The Buzz

Should KC reduce tax incentives for developers? Voters can weigh in this summer

Legacy Development plans to build a 12-story mixed-use tower at The Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist site

Legacy Development plans to build a new mixed-use space at the site of The Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist site at the Country Club Plaza.
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Legacy Development plans to build a new mixed-use space at the site of The Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist site at the Country Club Plaza.

When Kansas Citians head to the polls in June, they’ll have two key decisions to make about the city’s future.

Voters will, of course, be choosing their favorite of the two mayoral candidates that make it through the nonpartisan April primary. But they’ll also get to weigh in on a ballot item that would seriously limit the tax incentives the city grants developers through programs like tax-increment financing, or TIF.

City Council members took a procedural vote Thursday to place that question on the ballot.

The Coalition for Kansas City Economic Development Reform collected more than 2,300 signatures last year to put the proposal before voters through an initiative petition. The measure would cap at 50 percent the amount of property taxes the city can abate, exempt or redirect on property being redeveloped.

“We think this is an important issue that a lot of people don’t understand entirely that needs to be discussed more,” said Jan Parks, a spokeswoman for the coalition.

Tax incentives are currently capped at 75 percent for new projects and, for some, 37.5 percent in the later years under a policy sponsored in 2016 by Councilman Quinton Lucas, 3rd District at-large, a candidate for mayor.

There was some question raised by city staff about whether the initiative qualified for the June ballot because a calendar on the Missouri Secretary of State’s website makes no mention of June elections.

So when the initiative reached City Council for approval, it was slated for an August vote, which the petitioners, including Jan Parks did not want.

“We are very focused on wanting this to be part of the conversation as far as mayoral and council candidates, and so we felt it was important that it be on April or June so that it would be part of that discussion,” Parks said.

The council voted 11-1 in favor of an amendment moving the vote to June — and then 12-0 to put the initiative on the ballot.

Councilman Dan Fowler, 2nd District voted against the amendment. Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, 4th District at-large, was absent.

Members voted unanimously and without debate in favor of an ordinance adding a zoning overlay to the Country Club Plaza to cap building heights and restrict uses in the historic shopping district.

Plaza advocates turned out Wednesday to support the ordinance through the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee. Several property owners, including the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist, which could be torn down to make room for a 12-story mixed-use high rise where the congregation would be able to meet, fiercely opposed the ordinance.

One of Kansas City’s biggest developers, Block Real Estate Services, supported it.

Members held off on a debate about whether to require developers getting tax incentives for apartment projects to set aside some of their units as affordable to those making under the area’s median income.

But they passed an ordinance directing City Manager Troy Schulte to work on a plan to study “inclusionary zoning,” an affordable housing tool used in other cities that eases zoning restrictions or requires affordable units be set aside to encourage builders to address shortages of low-price housing.

Allison Kite reports on City Hall and local politics for The Star. She joined the paper in February 2018 and covered Midterm election races on both sides of the state line. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism with minors in economics and public policy from the University of Kansas.