Shawnee City Council candidates on the issues: Maintaining ‘bedroom community’ charm vs. economic development

The city has been working on ideas to spark the revitalization of downtown.

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 Shawnee.

Today we publish the candidates’ responses to question four:

There seem to be competing visions for the future of Shawnee. Some residents prefer Shawnee remain primarily a residential “bedroom” community. Others would like to see the city taking active steps to foster growth with more businesses and development. Where do you fall on this spectrum?

City Council Ward 3 (four year term)

Nick Reed

I do think that we need to pursue and even recruit good business to Shawnee.

To me, there is a reciprocal reliance that businesses and strong communities have for each other. Businesses pay much more in taxes than a homeowner does. So if we need a strong tax base as a city to help with infrastructure, parks, public services and other things, we will need to have businesses supporting us. They also provide many of the services and activities that people enjoy in the community and provide jobs.

But let’s look at what the future looks like if we do NOT pursue good business development. We have few local jobs and few local services. That does not sound like an attractive place to live. In addition, since we do not have the tax base that businesses will provide, we have to increase our property taxes to take care of aging infrastructure, public works and schools.

Do we really want to have a city that has few local jobs, little access to goods and services locally, poorly funded public works and schools AND have higher property taxes than neighboring communities? This is not a winning situation for any city.

So I don’t believe blocking all business development is even an option. I do believe that we, as a city and with the input from citizens, can create a plan for the future that includes both business development and strong, local communities that work together to support each other so that both can thrive.

Kurt Knappen

My economic goals are 3-fold: First, lure corporations to fill out available office space and bring more high paying jobs to Western Shawnee. Second, fill out the available retail plots surrounding Walmart with restaurants and shops to give residents more choices. Third, revive the area around the Old Price Chopper. This is very possible to accomplish considering the number of existing rooftops, new houses and the Prairie Pines Townhouses recently added West of K-7. At the same time, my call has been to reassess the long-term plan and reduce the number of areas in Western Shawnee currently zoned for multi-family dwellings. I am committed to maintaining the “neighborhood feel” of Western Shawnee. We can do both… Shawnee Mission Pkwy does not extend beyond The Greens Apartments, so there is very little left to fill out. Ensuring that we bring the right businesses to fill out what is available is the key, and I am not against reasonable incentives to make this happen.

Dawn Rattan

Someone recently told me that Shawnee has grown in spite of itself. It’s time to realize that Shawnee is no longer the small town it used to be, and that we are at a crossroads. We have the great legacy of being the first real suburb of Kansas City. We can continue to build on that community legacy while creating a thriving community where we can meet most of our needs within a small radius from our homes. We need businesses that provide goods, services and jobs so our Shawnee residents can spend their dollars in their city, and offer amenities that cause people from other areas to come and spend their money in Shawnee.
It’s also about having more businesses contribute to our tax base which will relieve the tax burden on our residents. It’s a win–win: businesses grow and succeed in Shawnee, the residents have goods, services, jobs, and lower taxes.

I support Shawnee’s 7 goals for economic growth:

  • Future economic stability – growing and diverse tax base
  • New high-quality jobs
  • Revitalized older commercial areas
  • Vibrant dining, shopping, entertainment
  • Diverse mix of growing businesses
  • Desirable environment for residents and visitors
  • Infrastructure networks that support growth

City Council Ward 3 (two year term)

Lisa Larson-Bunnell (incumbent)

As a community, we are very protective of the character of our city. Most residents I talk to are in favor of maintaining our parks and trail systems as well as open spaces. Many also want more accessible retail and restaurants. Overall, they want development that is smart and that enhances their lifestyles.

We must foster this smart commercial and residential development. Doing so will help attract more restaurants and retail options to the city. In addition, it will help to increase our tax base and defray the tax burden currently carried by property owners. This can be accomplished with appropriate land use planning as well as actively soliciting businesses who share our community values.

Kevin Straub

I don’t think that these visions need to be competing. We can maintain the bedroom community feel while still attracting development that fits within that context. Shawnee has good restaurants already and is home to many small businesses, and we can keep pursuing that. We should also look at expanding our commercial base such as you see in Lenexa along Lackman Road, without hurting our bedroom community feel. It simply involves responsible planning while always engaging the people of Shawnee. Specifically, the Vote No group has formed a new entity called “Citizens for a Better Shawnee” and I look forward to working with them.

Greg Sitzmann

I believe Shawnee needs to keep growing to maintain the high standards that are currently present. Shawnee had the land area to allow for both smaller bedroom communities and robust areas (including Downtown) that can support business and development growth. Shawnee has the ability to allow for bedroom communities and future development growth, if planned correctly.

City Council Ward 4

Kris Durbin

The city is actively pursuing a strategic plan. As they create the “shared vision” for the city, there will be outreach events for community feedback. The outcome of these efforts will likely drive many city initiatives for years to come; and they could ultimately form the future economic mix of our city.

Where I “fall on this spectrum” cannot be answered in a way that suits the entire city. Because of the diverse geographical and economic makeup of our city, this critical exercise should not be chartered as a one-size-fits-all program that would inevitably benefit only parts of the community.

Different areas of our city have different needs. As a part of this strategic planning, the city should be considering the diversity of our community and adapting their planning strategy to the localized needs of the citizens. As a councilmember, I would support the citizens of Shawnee by listening to and understanding the local communities.

When the city staff were conducting outreach to foster support for the community center vote, they actively pursued Home Owner’s Associations and other local civic groups to share their vision and answer questions. The city should use the same ground-level canvas in the outreach phase of their strategic planning to understand the needs and limitations for specific neighborhoods around the city. This will ensure their efforts are locally supported, fit the needs of the specific community, and are fiscally sustainable to those who would be impacted by them.

Matt Shaw

This question sets up what I believe to be a false contrast between economic growth and preserving the peaceful, low-tax character of Shawnee that its residents love and appreciate. Both are incredibly important to creating the kind of future that its residents want. Happily, I don’t believe that these ideas need to conflict, but rather these can be complimentary goals that inform us as we set about creating our vision for the future. I will go one step further and to say in order to keep Shawnee as a residential “bedroom community” we need strategic economic development otherwise our residential property taxes will grow out of control.

A great recent example of a project which both boosts economic growth and preserves the nature of Shawnee is the Stag Creek business park which was recently completed at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Nieman. This project significantly boosted the value of the property it was built on, attracted good jobs to the area and increased economic growth. Due to its location, nature of business and tasteful design there was no negative impact on the livability of Shawnee. Rather, the city’s ability to maintain the residential, low-tax environment which its residents appreciate was strengthened by this additional source of commercial income. This is also a good example when tax incentives can be effective, as Stag Creek received some city tax incentives to redevelop a property that would likely have been impossible without them.

To be clear, I am a candidate who is strongly in favor of bringing more economic development to Shawnee. But it has to be strategic economic development. It has to fit within the culture of Shawnee. I do not want Shawnee to become Overland Park or Lenexa. My wife and I moved back to Shawnee to start and raise our family. We want to keep Shawnee, Shawnee! But our commercial tax base lags far behind the other cities in the metro area. I view this as a significant threat to maintaining the residential, low tax character of Shawnee. If the city were to experience negative economic shocks, the tax base it has to fall back on is mainly residential property taxes and sales taxes. I believe it is far better and more prudent to work now to attract businesses and developments which are aligned with our city’s character, and simultaneously make it more prosperous and resilient for the years to come.

Jill Chalfie

I am from a rural Iowa town with a population of 400 and loved growing up in such a small town where people knew each other, neighbors helped neighbors, kids were able to fun free, and people took their turn volunteering and helping with the town’s needs. After college I lived in New York City for five years and equally loved the vibrancy of the big city and having everything imaginable within reach. Because of these drastically different experiences, I certainly appreciate those who enjoy the small-town feel we have here in Shawnee (I do as well!) while also advocating for growth in our business sector. During the city’s first Imagineering session this week, two very common themes were the strong sense of community we have in Shawnee and the desire for more restaurants, retail, and entertainment options. We need a vibrant business sector in order to fund our city services without putting a high tax burden on homeowners, and when people become active and engaged members of their community, then our neighborhoods and subdivisions can provide that small-town atmosphere. I truly believe we have the best of both worlds here in Shawnee!

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

Does Shawnee need more affordable housing options? If so, what strategies should the city be looking at to make such options available?