Overland Park City Council candidates on the issues: Implementing Forward OP vision

City Manager Bill Ebel and Mayor Carl Gerlach sat at a table amid the nearly 800 people gathered for the Imagine Tomorrow workshop that kicked off the Forward OP planning process in 2018.

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of the August primary. Based on the (ample) input we received, we developed a five-item questionnaire for candidates running for city council in Overland Park.

Today, we’re sharing the candidates’ responses to question three:

Earlier this year, the council adopted the recommendations of the months-long Forward OP planning process, which called for more modern approaches to transportation and infrastructure; a wider variety of housing options; and development of more spaces and events to encourage people gathering together. Do you support the Forward OP vision? If elected, how would you work to see it implemented?

City Council Ward 1

Taryn Jones

Yes, I support the Forward OP plan. As a social worker I am happy to hear that Overland Park is thinking about affordable housing and mental health, and as someone who is part of the Metro KC Climate Action Coalition I’m glad to see the city talking about better approaches to transportation.

I would love to see better implementation of transportation. Johnson County has long been an area that has relied on personal vehicles due to its sprawling nature and the fact that public transportation has never been well developed. As we talk more about climate change and ways that we can mitigate it, I would welcome having more efficient transportation, bike lanes, and more walkability within the city.

I am also very excited about the idea of more affordable housing options. As a social worker I understand first-hand the implications of rising costs of housing especially in the downtown Overland Park area. Overland Park has built numerous apartments in the downtown area. However, none of these options include affordable housing. In fact, a studio apartment at Avenue 80 is renting for almost $1,000. This is not affordable for the people who work and already live in the area. There needs to be serious conversation about more affordable housing and what Overland Park can do to attract more affordable housing options.

Holly Grummert

I support the recommendations of the Forward OP plan and will work with the many stakeholders involved to see that we work towards its goals. I have been encouraged by the implementation of a pilot program for micro transit as a means of addressing transportation for the future.

To make sure we are moving in the right direction, I will always consider how new projects fit within the Forward OP vision, before voting to approve any financial incentives for new developments. It’s important to remember that the Forward OP plan was heavily based on public feedback and we should consider the wishes of our residents before giving away their money in the form of financial incentives to new developments.

Terry Happer-Scheier (incumbent)

The Forward OP planning process has helped us look into the future and give us a foundation to move into the next decade. I do support the Forward OP vision. 1. We need to be looking into modern approaches to transportation and city amenities. 2.We need to be talking with Public works department and council to adopt a plan with feasible ideas. This would include on the transportation component a potential light rail system that could eventually meet up with KCMO’s rail system 3..We could engage businesses to offer incentives to use public transportation.  4. Upgrade the infrastructure which includes: streets ,bridges, many municipal facilities that will need to be updated. These updates will be used to accommodate the growing population of Overland Park including the business community…. 5. It is with the Forward OP vision as a guide line we can engage the city departments to achieve the necessary work.  6.. Working with Planning Department to create a master plan which offer gathering spaces say within new development. The city council should embrace the Forward OP vision for the Future. I would try to engage my constituents to be a part of these plans with neighborhood meetings and timely updates.

City Council Ward 2

Roger Tarbutton

I am in general agreement with the goals and aspirations described in ForwardOP and hope it is successful in promoting cooperation among various organizations to achieve them. Of the goals and aspirations mentioned, I think priority should be given to sound financial stewardship, community engagement and maintenance of vibrant neighborhoods. To promote these goals, I propose adopting a mandatory public comment period before city commission meetings to encourage citizen engagement, encouraging balanced development that does not negatively impact the quality of life and vibrancy of residential neighborhoods and limiting tax incentives to projects that provide measurable benefits to residents without gambling taxpayer dollars on risky business ventures.

Paul Lyons (incumbent)

Implementation of the Forward OP vision is a central element of my campaign. I believe our city is in a unique position in its history where considerable interest exists from developers to invest in our city. We are fortunate to have relatively few problems that need urgent attention. I am advocating that the city expend capital and resources now to develop and execute a Forward OP implementation plan. It will be a wide ranging endeavor that will require support from developers, city government, and residents in order to execute successfully. My goal is to prioritize the effort and identify concrete steps that would be implemented over the next 20 years. Forward OP will position Overland Park to continue growing and raising the quality of life of its citizens for many years to come.

Derek Puzzuoli

I support the Forward OP vision because its tenets are central to the responsible growth of Overland Park. Regarding expansion, modern approaches to transportation, infrastructure, and housing are crucial to the current and future success of Overland Park. I would work to maintain the character of OP by establishing policies that create more diverse housing options to provide affordable housing options to all members of the community. Creating an attractive environment that promotes responsible development is essential to stimulating the local economy which in turn allows taxes to stay low.

I will also work to establish initiatives focused on education to ensure Overland Park continues to be a leading education city. I support programs, policies, and projects that expand on the current mentorship program between schools and local businesses, enhance the summer experiences of youth within our community by increasing recreational opportunities for all children. I support the establishment of the Education City Initiative because our youth deserve the highest quality education and increased socio-emotional support. High educational attainment and socio-emotional learning among youth translate into a better quality of life. We must invest in our youth to foster growth and prosperity in Overland Park and America.

City Council Ward 5

Phil Bressler

This is a great question and I have to say I’m very interested and enthusiastic about the collective work that was done by leadership and the thousands of Overland Park residents who were involved in ForwardOP. But now comes the hard part – moving from planning to action. As a marketing professional, I am uniquely qualified to help bring ForwardOP to life. I’ve spent my entire career developing strategic plans, and more importantly, working with creativity and innovation to bring those plans to life.

There are so many great initiatives in the plan, but I would start in these core areas of Forward OP:

Becoming a more connected city. We need to be more innovative in areas of mobility and transportation and anticipate future mobility needs. It might seem like a long way off and perhaps too expensive to accomplish, but we need to be visionary as it relates to streetcar connectivity to Kansas City. I’m also glad to know Overland Park has a Bicycle Master Plan. I’m a cyclist, but I can tell you I currently do most of my riding on our trails for safety reasons. The trails are great, but with a well-connected system of bike lanes on our streets, it will be much easier for people to ride their bikes to the local coffee shop or to pick up a few groceries at the store. While a transportation topic, a bike-friendly city also helps our environment and the overall wellness of our residents. I’m very encouraged to see the additional bike lanes that have been added throughout Overland Park in the past few weeks.

Creating spaces to gather. We need to explore opportunities where people can get together for daily events and special occasions while promoting a greater sense of community. This can happen within all future developments whether residential or commercial. Many people I have spoken with don’t know this, but a brand new visitor’s center is about to break ground at the Arboretum. This new visitor’s center is going to be a major attraction for the Arboretum and Overland Park. Facilities like this will go a long way towards enhancing our ability to gather as a community.

Faris Farassati (Incumbent)

Forward OP was an effort by the city to engage with its residents about the future of OP. I applaud any efforts that enhances public awareness and involvement! However, to provide a comparison to the world of science, Forward OP is a single study based on a limited number of participants and therefore, inherently, does not have the breadth and width to dictate the future direction of OP! It’s an aspirational plan but not a mandate for strategic planning.

I consider Forward OP as a piece of data in my decision making process but not necessarily a road-map. Needs of the city, demographics, economical conditions and most importantly the needs of the people change. Therefore, we need constant communication and data analysis. A single study, such as Forward OP, was only a start point: We have a lot to do to be able to design a strategic plan for the future of a city at the size and characteristics of OP! Bottom line: Forward OP and future similar studies are “readouts” that follow the City and not the other way around!

One last point, in contrast to how Forward OP was done, I would promote the use of local consultants, including our academic centers, who are well familiar with important characteristics of OP such as culture, history and values!

John Coughlin

Did not respond.

Tomorrow we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to item number four:

Overland Park has seen an influx of high-end apartment projects in recent years — but rental rates put them out of reach for many middle and lower income individuals. Does Overland Park need more affordable housing? If so, what strategies should the city be looking at?