by Debbie Coleman-Topi
The latest flap in Parkville is about a meeting early last week in which some downtown business owners were invited to learn more about a proposal to widen sidewalks.
Some property owners have voiced fears the widening, intended to create a more walkable, café'-style ambiance, will impact the bottom line because it will result in a loss of parking spaces. (In order to widen sidewalks, some parking spaces will need to be eliminated, according to a proposed plan.)
Tom Hutsler, a longtime business owner/downtown property owner and head of the Parkville Old Towne Market Community Improvement District (CID), who attended last week's meeting, said that a vote by CID members at one of the group's meetings was unanimous disapproval of any plan that would reduce parking.
Hutsler and Jason Maki, the head of a movement opposing the city's handling of Creekside, a more than 350-acre development at I-435 and Hwy. 45, believe the real story is not about sidewalks or parking. Instead, they see it as an extension of the city administration’s continued attempts to push through a collective vision for Parkville, despite wishes of many business owners.
But Mayor Nan Johnston said the meeting was not designed for input. Instead, it was “to solidify what other elected officials were hearing are the issues in order to garner support from the board of aldermen for engineering funding” (for the plan).
The efforts of Johnston, and other city officials, are aimed at providing the best possible future for Parkville and served as a precursor to “a significant investment in our downtown area,” she wrote in an emailed response.
“Our Vision Downtown Parkville Plan was accomplished with a great amount of public input,” Johnston wrote. “Professional city planning expertise outlined issues and a wide range of possible solutions. Other elected officials
and I have heard what we believe to be important issues, and I thought it would be a good time to take this plan off the shelf and look to it for ideas on how to resolve them.”
Hutsler, who owns several downtown properties including English Landing Center and two event spaces, said most of those present at last week's meeting voiced no opinion about the proposal.
But there were two vocal opponents—owners of Stone Canyon Pizza and Parkville Coffe-- neither of whom could be reached for comment before deadline.
Hutsler added that a representative of the American Legion, probably the oldest downtown business, also should have been invited due to the legion's long history. But American Legion Commander Charley Kutz said since he wasn't at the meeting he knows little about the issue.
“I just don't know how to respond,” he said. “I've heard there's talk of re-configuring (sidewalks and parking). I don't have enough information to say at this point.”
Kutz did say he doesn't believe downtown business owners can spare parking spaces.
Maki, who alerted The Landmark of last week's downtown business owners meeting, said during a telephone interview he believes “it was absolutely not an inclusive meeting” in that a list of attendees intentionally included only Johnston supporters who would not outwardly balk at the plan.
He said Johnston is using tactics like those she's employed to further Creekside.
“Nan's going to get what she wants through intimidation, shaming…” he said during a telephone interview. It's “not what you think would be on display from someone who's an elected official.”
When emailed a list of questions about the meeting, Johnston's first emailed response was not an answer to this reporter's questions, but to pose a question:
“Please let us (she and City Administrator Joe Parente, to whom the email was addressed,) know
who told you this.”
Maki said he questions why Johnston would be upset about the media being told about the meeting. Maki and his attorneys have sent letters of complaint to Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt, telling the attorney general that city officials have not responded to requests for information under the Missouri Sunshine Law, a safeguard to government transparency.
In a letter countering the claim, city officials stated they welcome questions and embrace transparency.
Johnston followed her initial emailed response with an email that contained sarcastic answers. She incorrectly assumed that The Landmark initially was contacted by Hutsler. But the source informing the newspaper about the meeting was Maki.
“Tom is correct,” Johnston sarcastically wrote. “We want to take away ALL the parking on Main Street to punish the owners of buildings we do not like. We only invited those property owners we knew would agree with this plan and do not want any public input on this because, well…. This is what we do here in Parkville as you have widely reported. If we get too much pushback on taking away parking on Main Street, we will close the public parking lot as well.”
She continued. “This is just another attempt by your two major sources to drive a wedge between the hard-working people who work for the better of Parkville. It's unfortunate that your paper has reported the twisted logic of a couple of people…Don't you truly think that if we are all as dysfunctional and corrupt as you have reported that you would be hearing from a wider spectrum of people and would be provided some solid proof?”
In her written response to a question about whether a compromise on the issue was possible, Johnston responded: “Compromise is overrated. Sort of like accurate reporting – don't you think?”