Shawnee planning commissioner resigns a week after city council rejects apartment plans near downtown

Randy Braley, a planning commissioner for the city of Shawnee has resigned from his position a week after the city council rejected plans for a 5-story apartment complex near downtown on the former site of the Wondescope Children’s Museum

A planning commissioner for the city of Shawnee has resigned from his position a week after the city council  rejected plans for a 5-story apartment complex near downtown on the former site of the Wondescope Children’s Museum.

Randy Braley, a member of the Shawnee Planning Commission for the past six years, announced his resignation to his fellow commissioners on Monday and sent a letter of resignation to Mayor Michelle Distler on Tuesday. In his letter, he cited recent objections by city leaders towards certain projects as a reason for resigning and raised concern that such resistance is detrimental to the city’s ability to attract talented staff and retain and attract new residents and businesses.

“Recent decisions by the Council and, in my opinion, the over-influence of a vocal minority to continue to say ‘No’ to projects is putting Shawnee’s full potential at risk,” Braley wrote. “It is disheartening to see the efforts of our EDC (the city’s Economic Development Council) and City Staff to bring before us good quality projects … only to have them torpedoed by our elected officials.

“The time has come for me to put energy towards offsetting this ‘No’ mentality and work towards elevating the more aspirational outlook for Shawnee shared by many citizens, one with BIG ideas that lift up our residents and business owners, and attract outside investment rather than being satisfied with the status quo.”

Building consensus ‘always the most challenging part’

Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler thanked Braley for his service noting that “planning Commissioners are volunteers and we are always grateful for their sacrifice to move our community forward.”

“Building consensus all the way through the process is always the most challenging part of any proposed development,” Distler said. “I think we all want to see Shawnee be developed in the best ways possible with forward-thinking concepts and ideas. That includes the responsible redevelopment of our historic downtown.”

“From the developers to city staff and neighbors, everyone needs to work together to find the right fit for Shawnee. I want everyone to have a voice and to hear from all sides.”

Frustration over rejected apartment plan

At the conclusion of their Monday meeting, planning commissioners also discussed the ramifications of the city council’s vote to reject the 5700 King Apartments project.

A rendering of the 5700 King Apartments that had been proposed for the former site of the Wonderscope Children’s Museum. File photo.

“I don’t know if I’m disappointed, if I’m discouraged, if I’m concerned,” said Commissioner Les Smith. “Sadly, I’m not shocked, because we have a history of this. This planning commission, which I think is one of the finest planning commissions that I’ve seen… [it] continues to pass these things unanimously and they get to the city council level and they don’t go anywhere.

“And it seems there’s always two, and generally a third, that tends to vote ‘no’ anytime there’s a large crowd involved. And some way or another, we’ve got to engage the other 60,000 people that they should represent.”

In an interview with the Post, Braley gave similar comments, citing his concerns with the city council’s resistance toward high-density residential projects like 5700 King — which he considers necessary for nearby restaurants and businesses to thrive — as one reason for his resignation. He said he is considering other ways to stay involved with the city and wants to focus on his business and family needs at this time.

“This isn’t a sour grapes sort of letter with the city,” Braley said. “The next step is looking at where in the city is there a need for me to help out and move things forward, whether that’s working with the small business community, engaging more actively with the EDC. There might be smaller organization that could use my time to help out, but it will be directed in Shawnee, for sure.”

Another role envisioned

Braley’s term was slated to end in 2023.

As a participant in stakeholder meetings on the city’s new comprehensive plan process, Braley said he’s heard many residents say they understand the need for high-density residential projects and want to see more commercial developments, such as shopping and restaurants, that would follow.

“It’s more of a frustration of if I’m hearing this, and the EDC’s operating off the pillars that the city has defined, where is that breakdown between EDC, the planning commission, the citizenry and the council?” he said. “It’s a general frustration that I’ve got to figure out, and I just didn’t feel like my next two years on the planning commission, that that was going to be the right avenue for me to have a positive impact in Shawnee.”

In his letter, he thanked the mayor for her services and support for his previous nominations to the planning commission.

Braley also noted his 15 years volunteering for the city in other capacities, such as the Shawnee Tomorrow Leadership Program, the Shawnee Citizen Police Academy, the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board and various committee appointments.

This article was updated on Friday, November 20 to include comments from Shawnee Mayor Michelle Distler.