Westwood City Council candidates on the issues: Entercom site use for new Westwood View

Entercom Radio Station demo

The former Entercom Radio Station at 4935 Belinder Avenue was demolished earlier this year. File photo.

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for the Westwood City Council address.

Based on your feedback, we developed a three-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to the citizens of Westwood.

We are publishing the candidates’ responses to one question per day. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following:

The former Entercom building will become the new Westwood View Elementary — but not all residents are thrilled with the site. Some say an elementary school would be better at the former Westwood Christian Church site rather than on Belinder Avenue. Others are concerned about traffic flow when the new elementary opens and the existing elementary is used for Rushton students when that building is torn down in a couple of years. Do you think the Entercom site was the best fit for Westwood View? Would you have supported the final site plan approval? Why or why not?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on the issue:

Council member at-large

Jeff Harris (incumbent)

Given a choice between the site of the former Westwood Christian Church at 5050 Rainbow and the former Entercom site, yes, I think the Entercom site was the best fit for Westwood View. 5050 Rainbow is adjacent to a four-lane state highway, would have moved the school further away from the center of the city, and would have entailed more significant traffic flow changes (mainly, likely  diverting some amount to traffic to 51st Street to travel west).

I supported the final site plan approval by voting to approve it in the April 2021 City Council Meeting for two reasons.

First, the option of building a new school on the Entercom site had been seriously considered at least as far back as the 2015 Urban Land Institute’s Technical Assistance Panel for Westwood, which considered the Entercom property and presented a new Westwood View Elementary as a possible option for use of the land. The next year, in 2016, the Shawnee Mission School District purchased the property with the verbal intent to build a new Westwood View Elementary. The district worked with the city over the intervening years with this purpose in mind (one of the results of that work was the city securing a right of first refusal to purchase the existing Westwood View property). That work led to a bond decision in early 2021 that included the construction of a new Westwood View. In other words, the district had worked with the city in good faith for six years. It would have been a bad faith move for the city to change direction at the last moment.

Second, the district had followed proper processes for their site plan, and within that process and the city code, it has a right to build on its property. To attempt to interrupt that process at the final step without any standing would have been a form of government overreach.

Regarding the concerns about traffic flow, yes I fully expect some issues to arise. But I believe people are adaptable and I am willing to commit to solving problems with our Public Works and Public Safety departments in the interest of having hundreds of children come to school in the heart of Westwood for decades to come.

Andrew Buckman (incumbent)

The site for the new Westwood View Elementary has understandably been a source of concern for a few residents. It’s complicated for a city with small physical limits to make the perfect choice for such a major project and in doing that, please everyone. I believe the designers and architects did an incredible job addressing as many resident concerns with the site choice as possible. The majority of Westwood residents should be thrilled that the city has grown to the point that warrants a brand new, state of the art facility to educate their children. I think we can all agree that our children are the most important part of our future and the school district and city planning a school at the heart of the city, in my opinion, is the right choice. It removes an abandoned, eye-sore of a building and replaces it with an aesthetically pleasing, central hub for our city’s next generations. I believe the former Entercom Property to be the best fit for the new Westwood View building and would have approved of the final site plan.

Jason Hannaman (incumbent)

 

Unequivocally, I believe that a new Westwood View Elementary is a benefit for the city as well as our students. The new building will provide modern learning spaces as well as attract new families to the area, boosting enrollment as has been seen with other recent rebuilds in the district. I do recognize that there were some residents who would have preferred that the new building be built on the 5050 Rainbow site. While I would have been happy with a new Westwood View regardless of which site it was on, I believe the former Entercom site is a much better fit both for the students that the building serves and the Westwood community. As a current member of the City Council, I voted to approve the site plan.

Most of the objections to the placement on the former Entercom site centered around traffic concerns. While the traffic for afterschool pickup is typically in a narrow window at a time when many people are still at work, I can understand that residents adjacent to the new school may feel inconvenienced by it. However, I believe that the site plan that the district put forward will be an improvement upon the existing traffic pattern at the current site. Even better: moving the school to the center of the community and away from a state highway can make it more comfortable and safer to walk or bike to school, which has the double benefit of being good for students and reducing the number of vehicles in the first place. Westwood View has long been the symbolic heart of Westwood; it makes sense to put it in the geographic heart of the city.

 

On Wednesday, we’ll publish candidates’ responses the following question:

Climate change continues to be top of mind for many Shawnee Mission Post readers. What steps can Westwood take to prepare neighborhoods for increased flooding, along with extreme heat and drought events? What steps would you like to see the city take to build climate resilience?