RED backs out of agreement to fund planning process for Mission Valley site, leaves PV consultant in limbo

Signs at Prairie Village City Hall on Monday informed visitors that the first of four planned focus groups had been canceled on account of RED Development backing out of its agreement with the city.

The real estate developer that closed its purchase of Mission Valley Middle School last week has backed out of an oral agreement with the city of Prairie Village to help fund a comprehensive planning process for the site — a move that puts the city’s planning timeline several months behind the original schedule and leaves one of the consultants named to lead the process in a lurch.

RED Development officially informed Prairie Village officials that it would not be contributing funding to the plan Monday after RED Managing Partner Dan Lowe and city officials had what attendees describe as a contentious meeting late last week.

RED spokesman Dave Claflin said the company’s decision came after Lowe became concerned about a perceived conflict of interest that could arise from his company paying for the public-input process.

“He thought there was a perceived risk of getting the kind of plan that was favorable to the kind of development we wanted to do, and then having people think that the results came out that way because we were paying for it,” Claflin said.

Consensus Consulting, the Prairie Village-based group that had been named as the lead organizer for the public-input part of the process, had already organized the first of the focus groups, and was forced to cancel them at the last minute.

Consensus’s Dan Blom said the group had begun scheduling the focus groups at RED’s urging.

“Since our first meetings, they were concerned about meeting a very tight timeline for public engagement to get a comprehensive plan change before the plan commission and council,” Blom said via email. “The timeline… necessitated that Consensus begin arranging public meetings immediately after council approval [on August 15]. The details of the public engagement plan were the subject of an August 18 meeting involving RED, Consensus Consulting and the city. No questions were raised about potential conflicts.”

It is unclear at this time whether Consensus will be able to collect fees for the work it did to schedule the focus groups.

The news of RED’s exit clearly flabbergasted members of the Prairie Village City Council Monday, with several noting that RED had been the one to suggest a joint arrangement for the comprehensive planning process in the first place.

Councilman Dale Beckerman, who was at the meeting with RED last week, said RED’s dealings with the school district leading up to the closure appeared to have soured.

“It was very clear that their relationship with the school district was not good,” Beckerman said.

Assistant city administrator Dennis Enslinger said the city was working to put together a new comprehensive planning process, and would bring a proposal before the City Council Oct. 3. Whatever process they come up with, he said, will include the same amount of public outreach as the plan originally agreed upon with RED.