In early June, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Lenexa City Council in wards 3 and 4 address in the lead up to the Aug. 3 primary.
Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the citizens of Lenexa.
Each day this week, we have published the candidates’ responses to one of these five questions. Read the candidates’ responses to previously published questions about affordable housing, the east-west divide, climate change and property tax.
Below are the candidates’ responses to item five:
- Lenexa has experienced considerable growth in recent decades — both in terms of business development and population. What do you see as the biggest challenges on the horizon for the city as it continues to grow? What should city government be doing now to prepare for those challenges?
Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on this issue:
The growth Lenexa has experienced since the early 2000s is largely the result of hard work and leadership of course but also visioning projects such as Vision 20/20 which foresaw City Center, a public market, green spaces and connectivity to recreation. Lenexa has always taken resident input before setting a course and I support future visioning projects ensuring all Lenexans have the opportunity to participate in that process.
There are a number of challenges as the city grows and spreads west. A growing city means growing city infrastructure and the need to provide the same level of services across the whole city.
The challenge is managing the growth in a way that preserves the very reasons Lenexans love our city. Vibrant neighborhoods, inviting places to gather, integrated infrastructure that connects people to places and ensuring we have a thriving economy for years to come is my (Lenexa’s) vision.
One challenge to the way we manage our city’s growth is Local Control – or lack of it! Each year our Reps in Topeka strip away local control from cities making managing our future more difficult. Examples of this include passing laws/policies that place more of a financial burden on cities (tax payers).
These polices range from requiring cities to pass budgets too early in the year to forcing us (Lenexans) to accept utilities in easements without due process (think Cell towers and 5G residential Nodes). We need to maintain Local Control.
In post-COVID times we are challenged by fact that our Master Land-Use map needs reviewed/updated as retail and office space markets have changed dramatically. Where we currently plan for business offices may not be realistic and big-box retailers bring risk to developing neighborhoods (think “dark store” theory).
Challenges to maintaining superior public safety programs are real. It is increasingly difficult to hire and retain police officers. I support competitive pay and benefits for LPD and champion the new Public Safety Center.
Another challenge – historically we have not had a Fire Department presence in the northeast corridor of Ward 3 – I support the repurposing of the current Public Safety Center building to include fire apparatus sufficient to cover all of Ward 3 and to house critical city infrastructure like the Employee wellness center and our Information Technology (IT) Department as well as other critical city infrastructure.
You may have noticed I have not addressed infrastructure projects like the Johnson County Gateway, or trying to connect 87th street to downtown Overland Park. I am running for re-election as your Lenexa Councilmember, not a State representative where moving those projects along is their job. I will concentrate on those issues affecting Lenexans now and during the next four years.
There are several major issues on the horizon. The first issue is the next phase of the “JoCo Gateway” expansion of the 435/I-35/K-10 interchange. This is a massive and expensive project that Lenexa cannot shoulder without help from the state and federal government.
As we have seen in the recent discussions over the Highway 69 expansion in Overland Park, adding lanes and expanding highways is incredibly expensive. Adding one lane in each direction for 9 miles of Highway 69 will cost roughly the same amount as it cost to build the entire 6 miles of the KC Streetcar system. While JoCo Gateway is an important project to Lenexa’s and the metro area’s future, we must take care to ensure it does not crowd out other important projects. This means thinking through the community’s long-term future, and identifying our long-term transportation needs.
Is a massive new highway interchange really the best use of our tax dollars and worth potentially displacing businesses or homeowners? I am skeptical that it is, but we don’t yet know the full scope of its impacts. This is probably the most impactful decision our City Council has before it in the next few years. To make the best decision, we should take a comprehensive look at the city’s needs, engage in a community-wide (or even county-wide) discussion of our transportation priorities, and make sure the voices of all Lenexans are heard.
The other big issues I have heard in my conversations with voters and residents in Ward 3 are maintaining Lenexa’s high-quality city services while keeping taxes reasonable, managing development so that it benefits both the older and newer parts of the city, expanding community supports to be more inclusive of city’s growing diversity, increasing transportation options including protected bike paths and transit, cannabis decriminalization, expanding community health services (esp. mental health services), managing the effects of climate change, and ensuring both housing & residential property taxes remain affordable.
Gael A. Wheeler
Did not respond.
Did not respond.
As we rebound from the effects of the pandemic, initiatives that were put on hold will be restarted and in-person events and festivals will begin again. An immediate challenge with increasing growth, is recruiting, hiring and retaining critical city employee positions.
Lenexa should continue to encourage development consistent with the City’s Comprehensive Plan and invest wisely in key commercial areas.
Lenexa should engage with the countywide UCS Housing Task Force to consider affordable housing options. Transportation needs should be considered as a part of those discussions. Lenexa can better address these and other issues of common interest by collaborating on a countywide, if not metro-wide basis with other communities and stakeholders.
To address forthcoming challenges and opportunities, Lenexa’s Mayor and City Council recently
established guiding principles, which I fully support.
The Mayor and City Council commit to responsible governance and pledge that local decisions will be made in a transparent, thoughtful, and inclusive manner. We strive to do the right things for the right reasons guided by core principles.
With respect to Responsible Economic Development, Lenexa’s guiding principle states:
Fortify the city’s economic base by encouraging high-quality private development as well as fostering economic opportunity through thoughtful planning processes and the appropriate use of economic development investment programs.
I support continued responsible growth and development across Lenexa.
Like any growing city, Lenexa should prepare to have a balance between accommodating people in workspaces and urban regeneration, where massive mixed-use developments with a variety of housing types can encourage a diverse population mix. Combine that with walkable, mixed-use employment and retail areas. Lenexa Town Center has to prepare for that.
The city also has to prepare easy mobility to hospitals and schools for those populations that might want to live in the city as opposed to the outskirts. To avoid congestion, light rail and bus lines could be a suggestion that can be looked into. This can also reduce environmental pollution caused by excess automobile emissions.
The rapid growth of Lenexa is such a benefit to Lenexa, and it is a reflection of good city management that has attracted business growth and prosperity across the city. People want to move to Lenexa and businesses are opening or rehoming their operations to Lenexa. Housing prices have increased because of demand, because people want to live in Lenexa.
The biggest challenges I foresee center around the I-435 divide. City government needs to reassure east of I-435 residents that while there is amazing growth west of I-435 we’re not leaving old town Lenexa behind. This can be accomplished by improving infrastructure and facilities all across Lenexa.
My experience speaking with residents and business owners is they do feel left behind. We’re in a great position right now to turn this around with city management who identify the necessity for equity in spending to improve infrastructure and public services. The growth west of I-435 is amazing and of great benefit to Lenexa, however we can’t lose focus on why people want to move to Lenexa.
Lenexa is a wonderful city to work in and raise a family in, and we need to maintain that prosperity and ensure that all City Council decisions are made carefully to ensure we’re meeting the needs of the taxpaying constituents. In my campaign speaking with residents and business owners, I gather they feel that their opinions are not being heard well and we need to focus on what our constituents want to see, in how our city should move forward.
We are here to work for our constituents, that’s why they put their trust in us as elected officials. City government should always reflect the will of the people, we work for them. Onward Lenexa!