December 15, 2015
Vantage at Shawnee apartments, a proposed $35 million, 312-unit apartment complex on Pflumm Road, hit a road block at the Shawnee City Council as the board could not agree to a zoning change for the property.
In a contentious council meeting that had to be controlled on several occasions by the mayor’s gavel and went on past midnight after dozens of comments from citizens were heard, the council almost reached a decision to kill the project.
Because of a protest petition filed by more than 200 residents around Pflumm Road and 62nd Street, the council had to reach a super-majority of 7 votes to pass the zoning change and preliminary plan for the gated apartment complex. State law also required that the board reach six votes to override the Planning Commission’s recommendation and deny the zoning request.
Five members of the council — Jim Neighbor, Dan Pflumm, Eric Jenkins, Mike Kemmling and Mickey Sandifer — voted to deny the zoning change and to kill the project. Mayor Michelle Distler had the option to vote in the matter and declined to cast the deciding vote.
She did vote to break a tie in favor of sending the matter back to the Planning Commission for them to reconsider the project based on concerns about traffic in the area.
If the proposal makes it back to the council, a super-majority vote would still be needed to pass it. However, a simple majority vote would only be needed to deny it. The crowd at Monday’s meeting was clearly upset that the project couldn’t be denied even though it was four votes shy of passing.
The residents’ main concerns about the development are that it will increase traffic, lower property values, increase crime and eventually become subsidized housing. The protest petition collected more than 200 signatures and an online petition gathered more than 1,000.
The developers, America First MultiFamily Investors LP and Clermont LLC, represented by attorney Curt Peterson, did everything they could to dispel the worries of residents.
Vantage at Shawnee, as explained by Peterson, 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 include a clubhouse, gym, swimming pool, dog park, dog wash, pond, and trash concierge service.
In trying to sell the idea to the council, Peterson argued that they could not reject the plan based on personal opinions about apartments but had to consider the matter based on the zoning requirements and if the proposal met those requirements.
The council was considering a zoning change 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.
“This is a crossroads and a turning point for this city,” Peterson said. “This developer wants to invest $35 million in Shawnee. They believe in Shawnee.”
All of the developer’s plans did meet city recommendations except the density. The city’s comprehensive plan says mid-density residential areas should have between 5 and 10 units per acre. Vantage at Shawnee came in just above that at 10.89. Residents said that number would classify the density as high-density while the developer said that it fell within the guidelines of the city’s recommendations, which were not meant to be a maximum.
Council Member Brandon Kenig supported the apartment, saying young professionals, a target demographic Shawnee is looking to attract, are looking for housing options like the ones Vantage at Shawnee offers.
“If we don’t have the opportunity for them to do that and move here, then they’ll move further south,” Kenig said.
Kenig and other council members said many of the Shawnee’s higher-end apartment complexes currently have wait lists and are at full capacity. He and Sandifer also pointed out that property values around Tuckaway Apartments, 7160 Lackman Road, and Prairie Lakes, 6701 Lackman Road, have actually gone up since their construction.
Residents argued that the location should be developed as single-home residential, just like the majority of the surrounding area.
Council members Jeff Vaught and Stephanie Meyer pointed out that the city’s land-use guide, or comprehensive plan, has recommended that the site be zoned mid-density residential since 1987.
However, the council members who voted against the proposal were able to point out that the zoning for the area hasn’t always been for multi-family or mid-density housing.
In fact, Kemmling said, the zoning of the land was changed just a couple years ago from single-family residential to mixed-use residential for the Cobblestone project, a retirement community that included some commercial buildings. Kemmling said the zoning change was approved because of overwhelming support of the Cobblestone project. He argued that if it wasn’t for Cobblestone, this would still be a single-family residential zoned area. The audience applauded this clarification.
Vaught and Meyer fully supported the apartment and said it is the council’s role to simply look at the facts if the plan meets current zoning requirements and fits in the city’s overall comprehensive plan.
“My job is not to always to vote the way people tell me, I’m elected to do what’s best for the community,” Vaught said, giving the example that if everyone wanted to cut property taxes and financially cripple the city, he would vote against it for the better interest of the city.
Residents like Phil Hirt told the council that it was their jobs to listen to the people that elected them into office.
“How can you completely ignore the citizens who elected you?” Hirt asked.
Applause for citizens who spoke out against the development rang loudly among the 120-plus residents who attended the long meeting. There were about 60 residents who came to the meeting but had to sit out in the hallway of the Justice Center where the meeting was being held and could only listen to an audio feed from the meeting.
Several people spoke in favor of the apartment complex from the audience, including a young professional and Justin Nichols, a member of the Board of Directors for the Shawnee Chamber of Commerce.
The Shawnee Chamber of Commerce supports the apartment and Chairman of the Executive Board for the chamber, Leon Logan, said that the apartment’s Class-A construction plan will only enhance the Shawnee residential and business community.
Logan sited said national surveys show that both young professionals and baby boomers are looking to downsize in the current economy and said Shawnee needs a new apartment complex to attract these types of residents.
Nichols said that in order for Shawnee to bring in new businesses and sustain its current retail, it needs more density. He also said the city shouldn’t’ turn away developers who meet city standards and who don’t request any tax incentives.
“It doesn’t reflect who we are as a city and it doesn’t reflect who we want to be,” Nichols said. “How you vote will set the tone for future developers.”
The crowd reacted negatively toward Nichols and other people who spoke in favor of the project and even resorted to heckling them at times. Distler had to calm the crowd several times throughout the meeting with her gavel as people made out-of-turn comments directed at the City Council and other speakers. Police Chief Rob Moser even had to address apparent threats made by one resident against Nichols and other Shawnee Chamber of Commerce members.
In the end, the project didn’t get the votes it needed because several council members said the project just didn’t fit in with the residential community around it.
“It’s a good project, it’s just in the wrong place,” Jenkins said.
The Planning Commission will now have to reconsider the zoning change at an upcoming meeting. State statute says they are required to only consider the traffic studies for the project because of the council’s vote and are not required to take public feedback on the matter since they already held a public meeting in November.
Originally published at: http://www.shawneedispatch.com/news/2015/dec/15/vantage-shawnee-apartment-project-fails-reach-supe/