The proposed Meadowbrook park and housing development lives on today after members of the Shawnee Mission school board backed away from a possible veto of the public financing.
In a special meeting at 7:30 a.m., board members discussed whether they should object to a tax increment financing district on the property proposed by Prairie Village. An objection would have killed the deal.
Superintendent Jim Hinson told board members he would not recommend a veto of the financing because of two events during the past week: a written pledge that the district would be dissolved if the park was paid off early and a verbal agreement that the county park district would be an educational partner, perhaps with an environmental lab at the new park.
Hinson’s opinion came with a warning, however. He noted that the number of new developments in the 14 cities the district touches have similar financing arrangements. That will drive up enrollment and put a strain on the district’s budget, he said.
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“Everyone needs to understand that when you have development and additional students and additional demand for services there has to be a revenue stream,” he said.
“This is going to be on your plate in the future: We either increase class size and dilute services to students or we will have to go back to the community and ask for a tax increase,” Hinson said.
Tax increment financing, known as TIF, is a vehicle for taxing bodies to help pay for development. In a TIF district, the governmental body agrees to use future tax revenue in a specified area to pay off part of the development costs. In this case, the TIF money is to be used to buy a big part of the development for park land.
Cities can set up the special financing districts but school boards and the county can veto the district because they would also lose out on that tax revenue.
Ultimately, school board members agreed to allow the financing arrangement by adjourning without a vote. State law does not require a yes vote for tax increment financing to advance. The adjournment was followed by a smattering of applause from some of the 65 people attending. There was no public comment period.
Several board members said they’d support the Meadowbrook plan and one board member — Brad Stratton — apologized for the “angst” that the discussion caused supporters of the plan. The meeting was held on the last day of a one-month window the district has in which to object.
It was the second time the board has met to discuss whether to veto a tax increment financing district. The last time was about three months ago, with the Brookridge development in Overland Park. Both discussions effectively put cities on notice that the school district’s support cannot be assumed in future development plans with the same type of public financing deals.
The Meadowbrook development calls for senior housing, luxury apartments, single-family homes and a hotel on the southern part of the 132-acre property, which was formerly a golf and country club. The upper portion would be bought by Prairie Village and turned over to the county park district to maintain.
The Meadowbrook park would be the largest in that part of the county, surpassing Loose Park in Kansas City in area. The idea has been popular with residents, said Prairie Village Mayor Laura Wassmer during a recent school board meeting.
Some school board members referenced that public support in comments about emails they’ve received since questioning the project at their Sept. 28 meeting.
School board member Cindy Neighbor said the board was only trying to watch out for the district’s interests in questioning the TIF.
“We have 14 cities we cover and if every city came to us and wanted to purchase a park along with something else they were doing we couldn’t sustain what we’re doing for kids,” Neighbor said. “It’s important that those who wrote letters and emails understand they shouldn’t be flabbergasted,” when the board is trying to do its due diligence, she said.
Deputy Superintendent Ken Southwick agreed.
“We don’t want to be anti-development but we don’t want to wake up some day 20 years from now when the dollars would have begun to flow … to find out we have crumbling infrastructure and that our families have decided to more to other parts of Johnson County,” Southwick said.
Hinson said his decision not to ask for a veto came partly because the city of Prairie Village gave written assurance that it would not keep the TIF going after the park is paid off. City officials have said they expect the park to be paid for before the 20 years the financing calls for, but Hinson and others questioned whether the city could continue to use TIF funds for other expenses.
He also said county park officials have said they’d be willing to collaborate with the district on educational uses for the parks.
Hinson mentioned a possible environmental lab for students at Meadowbrook, but there were no other specifics.
Park district director Jill Geller, who attended this morning’s meeting, said the district has agreed to carry on collaboration. Park property currently is used for some school cross-country and golf programs, as well as before- and after-school programs, she said.
Work on the Meadowbrook project is far from over. The developers, VanTrust Real Estate, have submitted preliminary plans and there will still be public hearings on the financing in the weeks to come.
Roxie Hammill: firstname.lastname@example.org.