Residents force super-majority vote on proposed apartment complex through petition
Residents around a proposed new apartment complex near Pflumm Road and 62nd Street have gathered enough momentum to challenge the apartment’s developers while the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce has come out in support of the development.
The Shawnee City Council is set to vote on a proposed zoning change and preliminary plan for Vantage at Shawnee, a 312-unit apartment complex on the 28 acres just west of Pflumm Road, on Dec. 14 and the residents in the area have gathered enough signatures on a petition to force a supermajority vote — meaning the council will need at least seven votes to pass the measure.
In order to force a supermajority vote on a zoning change, the city needs 20 percent of the connecting properties to sign a petition against the proposal. Roger Chalk, one of five residents leading the charge against the developers, said more than 80 percent of the residents have signed the petition. The petition has gathered more than 200 signatures by hand, and an online petition has gathered more than 1,000 electronic signatures.
Meanwhile, on Friday, the Shawnee Chamber of released a press release saying that its Board of Directors and Economic Development Council support the apartment development. The Chamber said that business leaders have identified the relationship between residential housing density and expanding retail shopping and sales as being an important factor in future growth.
“Vantage (at Shawnee) provides the needed density and new patrons necessary for continued business growth,” said Shawnee Chamber President and CEO Linda Leeper in the press release.
The residents in the area have campaigned heavily against the proposed apartment complex on arguments that it will increase traffic, lower property values, increase crime and eventually become subsidized housing.
The developers, America First MultiFamily Investors LP and Clermont LLC, presented their preliminary plan for the luxury Vantage at Shawnee at a November Planning Commission meeting. The development requires that the city rezone the area from Planned Unit Development Planned Mixed Residential and Planned Unit Development Mixed Use to just Planned Unit Development Mixed Residential. The Planning Commission passed the recommendation for a zoning change with an 8-2 vote.
The city’s land-use guide suggests mid-density residential development in the area other than single-family homes, and has suggested so for years through the city’s comprehensive plan.
Vantage at Shawnee, as explained by the developer at the Planning Commission meeting, would be a luxury, Class-A apartment complex that would lease market-rate apartments ranging for $750 to $1,200 per month. The community would be gated and would include a clubhouse, swimming pool, dog park and pond.
Dominic Vaccaro, a representative of the developers, tried to calm any worries about subsidized housing at the Planning Commission meeting where more than 100 residents came out to oppose the apartments by saying that the company has no intentions of changing the luxury apartments to low-income apartments. Although he said that half of the developers' properties include subsidized housing, he said the companies have long-term investments in their properties and know how to manage all types of housing from luxury to senior and student housing.
“We are solely proposing it as a market-rate community,” Vaccaro told the Planning Commission. “Our long-term focus in this project is to make it successful with the rates we are targeting. Our financial interest is aligned with your concerns about keeping this market rate.”
Chalk, along with area resident Phil Hirt and several other concerned neighbors of the property have researched the developers and found many examples what they say are the developers' short-term strategy for their apartments. Since 2009, Chalk and Hirt discovered that there have been 15 similar “Vantage “ apartments built by the developers and all built five of them have been built and sold to another management company within four years.
“Their goal is to fill it then sell it,” Chalk said.
The Shawnee Chamber of Commerce has taken a different stance on the apartment, saying that the apartment’s Class-A construction plan will only enhance the Shawnee residential and business community.
The chamber sites recent surveys that show that both young professionals and baby boomers are looking to downsize in the current economy. Leeper and the Chamber Board of Directors said Shawnee needs a new apartment complex to attract these types of residents.
“It is vital that our community has the diverse, vibrant housing options that our employers need, and that their employees desire,” Leeper said in the press release.
The last apartment complex built in Shawnee was the Prairie Lakes Apartments at 67th Street and Lackman Road in 2003.
If the proposed Vantage Apartments doesn’t get the necessary seven votes to pass the required zoning change, it will be one of several proposals for the 28 acres that hasn’t materialized.
In 1985, a similar apartment complex was brought to the city and denied. Minutes from the 1985 Planning Commission meeting show that it was denied because it would have been an “intrusion of multi-family use and would affect potential for single-family or lower density development” in the area.
In 2008, an initial proposal for retirement community development was brought forward before being postponed by the developer. Then, last year, the city approved incentives and the site plan for the same retirement and senior living development, called Cobblestone. That development did not move forward because the developer pulled out. Cobblestone was a mostly residential project intended for seniors 55 and older on land formerly owned by Jerry Bichelmeyer's late father, on the west side of Pflumm Road in the 6100 block. The plan included 70,000 square feet of commercial space along Pflumm Road, and to the west, 110 maintenance-provided villas along with an 80-bed senior independent living apartment building.
Hirt said many of the area residents were in favor of the Cobblestone project and would again be in favor of a development that, he says, better fits the area.
“The Cobblestone project would have brought ownership and commitment to the community that you don’t get with a large apartment complex,” Hirt said. “It’s not about not wanting change, it’s about wanting change that’s good for Shawnee.”
Hirt and others have also voiced concerns about what the apartment would do to the population at the surrounding schools like Broken Arrow Elementary. Chalk and Hirt said that if the apartments become subsidized housing, that would only increase the amount of economically disadvantaged students at Broken Arrow.
Another concern of the residents is the population density of the apartments. According to the city’s figures, the apartment’s proposed density meets the city’s requirements for medium density of 10 dwelling units per acre with a calculated 10.89 units. Chalk and Hirt, among others, wonder how the city agreed that the density fit city requirements if it came in almost one unit more than required.
After the Planning Commission passed its recommendation for the apartment, the developers postponed the initial public hearing at a City Council meeting on the zoning change from November to December to address some of the concerns of the residents. However, Chalk and Hirt said there have not been any other community meetings called or any notification from the developers since the Planning Commission meeting more than a month ago.