Managing the once-in-a-generation opportunity that the Shawnee Mission School District’s purchase of the Entercom property in Westwood presents was at the top of candidates’ minds as they discussed the issues facing the city at a forum Tuesday.
Four of the six people running for the city’s governing body – incumbents Lisa Cummins and Jason Hannaman and candidates Jeff Harris and Thomas Scott — discussed Westwood View, the Woodside Village project, and the future of the 47th Street corridor, among other topics, at a forum hosted by the Shawnee Mission Post and the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce. Candidates Pam Merrigan and Jayme Tebow were absent.
The school district purchased the Entercom property, which has sat vacant for more than a decade, last March with the stated intent of using it as the site for a new Westwood View Elementary building. But the district has never presented a timeline for the project, and the departure of Superintendent Jim Hinson earlier this year added another layer of uncertainty to whether and how the district might proceed.
Harris, who ran for the city council last cycle and has served on the planning commission since, said that getting a new elementary built on the Entercom site was among his top priorities for the coming years. Hannaman noted that the current configuration of the Westwood View Building, with more than 20 entrances, was not ideal for security standards, and that he hoped to see the district be able to build a new facility without dislocating students from the current building for a school year or two. Scott said he was supportive of the idea of a new school on the property, but that he was cautious about the idea that the city should be able to tell the owner of a property what to do with the land.
There was broad consensus among the participants that changes were needed along 47th Street between Mission and Rainbow to improve pedestrian safety. Westwood, Kansas City, Kan., and Roeland Park have been meeting for years on ways they can collaborate to improve the corridor, which borders all three cities.
Cummins noted that she’d seen cars zipping around the intersection of 47th Street and Mission without paying attention to pedestrians standing on the sidewalk.
“It was very scary,” Cummins said. “The traffic goes by there very fast.”
Cummins said she supported the idea of a road diet to reduce the street from its current four-lane configuration and to allow for improved walkability, and idea Hannaman said he strongly supported as well. Harris said he was in favor of exploring options to make it easier and safer for pedestrians to get between the Northwood Shops and the Walmart Neighborhood Market, and that he’d like to look at reworking the road to allow for the inclusion of bike lanes.
The candidates also discussed the Woodside Village project. Hannaman said he believed it had been appropriate for the city to approve the plans and financial incentives for the project back in 2011 though he wasn’t sure if he would support it in today’s economic climate, and that the project was yielding significant financial benefits for the city and school district. Harris said that the prospect of a developer investing $105 million in a project in a city the size of Westwood was not to be discounted. Scott said that he was concerned that future phases of the project needed to “respect and enhance” neighboring properties.
Westwood’s council uses an at-large format, where residents can vote for up to three candidates each election cycle.