rian Mertz said he’s trying to be a good partner to those involved in a dispute about his large development plan to be framed by Interstate 435 and Hwy. 45 in Parkville.
The owner of a small construction business which has built in the area before, Mertz said the controversy has landed him in a precarious position between the city–where officials are anxious to develop the land–and an opposing citizens’ group.
The city acquired a portion of the land in the planned residential development dubbed The Meadows, located in the southeast quadrant, about 10 years ago when a previous developer who wanted to build there failed to make Neighborhood Improvement District (NID) payments, Mertz said during a recent interview with The Landmark. The city acquired a portion that is slated for light industrial, located in the southwest quadrant of the planned development when a local bank foreclosed on the property and deeded it to the city, Mertz said. Parkville was then responsible for making about $450,000 in bond payments each year, he said.
In addition, city officials are anxious to have the 350 acres developed because it will provide a large tax base, according to some members of the opposition who have formed Citizens for a Better Parkville.
But, some members of the citizens group claim they are not opposed to the development in general but to the way the city has managed construction plans. The group first became involved in the process in September and began their opposition by speaking at the city’s open public forums. But efforts escalated to include a website with articles attacking the city’s processes, which they say constitute violations of the Sunshine Law, a state law designed to promote transparency in government.
The opposition claims secret early meetings between the developer, his attorney and city officials and staff thwarted public input and the process already was well-established before allowing citizens to voice their opinions.
The citizens group efforts escalated to include a Sunshine request for thousands of communications between city officials and the developer.
The group recently launched an application compared to the international database WikiLeaks, known for publishing secret information. “Transparency” is designed to allow the public to access data by analyzing and categorizing basic information, such as correspondence between city officials and Mertz. In addition, the group recently sent a letter of complaint to the state attorney general asking him to investigate the city’s actions surrounding the development (see related story page 1).
“I get their concerns,” said Mertz, but added that he has made ample good faith efforts to listen to complaints and suggestions and has incorporated several of the public’s ideas into his development plan.
“If I think it helped the project, I did it,” he said during a recent interview with The Landmark. “I think there was a lot of give-and- take,” he said. “We never drew a line in the sand.”
He pointed out that he even met privately with several citizens after hearing critical public comments during an early planning and zoning hearing.
“I think the process worked,” said Mertz, who has operated Parkville Development for the past 16 years. “I think it (the project) will be better at the end of the day for it,” he said.
For instance, one result creates signage designed like those announcing Park College in order to create unity and cohesiveness.
Another resident suggestion was added to the development plan was the addition of a walking trail in the middle of The Meadows subdivision. The way the area originally was designed, the only connectivity with the area was on the outside of the subdivision.
“I think that was a great change,” Mertz said of the biking/walking trail. “I think it will add to the aesthetics.”
Mertz compared the current opposition to that he faced a few years ago as he launched a development plan for a local subdivision outside of Parkville city limits in Platte County, called “Chapel Ridge.” During an early Platte County Commission public hearing, residents opposed the project and complained to county commissioners, charged with overseeing the development. As a result, Mertz said he voluntarily set up an early public hearing to entertain residents’ concerns. But he said complaints morphed into personal attacks about his character and ethics as a developer. He learned that his early meeting with citizens was held too early in the process, before plans were firmly established and only served to escalate residents’ concerns.
But Mertz said he’s since heard from several citizens that their fears about the new subdivision lowering property values and increasing the incidence of crime,were mostly abated after they could see the $350,000 to $479,000 homes being built in the subdivision.
While the most recent development plan does call for some homes in that price range, some residents have objected to less expensive multi-family housing and commercial entities such as a gas station.
“It’s not public-assisted housing,” he said, referring to the planned apartment buildings, which will rent for about $1,600 per month. “That’s a lot,” he said, adding that in other areas he has built such multi-family housing appeals to divorcees who are eager to remain in the school district attendance areas for which their children already are established.
Mertz said some of the opposition comes from those who are either uninformed or misinformed. He added that some area residents, upon hearing that plans call for restaurants and other service-style amenities, welcome the improvements the construction will bring.
“We’re not building truck stops,” he said. “Things have to happen there,” he said of the inevitable development of the area near the interstate and a state highway. Mertz said he first became involved with the current plan this past April after the city issued a “request for proposals” from area developers interested in the project.
“I knew it was out there and the time was right for our workload,” he said. Mertz said his crews have “started moving dirt” in early construction efforts, but once winter transitions to spring, the project will be in full-flown development.