2021 primary candidate forum: Overland Park City Council Wards 4 & 5

Candidates for Overland Park City Council discussed their views on a variety of issues in a forum Tuesday hosted by the Shawnee Mission Post. The candidates are, from left, in Ward 4, Ty Gardner, incumbent Councilmember Stacie Gram, Scott Mosher, and in Ward 5, Amy Goodman-Long, Sam Passer and Sheila Rodriguez.

The plan to add express toll lanes to U.S. Highway 69, affordable housing and the use of tax incentives to spur development, were some of the topics that six candidates vying for Overland Park City Council discussed on Tuesday evening in the Shawnee Mission Post’s latest primary candidate forum.

The conversation was held before an audience of more than 100 attendees at Oxford Middle School in the Blue Valley School District and featured candidates in two races that have primary competitions in Wards 4 and 5.

In Ward 4, incumbent councilmember Stacie Gram faces challenges from Ty Gardner and Scott Mosher.

In Ward 5, Amy Goodman-Long, Sam Passer and Sheila Rodriguez are competing for an open council seat.

All six candidates in these two races appeared at the forum Tuesday. The forum was streamed live on the Post’s Facebook page and can be watched in its entirety below.

Here are the questions that were asked during the forum followed by timestamps designating where each conversation begins, so you can skip forward if you like:

  1. U.S. 69 toll lanes: The plan to add express toll lanes on U.S. 69 Highway between 103rd and 15st Streets is now officially underway. Overland Park is contributing $20 million towards KDOT’s roughly $300 million project to add the toll lanes going in both directions. That stretch of U.S. 69 is the busiest highway in Kansas, according to the state, and is only expected to get more congested as the city’s southern half grows. This is a project, then, with major potential ramifications on the lives of residents in Wards 4 and 5. Is this expansion of U.S. 69 needed for south Overland Park? And do you think the cost-sharing deal struck with KDOT is the best way to fund it? If so, why? But if not, was there a realistic alternative? [12:50]
  2. Tax incentives: The city’s use of tax incentives to attract businesses and spur new development have been the focus of intense debate in Overland Park in recent years. And there are some prominent projects in the city’s southern half … including Prairiefire and the prospective Bluhawk development … that have used or aim to leverage major amounts of public tax dollars. In your opinion, do Wards 4 and 5 need such public-private partnerships in order to spur development? What is the appropriate role that government should play in fostering economic growth? Do you believe that the city should continue its current, tax incentive-focused strategy, or do something different? [26:35]
  3. City revenue: The pandemic has accelerated a few trends: People are shopping online and working from home more than ever. This rapid move away from brick and mortar shopping and traditional office spaces is going to have a significant impact on demand for commercial real estate — and, in turn, property and sales tax revenues. What does Overland Park need to be doing today to prepare for this changing environment? [38:00]
  4. Affordable housing: We received a lot of questions from readers about affordable housing this election cycle. The housing landscape in southern Overland Park is much different from that in the city’s northern wards. South of I-435, a large proportion of the single-family homes in Wards 4 and 5 are listed at $500K or more. And while there are more apartment buildings in the area now than in years past, many of those units aren’t big enough for a family or affordable for low- to middle-income renters. Does southern Overland Park have a housing affordability problem in your estimation? Do there need to be more single family homes that are attainable for less affluent people? And if so, what could the city do about that? [48:45]
  5. Citizen satisfaction: Overland Park consistently ranks in the top 10 cities nationally as a best place to live, best place to retire, best place to raise a family, and best place to start a business. Citizen surveys consistently show citizen satisfaction to be 90% and higher. How important is it to consider that and the policies and practices and governance that has led to those recognitions when examining whether any changes you are advocating should be made and what are the potential unintended consequences of your proposals? [1:02:00]