to widen Antioch between Interstate 435 and 103rd Street to eight lanes, plus add right-turn lanes in three of the four directions at the intersection.
The third and final phase of development will require Curtin to revamp the interchange at I-435 and Antioch to handle the increased traffic from the office buildings on the south side of the former golf course.
Attorney John Petersen, representing Curtin, admitted the developer “push(ed) a little too far on certain aspects” with its initial proposals. But he said that through the process to date, by meeting with neighbors and city officials and scaling back various portions, “the goal truly was to find a consensus.
“We wanted to avoid building some offices, a strip center and some garden apartments,” Petersen said. “This project is designed to embrace Vision Metcalf,” the city’s long-term plan for the Metcalf Avenue corridor.
“Let’s be respectful to the people already in the area, but let’s do it by creating a viable, walkable community where people can work and play and recreate,” Petersen said.
At the end of the evening, Councilman Terry Goodman spoke in favor of the rezoning request, saying that change was bound to come to golf course land, that density is in the eye of the beholder and that traffic concerns were being adequately addressed.
Councilman Curt Skoog also spoke in favor, saying to opponents, “I see a major investment in your neighborhood. I think it will increase the value of your homes.”
Councilman David White opposed the rezoning, saying the plan had been improved, “but it’s not good enough.”
But when the final vote on the rezoning was taken, White was in the minority, joined by council members Fred Spears, Terry Happer Scheier and Jim Kite in opposition. Although he did not recuse himself, as he has in some past discussions, Gerlach did not vote on the rezoning because there was no tie to break. Councilman John Skubal recused himself, citing a conflict of interest.
In a work session before the main council meeting, the council voted to authorize a letter to Shawnee Mission School District Superintendent Jim Hinson taking issue with certain aspects of the district’s proposed TIF policy designed to lessen the affects of the tax incentives on the school district.
When a city grants a developer a TIF, the district potentially loses property tax revenues. Because of that, Kansas law gives counties and school districts the right to veto TIFs. The district’s proposed policy says the district would “more favorably consider TIF redevelopment district proposals that (a) contain a sunset provision; (b) specify an ad valorem tax impact of fifty percent or less; (c) rely on sales tax rather than ad valorem taxes; or (d) provide that excess revenue is to be captured to pay debt, with the TIF retired as early as possible.”
The school district had asked for a response to its proposed policy from all cities within the district and will vote after gathering the feedback.
Overland Park’s main objection, in a letter still to be finalized by City Manager Bill Ebel, was the proposed limit on the amount of increased property taxes that could be devoted to the developer within a TIF district.
“We are very much concerned that the proposed TIF policy appears to set a limitation of an ad valorem tax increment of fifty percent (50%) or less,” the draft reads. “Based on our limited number of active TIF public-private partnerships in the City, we believe that the 50% limit may not provide enough financial flexibility and will discourage redevelopment. More specifically, the limitation may make it economically unfeasible for the vast majority of proposed projects.”