Despite pushback from a few residents and some of its members, the Shawnee city council has set the public hearing dates for tax incentive requests for two commercial development projects.
The proposed developments are Stag’s Spring, a luxury apartment complex planned for downtown, and Westbrooke Green, a multi-use commercial and residential project at the northeast corner of 75th Street and Quivira Road.
Developers for both projects have requested public finance incentives in the form of tax increment financing (TIF). Stag’s Spring developer Kevin Tubbesing is requesting $3.1 million, while the Westbrooke Green developer, MP Westbrooke North LLC, is requesting $14 million.
Both TIF public hearings are set to take place next month — Stag’s Spring on Dec. 23, and Westbrooke Green on Dec. 9.
At the Shawnee council meeting Tuesday night, a few residents as well as Eric Jenkins and Mike Kemmling — the two seated members of the council who have objected to public funds supporting private projects — objected to the timing of the public hearing dates, citing concern that one of the hearings takes place too close to Christmas and both of them occur before the newly elected councilmembers are seated in January.
“To schedule a public hearing on Dec. 23 — I will try and be polite — that’s outrageous,” said Ray Erlichman, a Shawnee resident. “That’s an insult to the people of Shawnee. You are not being ombudsmen for the city of Shawnee.”
Erlichman said having a public hearing two days before Christmas, Dec. 25, does not give residents celebrating the Christian holiday the opportunity to speak at the public hearing. Noting that votes often take place in the same meeting as public hearings, he added that the council should not rush a decision before a council meeting in January, when the newly elected members will be seated.
Three members of the current city council will end their terms next month, including Jim Neighbor (Ward 1), Stephanie Meyer (Ward 3), and Mickey Sandifer (Ward 4). They will be replaced by Tammy Thomas (1), Kurt Knappen (3) and Jill Chalfie (4).
Shawnee resident Tina Webb agreed with Erlichman, adding that she wants the neighbors concerned with the Stag’s Spring project to have the opportunity to comment in the public hearing.
Tubbesing said his project timeline to acquire financing requires approval in 2019.
“This is not a rush to judgment, we haven’t been pushing this just the last couple weeks or months or whatever,” Tubbesing said. “This has been something that’s been months in coming, well more than half a year.”
Tubbesing said he would have been fine with a public hearing during a special meeting. He would agree to help pay for a neighborhood notification of that meeting. He added that financing for the project is “subject to the TIF vote.”
Councilmembers Jenkins and Kemmling echoed sentiments from residents with concerns about the timing of the public hearings. Jenkins proposed postponing the Stag’s Spring public hearing to January. Kemmling agreed. The motion failed 2-5.
Councilmember Lindsey Constance took exception to Jenkins’s proposal to delay the public hearing to January. She said that under that premise, the council should factor in all holidays from other religions when scheduling public hearings.
Councilmember Lisa Larson-Bunnell suggested moving the Dec. 23 public hearing to an earlier date or perhaps calling a special meeting for it. Mayor Michelle Distler said the council will be met with opposition by residents if it conducts a special meeting because the public is more likely to know about a regularly scheduled meeting.
The council ultimately voted 5-2 to conduct the Stag’s Spring public hearing on Dec. 23. Jenkins and Kemmling voted in dissent. The council also voted 5-2 to conduct the Westbrooke Green public hearing on Dec. 9, again with Jenkins and Kemmling voting in dissent.
Both projects have also caused a stir among neighboring residents who have raised concerns about traffic issues, safety, light pollution and other issues related to each project. Additionally, Westbrooke Green is now advancing a scaled down version of its plan, another concern raised by neighboring residents.
Councilmember Stephanie Meyer was absent.
Representatives with the Westbrooke Green project were in attendance but did not provide public comment.