Shawnee hires Ochsner Hare & Hare to develop city’s new comprehensive plan

Upon completion, Shawnee’s new comprehensive plan will branch off Imagine Shawnee, the city’s first ever strategic vision adopted earlier this year. Ochsner Hare & Hare will lead the process in a $250,000 contract with the city. Above, Boy Scouts march in the 53rd annual Old Shawnee Days parade. File photo.

Shawnee is hiring Ochsner Hare & Hare for $250,000 to revitalize the city’s comprehensive plan.

Upon completion, the city’s new comprehensive plan will branch off Imagine Shawnee, the city’s first ever strategic vision adopted in May. In a report to the Shawnee City Council, city staff said the plan has been updated sporadically over the past few years since it was adopted in 1994.

The Shawnee City Council on Monday voted 6-2 to approve the contract with Ochsner Hare & Hare. Several councilmembers shared their support for the project, citing the benefits of bringing in outside professional insight and incorporating Imagine Shawnee into the process. Councilmember Kurt Knappen said the plan was “long overdue” and will blend well with Imagine Shawnee.

Other councilmembers questioned hiring outside professionals instead of directing city staff to develop the new comprehensive plan. Councilmembers Eric Jenkins and Mike Kemmling voted in dissent.

City Manager Nolan Sunderman said staff are talented and capable, but city hall lacks the capacity to take on the project, especially in the public engagement process.

Doug Allmon, community development director, agreed and called it “a bandwidth issue.”

“A real comprehensive plan for a city of this size is a very detailed and engaged document,” he said. “This thing is going to evolve over time, and that will be when staff gets even more engaged and basically takes the reins and makes sure that we implement the plan that comes out of this process.”

Based in Kansas City, Missouri, Ochsner Hare & Hare will lead the project, the scope of which includes the following:

  • Analysis of Shawnee’s existing state (Data on land use, utilities, transportation networks, natural features and footprints of sidewalks, public rights-of-way, parking lots, buildings, etc.)
  • Economic and Market Analysis for future development and redevelopment of housing and other land uses
  • Public engagement including workshops, open houses, online platforms, etc.
  • Monthly virtual meetings to discuss project status
  • Branding based on the city’s Imagine Shawnee vision

Recommendations to explore specific issues, including:

  • Area development and redevelopment plans
  • Housing options for the future (ideal mix clarified for diverse, affordable choices)
  • Complete streets, universal design, activity center concepts
  • Incorporate emerging trends and technology (i.e. remote learning and working, etc.)
  • Reimagine Johnson County Landfill into a regional destination
  • Reimagine dated corridors

The project is to be completed by the end of 2021, according to the contract.

City staff had originally budgeted $200,000 for the plan but increased the budget to $250,000 after noticing peer cities were spending closer to $400,000 on similar plans. Councilmember Jill Chalfie asked what Shawnee stands to lose from spending significantly less than its peer cities.

Allmon said Shawnee’s comprehensive plan will be less “complicated” than other cities’ plans, which lowers the costs, he said, adding that the budget increase of $50,000 — which will come out of the city’s economic development fund — covers additional expenses to enhance the public engagement process, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The functionality of our document will be the same,” Allmon said. “I think some cities may overspend a bit, to be quite frank with you.”

Shawnee resident Kris Durbin, a member of the Citizens for a Better Shawnee organization, and some councilmembers noted the need to ensure the city is managing the development of the comprehensive plan and taking full advantage of the benefits of the company’s professional services throughout the contract.