Shawnee Mission board declines to exercise veto power over Brookridge TIF project

Attorney Fred Logan said the district's TIF review committee could not prove significant adverse impact on the district's finances.
Attorney Fred Logan said the district’s TIF review committee could not prove significant adverse impact on the district’s finances.

Developer Curtin Property Group’s plans for a massive new multi-use development on the site of Brookridge Country Club passed one of its biggest early obstacles Tuesday as the Shawnee Mission School Board decided against exercising its veto power over the creation of a Tax Increment Financing district for the project.

Based on state statute, both the Shawnee Mission School District and the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners — bodies that represent taxing entities that could be adversely affected by such public financing mechanisms — have a 30 day window after a city’s approval of the creation of a TIF district to veto the measure. The Overland Park City Council approved the creation of a TIF district for Brookridge on Dec. 19, with the developer indicating it would ultimately seek more than $600 million in public financing incentives, including $306 million in TIF funds.

The Shawnee Mission district developed a formal policy for reviewing and making recommendations on TIF projects shortly after the Meadowbrook park and mixed-use development TIF districts were approved by the city of Prairie Village in the fall of 2015. The Brookridge district was the first TIF application that had come before the board since its formal policy was put in place.

A recent rendering of part of the project proposal for Brookridge.

Attorney Fred Logan of Prairie Village-based Logan Logan & Watson, L.C., who helped lead the district’s review of the TIF district proposal, told the board of education at a special meeting Wednesday morning that the TIF committee had concluded it could not prove substantial adverse impact on district finances based on the current school funding mechanism.

Logan and Superintendent Jim Hinson stressed that the district was legally required to focus only on the potential effects of the project on the district’s finances — not on the project’s planning and zoning implications, which have proved controversial among Overland Park residents. Hinson said that given the current school funding laws, which restrict the addition of funds to the district’s operational budget even when overall property valuation in the footprint rises, it was not possible to prove financial harm.

“Whether there is the TIF in place or not in place, we do not draw additional operational dollars from this project,” Hinson said. “Therefore how do you determine adverse effect for operational purposes?”

But, Hinson said, the expected rewrite of the state’s school finance formula could alter the calculations on consideration of future TIF applications.

“What that formula will look like in comparison to this issue, we simply do not know,” Hinson said.

Board member Cindy Neighbor spoke out against the TIF project, saying that there were too many unknowns for her to be comfortable with it moving forward. Fellow board member Deb Zila said during the proceedings that it was important for the public to understand the district has a vary narrow role in the process.

“I think a lot of the community is looking for us — the calls, the emails we’ve received — to kind of be the white knight,” she said. “To come through, disapprove, veto power, whatever you want to call it for this project. But actually our laser focus on this has to be on the financial impact on the district.”

County Commissioner Michael Ashcraft, whose district starts just to the west of the project site, attended Wednesday’s special meeting. He said after the proceedings that he did not expect the county commission to discuss vetoing the Brookridge TIF district during the 30-day window. Ashcraft has been a frequent critic of developers’ reliance on public financing mechanisms like TIF, but said he has found little support for the idea of vetting the proposals among his fellow commissioners.

Ashcraft noted that in an article in the Kansas City Star last year, Curtin had been quoted as describing Brookridge as “the hottest piece of real estate in Johnson County.”

“So this is the hottest piece of real estate in Johnson County, and it’s needing a substantial, broad and deep tax break in order to be developed,” he said. “If the hottest piece of property in Johnson County needs a tax incentive — a broad, deep tax incentive — to develop, then just imagine what all the other properties need. And if all the other properties get a tax break, then…who pays for the services of Johnson County?”

Ashcraft said he thought tax incentive tools could be valuable in the right situations. But in an environment where the county is struggling to fund mental health, intellectually and developmentally disabled, and aging services, he questions why TIF would be granted to redevelop such an attractive swath of land.

The TIF review committee was comprised of Logan, Hinson, Zila, Deputy Superintendent Kenny Southwick, and district Chief Financial Officer Russell Knapp. Logan said they worked with both the city and the developer to gather information about the planned project and then conducted an independent review of the how the TIF district might impact district finances.