Prairie Village City Council candidates on the issues: Teardowns, pedestrian access and Village Square

Jay Senter - October 31, 2017 6:25 pm

Fontana teardown
Based on input from our readers, we asked the candidates running for Prairie Village City Council to respond to four questions about issues facing the city. Here are their responses:

Teardown-rebuilds

Last year, the city adopted a series of design guidelines intended to address perceived issues with many of the teardown-rebuild home projects in the city. Do you think those guidelines are sufficient to address the concerns? If not, what additional steps should be taken?

Ward 1

Jori Nelson (incumbent)
Prior to becoming your City Council representative, I volunteered almost nine years on the Prairie Village Homes Association. We held many discussions regarding the new home builds in our area. In April 2015, a group of residents from the PVHA wanted to formalize design guidelines for rebuilds and renovations. It came to an impasse within the committee.

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In 2016, the City stepped in to help facilitate the creation of new building guidelines that addressed density and mass of the R1a (larger) lots and R1b (smaller) lots. The goal has always been to protect and respect the neighborhood character while also recognizing the changing lifestyles and demographics that are wanting to call Prairie Village home.

In February 2016, we held three public meetings to consider the residential building regulations. Approximately 50 constituents were in attendance and participated in a Q and A. I gained a sense of constituents’ thoughts and concerns by attending every meeting. The write-in entrant, a home builder, did not attend.

Phase One has been in place for more than a year. There have been many challenges that have become apparent that I believe need to be addressed. I would like to revisit the regulations that address mass and density of homes allowed on R1b lots.

I’ve heard from and responded to numerous residents’ concerns and complaints over the past three and one-half years regarding the teardowns and rebuilds among our neighbors and our neighborhoods. There have been many unforeseen issues that these new builds have brought into the neighborhoods as well. There must be a balance and respect for our neighbors and neighborhood while also attracting new families and the amenities that they are seeking. I support smart growth policies. I will always do my best to reflect the wishes of those I represent.

Dan Solenberger (write in candidate)
First of all, we all owe a huge thank you to Wes Jordan, the city manager, for taking on this issue. It’s a very emotional issue for many. He met with neighbors, architects, construction contractors, and city staff to understand the needs of all the people involved in this process. The new guidelines did restrict the scale, mass, and drainage issues and they may not be perfect, but it was a perfect compromise. In the absence of development, the homes that need to be torn down will not be. Many of the homes that have been torn down had major foundation issues that could not be effectively repaired. Without regulations that limit scale, mass, and drainage issues, new homes do not conform to the neighborhood and lack green space. Many of the tear downs were done by residents that had lived in the area for a long time and needed more space for an expanding family. Twenty years ago the only option was to move further south. With the newly built or expanded homes, families can stay and keep their life/family in Prairie Village (nearly every one of the new homes has two or more children). Fifteen years ago Prairie Elementary had dropped to less than 400 students (currently at 450 and growing) and Highlands Elementary had a similar situation. Not to say that Prairie or Highlands would have closed, but there certainly was a chance of an elementary school closure in the area. That is a circumstance none of us want. The area that needs improvement is the courtesy the contractors provide to the neighbors but construction does not need to come with mud, cigarette butts and poor language. The city also needs to do a better job of enforcing the work hours of construction companies, especially on the weekends. I believe with these new regulations, many families will stay in this area and/or many families will seek to move to Prairie Village – which will positively impact our city.

Ward 6

Terrence Gallagher (incumbent)
We should maintain the “village atmosphere” that is the hallmark of our city. We have a rich history and respect for a sense of neighborhood, family and involvement. I am committed to ensuring that Prairie Village remains a “front porch community” where our families enjoy and expect strong neighborhoods and high-quality services.

I continue to support phase 2 building development guidelines. This involves a group of Prairie Village resident architects and city staff developing a recommendation for sensible community and residential development. I am pleased to see residents step up and apply the knowledge of their practice to help our city resolve this challenge! As an architect, I know these professionals will approach this challenge from all sides in their recommendation. The criteria will address responsible size, proportional aesthetics and land use. The critical next step will be community meetings for residents to share their thoughts.

Current ordinance limits all structures to 30% of the lot coverage. This calculation includes detached garages, sheds and decks higher than 30 inches above ground. Although our current code is being enforced as written, development is being pushed to the extreme. When hard surfaces from drives, patios and walks are added, we start to lose balance on the property. We also need to be careful of water runoff so neighbors aren’t flooding each other, and creeks aren’t being overrun. Working with our Tree Board and City Planner, I requested the new requirements include landscape code to address this risk. Appropriate landscape requirements would help pull water into the ground and out of the street.

Prairie Village is not unique to growing and changing homes. In mature neighborhoods, homeowners often look to enhance or expand their homes. We just need updated guidelines to encourage homeowners to invest in their properties without adversely affecting their neighbors.

Scott Kramer
As a Realtor in the Kansas City Metro area for the last 11 years, I have been involved in many discussions about this topic. There were 3 meetings the city held to field questions and concerns about the city helping to address building guidelines. I feel the city made what they felt was the best decision in implementing phases to help regulate the teardown-rebuild projects in our city. There have been many discussions and meetings within the last year about residential lots. I believe there are issues that need to be discussed in the current phase to help facilitate the look and feel that Prairie Village residents have grown accustomed to, as well as not prohibit growth and property value. The end result needs to be something that will make the majority of the residents happy.

Bike and pedestrian infrastructure

Are you satisfied with the bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure in the city? If not, what steps would you like to see to improve it?

Ward 1

Jori Nelson (incumbent)
This has been a topic of discussion at the Council level since the Village Vision, our guiding master plan written and approved in 2007.
Responding to our residents’ desires we submitted, and in December received, a $65,000 grant from Mid-American Regional Council to assist us in the creation of a bicycle and pedestrian plan. It has allowed the City to begin working with TranSystems to create a comprehensive bicycle and pedestrian plan for Prairie Village.

In June, 2017 TranSystems led our first public meeting and open house. It was there that we gathered feedback from residents, local bicycle groups, and residents from the surrounding areas. I attended that meeting along with City staff, Council members, and TranSystem consultants and answered resident’s questions. The write-in entrant did not attend. We also offered our residents a “Meeting in a Box”. This unique concept allowed our residents to check out “boxes” that contained the same plans as presented at our open house. It allowed organizations an opportunity to view the plans in a group setting such as a homeowner’s association or neighborhood meeting. These plans were also available for residents to view on our website.

TranSystem consultants are going to present their plan to City Council in the coming months. After that presentation, there will be another public meeting to present recommendations of the study and gather final feedback before finalizing the study.
My hope is that the plan will focus on healthy lifestyle choices, greater connectivity to schools, parks, neighborhoods, and shopping areas, as well as surrounding cities. I’m certain that with the amount of public engagement, meetings, and opportunities to share resident’s thoughts and opinions we will have a plan that our residents will enjoy for generations to come.

Dan Solenberger (write in candidate)
One of the things I love most about Prairie Village is the friendly environment toward bicycles and pedestrians. I believe bike and pedestrian infrastructure could be improved with more bike lanes and better markings. Maybe when the city does the reconstruction of Roe Avenue it could look at adding a bike lane. This construction is scheduled for next summer on a substantial portion of Roe Avenue from 63rd Street to 71st Street. This construction will provide new gutters and the road is to be torn down to the base and completely replaced. This replacement will create a major traffic issue for some time in Ward One but is a much needed improvement for our city.

Ward 6

Terrence Gallagher (incumbent)
When I was elected in 2014, the Johnson County Parks and Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) maps showed a void for pedestrian and bicycle accessibility in Prairie Village. We knew Prairie Village needed a plan. When MARC approved our grant proposal for a feasibility study on such improvements, I requested assignment on the project.

I serve on the walkability and bike trail study, and we’re developing a plan to connect families with our parks, schools, library, and retail areas through walking or bike paths. Many of these paths will be existing sidewalks and streets which also contributes to fiscal responsibility. Walkability and bike-friendly paths promote healthier and happier Prairie Village families. Our goal is to encourage all our residents to enjoy all our city has to offer and to build upon our strong sense of community.

During pre-study development, I participated in a resident meeting at our Community Center, residents offered great ideas to consider. In addition, we made available “meetings in a box” so residents could take home the information for review. Our next step is to host additional neighborhood meetings for resident feedback on our progress.

Public works does an incredible job every year monitoring and maintaining our sidewalk program within budget. They also work with neighborhoods to update our sidewalk accessibility.

Moving forward with our pedestrian and bicycle path plans ties back to my “front porch community” philosophy. It offers Prairie Village residents opportunities for healthier lifestyles with connectivity across neighborhoods. I fully support the next steps to collaborate with residents on this “path.”

Scott Kramer
Our goal should always be to make Prairie Village the most walk-able and bike-able city in the area. It serves many goals the city strives for. The city has made some valiant efforts lately to help secure our city place in the topic cities for walkability and bikeability. The city received a $65,000 grant in MARC (Mid-America Regional Council) to help create a plan for bicycles and pedestrians within the city. I personally would love to see bike lanes placed on several of the busier streets to allow safe and healthy travel for the many bikers our city offers. There needs to also be continued talks about possibilities for walk trails throughout the city.

Village Square

Prairie Village has recently commissioned a study on a major renovation of Harmon and Santa Fe Parks that would include construction of a performance area and a new inclusive playground. Based on the consultants’ proposal, what are your thoughts on the idea for “Village Square”?

Ward 1

Jori Nelson (incumbent)
I like the concept of renovating Harmon and Santa Fe Parks with an inclusive playground. We’ve been renovating our parks since 2009 using our Parks Master Plan as a guide. Preserving and protecting our green space has been identified as a priority in our Village Vision by our residents. Village Square seems to do the opposite. Whether it’s in our parks, shopping centers, or neighborhoods, overdevelopment is a concern.

The Village Square concept was presented to us in April 2016. The presenting architect said that the proposed amphitheater could be constructed for under $1 million dollars. At our City Council meeting on October 2, a new concept was presented. What began as a concept for a small, permanent stage to host Jazzfest went from $480k in the Parks Master Plan to a $5.2M project. The write-in entrant didn’t attend.

I have many concerns. I’m concerned with the price tag. We don’t have the money available in our budget. I’m concerned there hasn’t been a discussion about how we would fund the project or any ongoing upkeep and maintenance cost that would be incurred. I’m concerned there hasn’t been a discussion about the impact it would have on future budgets. The consultant also stated that there wouldn’t be any major modifications made to the current proposal. Our residents haven’t had an opportunity for ANY input or discussion. In our contract, there are only two allotted residential meetings to gather feedback and information about this proposal. I don’t believe that a project of this magnitude can be decided at two meetings. I believe this should be an ongoing discussion with many opportunities for resident’s input. We must take care of our needs including addressing our resident’s flooding issues, streets, current infrastructure, and public safety before turning to our wants like Village Square.

Dan Solenberger (write in candidate)
When I first looked at the plans for Village Square, I loved it. A fixed stage would be an awesome asset not just for Prairie Village, but also for the entire Northeast Johnson County region. However, the reality of a $5.1 million expense becomes an issue. The Village Square project adds a play area, splash park and a fixed stage which is a considerable amount for these additions. With construction costs extremely high right now, my suggestion is to table this project until the next recession and get a new bid at that time. Maybe we could look at not moving the existing items around as there is no net gain to do so or maybe we could scale the project back. In my opinion, this seems like too much money at this time for the gain of a play area, splash park (that is right next to the Prairie Village pool) and a stage. It is also at a time when we are planning for another park for our city. We need to make sure we can complete what we already have committed to do.

Ward 6

Terrence Gallagher (incumbent)
“Village Square” depends on the opinions of “Village” residents. To that end, all Prairie Village residents are invited to public meetings on November 14 or 16, from 5-7 p.m. in the Community Center.

Harmon Park was last evaluated in the 2009 Parks Master Plan. At the Council’s direction, a new study was funded this year through the Economic Development Fund. The concept study develops a multigenerational park in the heart of our city center. As Parks and Recreation Chair, my role is to oversee the development of a thorough study without limitations on possible solutions. After community and Council input and vetting, we’ll begin discussions on possible implementation and funding, a matter in which Prairie Village residents should have a voice.

Village Square could create a focal point for our community, connect to our walkability plan and broaden opportunities to host a variety of community events. However, I am concerned that Village Square amenities address broad community wishes, that the funding is secured (requiring a resident vote) and that it would not be detrimental to other city parks

As Parks and Recreation Chair, my priority is ensuring parks meet our residents’ needs. At Harmon Park, the reconstruction of the deteriorating skate park and the playground upgrade are included in the current budget. I chaired the development of the 2018-2023 Parks Capital Improvement Plan that was approved by City Council. I visited with numerous families about their current park use and what they would like to see. This plan includes park enhancements within current budget. Beyond the physical aspects of parks, I’ve visited with the Johnson County Superintendent of Recreation about potential park programs that could be provided at no cost to the city. We have much to offer but must keep improving in a fiscally responsible manner.

Scott Kramer
The idea of renovating parks is nothing new to Prairie Village. The major issue I have with the current proposed plan to renovate Harmon and Santa Fe Parks is what started off as a great idea and a $1 million dollar idea has now become a $5.2 million dollar project that in my opinion might meet a few of the ideas that were presented it removes many parks of the park that people of the city enjoy. I personally like the idea of the parks having a dedicated performance area, bathrooms and playground, however, the idea that by adding those choices we would be losing parts of a much used skate park and Frisbee golf course do not add up to me. There has also been no discussions on how the funds for building and maintaining the update would be obtained.

Biggest challenge facing the city

What’s the biggest challenge facing Prairie Village right now, and what strategies should the city look at to address it?

Ward 1

Jori Nelson (incumbent)
We are extremely fortunate to be living in such an exceptional community. Currently, we continue to offer our residents the high-quality services and programs that they have come to expect, while maintaining the same mill levy (19.41) rate. We maintain quality streets, parks, infrastructure and public safety. We continue to receive accolades for our budget while maintaining our AAA bond rating. We have received numerous awards for being the best city to start a small business, Top 10 KC Suburbs for Young Professionals, Top Ten places to Retire in Kansas, and the safest City in Kansas.

I believe the biggest challenge facing Prairie Village right now is the property tax lid that was adopted by the Kansas Legislature in 2015. The tax lid was discussed at several of the 2018 budget meetings. The write-in entrant did not attend those meetings. This tax lid could seriously challenge the City’s ability to continue delivering services and providing capital infrastructure at the same levels as it has historically. We will eventually be forced to make major cuts in our spending which will affect the services and our capital infrastructure that we provide to our residents. It will have significant long-term consequences that will impact our budget and our residents for years to come. With the property tax lid plus stagnant or declining sales/use tax, plus placing wants (Village Square) over needs (streets, lights, sewers, police) will be a challenging scenario for the City in future years.

Over the past two years, Council and city staff have worked diligently to address this issue. We’ll continue to work closely with our local State representatives as well as the Kansas League of Municipalities that represent us in Topeka. I’ll continue to be mindful of how your tax dollars are spent while representing you at City Hall.

Dan Solenberger (write in candidate)
The City of Prairie Village is a very well-run city with many dedicated employees that are providing desired city services. I do very strongly believe that I would be a much better choice for facilitating a community that works together than a community that is torn apart. Compromise and the ability to see another’s point of view is critical to our democracy. I also promise to work with the other members of the council and when we agree to disagree that it is professional and not a three-day drama filled Facebook event. At the council level over the past few years the ability to disagree at a professional level and the ability to work as a group has decreased. That is a problem. Prairie Village is not Topeka or Washington D.C. Our politics should reflect the fact that we are neighbors separated only by blocks. With a little PV polite conversation and compromise, I think our differences are simple to solve. I ask you to write me in on November 7th.

Ward 6

Terrence Gallagher (incumbent)
In my tenure as councilmember, the deterioration of “home rule” of local government has continued to handcuff city governance. State mandates prevent city government from making decisions responsive to local communities. For example, the state legislature removed our ability to determine the impact of concealed carry on our residents’ public safety. We need to partner with our representatives in Topeka to respect and include the judgment of local officials on behalf of our residents.

We are fortunate to have two strong demographics in Prairie Village. MARC estimates that the “age in place” Boomer residents will be equal in population to the Millennials (both at 40%) by 2020. This presents a great opportunity to respond to and meet the needs of these diverse groups. My work on Parks and Recreation centers on programs and facilities for all residents to experience city benefits and remain within this community.

Building growth in our neighborhoods is raising property assessments. Council needs to evaluate how to keep tax rates levied by Johnson County in check for our residents while still maintaining the infrastructure our residents expect. For example, 30% of city roads are in fair-to-poor condition every year. Both considerations deserve appropriate attention.

I respect the diversity of opinion in Prairie Village. I have met with so many residents on such a range of city issues. Ultimately, someone may be disappointed in final votes on specific matters, but I am proud of the time, discussion and contemplation I have given every issue before me. Further, with Council meetings being broadcast in 2018, residents have even greater chance to participate in city process.

I have been an active volunteer in Prairie Village for more than 20 years. I am personally and professionally invested in our community and would welcome the opportunity to continue my service.

Scott Kramer
I believe the biggest challenge that Prairie Village faces currently is the ability to provide the current services it does with the tax cap that was placed by Legislation. The city is going to need to do a much better job at budgeting what services it can provide.

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