By Roxie Hammill
Neighbors of Downtown Overland Park filled the house last night to object as the City Council moved the Edison office and entertainment project farther down the pipeline for final approval. Some 21 people spoke, many of them asking the council to delay approval of the $48.5 million project for a year so parking and traffic issues could be more closely studied.
After three-and-a-half hours of discussion, the council decided to create a Tax Increment Financing district for the project. But a vote on the final development plan and further discussion of the TIF specifics by the full council won’t happen until May 7.
The Edison project envisioned by Freightquote founder Tim Barton, would set a five-story office and retail building and two-story restaurant building at the southwest corner of 80th and Marty Streets. Between them would be a courtyard with outdoor seating and a large TV screen at one end for public viewing events.
The oldest part of the Overland Park Presbyterian Church would remain near that lot, but a newer wing would be razed for the project.
Also included is a four-level parking garage and a 37-space surface parking lot that could double as event space. The parking garage will mainly serve workers in the 109,000-square-feet of office space, but some parking will be available to the public in the off hours, said John Petersen, the attorney representing the developer. That parking is a pivotal piece to a controversial plan to move the farmers market to a nearby park.
Many of the speakers at the public hearing questioned the ability of downtown streets to handle the traffic that will come from Edison and all the other apartments going up near downtown. The 3.3-acre Edison development sits near The Vue, Market Lofts and Avenue 80, making it some of the most densely developed land yet in Overland Park.
“We’ve got four apartment complexes, we’ve got a five-story office building coming in. Have we done a traffic study? No. It’s a six-square-block area. Of course there’s going to be trouble,” said neighborhood resident Kelly Morrow.
His sentiments were echoed by Judy Henry. “We have overbuilt and we don’t know what the ramifications are going to be,” she said.
Several other residents were also skeptical that the streets could handle traffic during peak times for commuting and during events. The additional traffic from the booming downtown area has already made crossing streets such as 79th Street perilous for walkers, said Pam Cowan.
Another neighbor, Joan Norman, said any emergency that blocks the streets – such as a fender bender or ambulance and fire trucks – could end up causing gridlock.
“All of this breaks up the harmony and the smooth relationship of that whole neighborhood,” she said.
Although Petersen pledged that there would be proper security to insure a wholesome atmosphere, some others worried that the noise and people from events would undermine the home-town feel of downtown.
“It feels like everything I’ve known since I was 6 years old is being torn apart,” said Sandy Siecgrist, who lives nearby.
Phil Gelpi also was skeptical of the need for an entertainment venue downtown.
“If I wanted entertainment I’d go to Prairie Fire, Corbin Park, Lenexa, Power and Light,” he said. “Those places were built on large masses of land that was designed for it. Not something that was shoehorned in.”
Two people spoke in favor of Edison. Both were involved in other downtown developments. Jon Birkel of Hunt Midwest Development said he believes his project, The Vue, has ample parking and that Edison has the potential to ease parking problems for the Farmers Market. Hal Shapiro, co-owner of the InterUrban Lofts, said the density in the area will help downtown merchants.
In a presentation beforehand, city staff pointed out that density is called for in the vision of that area, as are buildings of two or more stories. The hope is that people in the apartments will be able to walk downtown for shopping, entertainment and perhaps jobs at the new office building.
City council members did not commit themselves on the overall development plan, but asked questions about proposed design deviations for the garage set-back and first floor of the office building. They voted unanimously to continue the hearing so the plan could be discussed along with the public financing.
“There are still a lot of moving parts that need to be nailed down,” said councilmember Dave White.
Creation of the TIF district also does not commit the city to tax incentives. That will happen after the council’s finance committee gets a look at the developer’s funding proposal. Petersen said the developer eventually will ask for a community improvement taxing district as well as economic revenue bonds to help with sales tax on equipment.
The council needed three separate votes to define the TIF district. Each of those votes was approved 10-2, with new council members Gina Burke and Logan Heley voting against. Burke said she voted no because she believes the project would be viable without public financing.