In it, Parkville official questioned legality of zoning issue
newly released email exchange reveals that some Parkville city officials questioned the legality of at least one aspect of the massive Creekside development in the zoning process and worried that the matter could lead to legal action “if opponents of the development wish to pursue it.”
The email, finally released as part of a Sunshine request made two years ago by Parkville area resident Jason Maki, shows the head of the planning and zoning board and one member of the board of aldermen questioned if the project, an apartment complex within Creekside, was too dense as zoned in the area proposed.
Missouri Sunshine Law expert and attorney Mark Pedroli said in a telephone interview Monday afternoon that the thread could become part of Maki’s open records lawsuit against the City of Parkville.
The email is Sunshine-worthy because Jason Maki, the citizen who is suing the city, submitted his requests for communications between city officials about the development before the board of aldermen approved the plans for the massive development.
Pedroli said if officials had released the email when it was originally requested, the information could have impacted the development, even delaying or preventing construction and the public “would have known more about it (the project).”
The release of such governmental communications is at the heart of the Sunshine Law, which is aimed at government transparency.
Maki said he submitted Sunshine requests for such communications between city officials in September and October two years ago, just prior to the board of aldermen’s approval of Creekside. The more than 350-acre residential, retail, and light industrial development currently is under construction near Interstate 435 and Missouri 45.
An email and phone call to City Administrator Joe Parente, asking why the email was finally released two years after it was requested, were not answered.
Maki told The Landmark that “the city’s disclosure of this email is roughly two years too late. Knowledge of the concerns raised by (planning and zoning chairman) Mr. Dean Katerndahl would have provided critical and timely information to the public regarding Creekside, the apparent legality of its approval process, and [would have] raised important questions about approving the tens of millions in tax incentives. Unfortunately, the public has been deprived of this knowledge until just now.”
Alderman Philip Wassmer forwarded Katerndahl’s email, dated Oct. 31, 2018 to Mayor Nan Johnston. In his forwarded email, he wrote: “I feel like we really let P&Z down last night by not either accepting the city recommendation of less density OR redirecting the developer to re-apply for an R-5. I know a good portion of commissioners are feeling like their efforts don’t matter today.”
In his email to Wassmer, Katerndahl questioned if the project was properly zoned according to the city’s classifications that regulate multi-family residential properties.
“I have one major dispute.” Katerndahl wrote. “I totally disagree with Stephen’s (Community Development Director Stephen Lachky’s) interpretation of how R-4 standards are being applied,” he wrote. “Basically we are saying any current R-4 district can pick and choose whether to follow the old standards or the new ones,” he wrote, referring to an earlier city designation governing the density of residential properties.
During a telephone interview Monday afternoon, Katerndahl opened his conversation with a Landmark reporter by asking, “You mean The Landmark has nothing better to do than to dig up old news?”
City officials revised the zoning standards about five years ago, he said during the telephone interview. But his email caught in the Sunshine request clarifies that officials were told at the time that “new standards would apply once the new code was adopted.”
The directives came from the city’s attorney and a consultant who advised officials about changing the zoning designations. Katerndahl’s email stated that he was concerned “respectfully, as a citizen of the old town, asking for a legal interpretation on the applicability of the R-4 standards to R-4 property in the old town residential area.”
Katerndahl wrote in his 2018 email that he was concerned that “we have not provided the old town with the protections of the new standards residents of the area were promised.”
But during Monday’s telephone interview, Katerndahl explained the city’s use of old density regulations, stating they were “grandfathered in” and were therefore legal to be used in this case. But his email does not mention anything about “grandfathering” and instead reflects concern. “That was not the intent when the changes were adopted a couple of years ago,” his 2018 email states. “I believe the Creekside developer (Brian Mertz of Parkville Development) should have asked for R-5 designation for the apartment portion of the development,” he wrote. “This could be a legal liability for the city if opponents of the development wish to pursue it.”
In clarifying his concerns, Katerndahl ended that email by writing: “As you can see, since I am sending this email while the Board of Aldermen’s meeting is still going on, I take this matter extremely seriously. I look forward to receiving your reply.”
This week in a telephone interview, Katerndahl continued to downplay the impact of density of Creekside, stating it’s more about aesthetics and “amenities,” including landscaping, walking trails and the building’s appearance, including architectural features.
“This was a big, complex project with lots of different elements the review process went over several months,” he said. “We felt, in the end, we got a pretty good project.”
Maki reacted to Katerndahl’s comments this week by saying: “Mr. Katerndahl is side-stepping the important question he raised during the passage of Creekside.”
“To the best of my knowledge the approved R-4 zoning for Creekside has not changed to R-5; a quick review of Parkville’s 2020 zoning map seems to confirm it,” Maki said this week.
Maki added: “So, the legal question becomes did the City of Parkville follow the law during the passage of Creekside and its related tax incentives; and has the withholding from the public of the legal concerns expressed by the head of the city’s planning and zoning for nearly two years created another Sunshine Law problem for Parkville?”
Maki declined to comment about whether the information in this newly-released email will play a role in his lawsuit.