by Debbie Coleman-Topi
The Parkville Planning and Zoning Commission approved a portion of a 300-acre development plan Tuesday night that includes some changes proposed by a citizens group.
The commission voted on a residential development that was reduced by more than 50 percent. In addition, hotel density also was reduced by about half, said Jason Maki, a spokesperson for a Political Action Committee (PAC), who attended the meeting.
The commission announced it will meet again Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at Parkville City Hall to consider the remaining portions of the planned development, which includes a baseball complex, a planned industrial complex with office space, additional residential buildings and hotels, said City Administrator Joe Parente.
The board of aldermen will eventually consider the commission's recommendations before making a final ruling on the overall development plan.
While some of the PAC's recommendations were approved, Maki said he was disappointed in the process, which included last-minute changes by the developer. Written amendments to the development were given to commissioners at the start of the meeting and Maki's group had arranged testimony from architects and engineers who were unable to speak to the changes in the plan, he said.
During a telephone interview Wednesday morning, Maki said “there were bright spots, but I think the process could be improved.” He added that he felt as if “the civic involvement was a disruption to a back-room deal.” He said the group is not against development in Parkville but believes it should be in the best interest of residents.
“It's not being done in a transparent manner,” he said.
At one point during the meeting, the commission announced it would not hear further public testimony and members of the PAC left the meeting. The commission later recanted and said it would allow public comments, “but the damage was done,” he said.
But Parente said the public hearing was completed during last month's commission meeting and the only testimony that was heard Tuesday night were the developer's changes to the plan.
“As a courtesy, they re-opened the public hearing,” he said. “I think the planning commission was clear.”
Earlier Tuesday, Parkville area residents who are protesting a proposed 300-acre development claimed that a conflict of interest between the developer's attorney and the city's mayor may violate Missouri law.
The group also alleged an email thread between the mayor and the full board of aldermen may indicate a violation of the state’s open meetings law. That thread includes an email from Greg Plum, alderman,
to the mayor and copying all aldermen, according to the accusation.
In a letter, an attorney who represents members of the recently-formed Missouri Political Action Committee, asked members of the city's planning and zoning commission to cease consideration of the development, planned for Interstate 435 and Missouri 45, until further investigation.
A monetary contribution from Patricia Jensen, an attorney who represents developer Brian Mertz, to Mayor Nan Johnston's political campaign may constitute a violation, the letter states.
“This truly feels like back-water government,” Jason Maki, a spokesman for the PAC, said Tuesday.
Commissioners already had announced, at the beginning of what became a more than five-hour long meeting Tuesday, that they planned to continue discussions at an additional commission meeting today (Wednesday).
However, Johnston said the PAC's claims are unfounded.
“Developers contribute to campaigns all the time,” Johnston said during a Tuesday telephone interview concerning the cash contribution. “They (PAC members) are just trying to stop the development,” she said. “They're making a lot of untrue accusations.”
In addition, Johnston said, she wonders why she's the target of the group since, as mayor, she does not vote. In addition, Johnston said, she was not aware of the proposed development until it appeared on the planning and zoning commission's agenda.
Andrew P. Alexander of Graves Garrett law firm states in the letter that a Sunshine request has produced an email thread among the mayor and the full board of aldermen on Aug. 30 and Aug. 31 regarding public concerns about the four developments. The email is significant because it could indicate an improperly closed public meeting without notice, the attorney states in his letter.
When the PAC, which can be found at http://abetterparkville.com and also on a Facebook page, filed a Sunshine request seeking documents related to the development, they received copies of an email written by the mayor to the developer and his attorney, discussing the development, a document they say the city had not been furnished in a previous Sunshine request.
“Mr. Maki and citizens wonder whether the communication between the mayor and her largest source of campaign cash may have been withheld…” according to the attorney's letter to Parkville officials.
The letter from the attorney points out that a “public meeting”--one that requires notice and must be open to the public--is held when “a quorum of the board of aldermen discuss any matter relating of the performance of its functions or to the conduct of its business.”
The email thread “raises concerns that the aldermen have
held closed meetings about the developments in violation of the Sunshine Law,” according to the letter from attorney Alexander.
PAC members believe the proposed development does “not align with best practices in community development,”' according to the website.
Maki said the group is concerned that the proposal is too dense and that the homes, some of which will be valued at $300,000 are unmarketable.
The plan calls for residential and commercial development to be conducted in four separate areas and includes residential and commercial development, including apartments, single- and multi-family townhomes, reserved space for a satellite police building because there currently is no police presence on the city's west side.
Commercial development includes restaurants, grocery/markets, hotels, other retail. Light industrial will include warehouse and office space.
Another goal of the PAC is to hold public officials accountable and to preserve the beauty of Parkville, according to the website. The PAC also intends to assist in fundraising and campaign management of select, local candidates, the website states.
In addition to asking the planning and zoning commission to refrain from action on the proposal, the PAC letter asked that the issue be tabled to allow for further investigation of alleged violations. The letter requested a refrain until at least November, the next month in which the Parkville Planning and Zoning Commission is scheduled to meet.
Mertz, of Parkville Development, is the latest in a series of builders to pitch a plan for the area to city leaders. Developers of previous proposals have abandoned their projects after the city invested in sewer and street improvements in preparation for residential and commercial building in the area, city administrator Joe Parente said.
The lack of action forced city officials to take over paying debt for sewer improvements to the property.
That cost is transferred to Parkville property owners in the form of higher property taxes, he said. “Yes, we'd like to get out from under that,” he said. “If the property develops, the liability shifts to the new property owners,” he said.
The planning and zoning commission's role is to make a recommendation to the board of aldermen, based on whether proposed developments align with the city's overall master plan, a document outlining the city's future land use, Parente said.