A congratulatory city council gave its blessing Monday night to a revised Edison development plan that puts a five-story office and retail building and a four-level parking garage in the heart of Overland Park’s downtown.
The council unanimously approved a final development plan for the southwest corner of 80th and Marty Streets, saying they were enthusiastic about the sparkle the development will bring, despite an uptick in traffic.
“I know it’s going to be a mess for a while, but I think once it’s completed we’re all going to be happy,” said councilmember David White.
Others recalled years past when old downtown was in economic trouble. They said the development there now is the result of savvy city planning that emphasizes a variety of uses. “This is what we wanted to happen,” said councilmember Curt Skoog.
The Edison District project came to the council Monday night with significant changes from the original plan, which was controversial with neighbors. Developers redesigned the exterior in response to residents who wanted it to be more compatible with old downtown’s style. They also reduced the food court area from two stories to one, removed a big-screen TV from the outdoor courtyard and added a level to the parking garage, increasing the number of spaces by 100.
The development adds shared public parking in the garage during non-business hours. Council members have been keen to solve the tight parking situation downtown, especially during Farmers Market days.
Much of the discussion Monday focused on a traffic analysis by the city staff. The study looked at how the Edison project could affect traffic at nearby intersections on Metcalf Avenue. Although Metcalf is congested and close to its capacity during the peak drive times, the street system overall has more than enough capacity to handle traffic, said Jack Messer, director of planning and development services.
“There’s plenty of capacity downtown to handle not only the traffic we have today but any we might generate,” he said.
Metcalf runs slow during two peak hours of the day, he said, but fine the rest of the time.
Intersections at Marty Street and Overland Park Drive would only have an additional two cars a minute but any queue would be eased by the traffic lights at 79th or 80th Streets, he said.
Since some people will be walking from Edison to their homes in nearby apartments, traffic will be lighter than it would have been if there weren’t also residences nearby, Messer said. The plan is to create a space that’s as safe for pedestrians as drivers, he said, and fast-moving traffic is dangerous for pedestrians.
However councilmember Faris Farassati expressed doubts about the additional traffic and possible slowdowns. “Is the staff’s typical point of view that we cannot have a lively, walkable, family-friendly, very alive downtown without a traffic jam?” he said. Farassati said heavy, slow-moving traffic would harm the quality of live for residents and is more characteristic of the 1980s than it should be today.
Others on the council disagreed. “Traffic is a sign of economic activity,” said Skoog. “If there’s no traffic, nothing’s going on.”
The Edison project adds Class A office space to downtown, bringing the “work” element to the “live, work, play” philosophy the city has lately adhered to in developments.
“This is going to be that one puzzle piece that we need to get people to downtown Overland Park during the day,” said councilmember David White, “because that’s how the restaurants and stores survive.”
For opponents, the project’s approval is “a hard pill to swallow,” White said. “We’re looking for change, folks, so the city can survive and thrive in the next century…We cannot live in the 1960s.”
There was no public comment portion at Monday’s meeting, but the council set a July 9 for public hearings on the project plan and consideration of a special taxing district to help pay development costs.
Although Edison had the wind at its back on the development plan, there may be more resistance to its proposal for a community improvement sales tax district.
Council members Paul Lyons, Fred Spears and Logan Heley said the CID petition deserves careful scrutiny. The developer is asking for a 2 percent sales tax in the area to raise $3.8 million in development costs. Lyons said 2 percent seems “excessive.” Other recent CIDs have been for 1 percent in sales tax.