Thursday, October 31, 2013

Grandview Board of Aldermen Files Petition Against Zoning Board

By Paul Thompson
The Grandview Board of Aldermen has appealed to a higher authority to overturn a controversial variance accepted by the Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) at a July public hearing.

In a Verified Petition for a Writ of Certiorari filed last week in the Circuit Court of Jackson County, Missouri, the City of Grandview sought a judicial review of the granted variance - which would allow a used car wholesaler charity (the Auto Donation Center) to operate along the city’s east frontage road - due to a lack of competent and substantial evidence provided to the ZBA. The document alleges that the ZBA “exceeded the authority granted to it by usurping the legislative function of the Board of Aldermen.”

City officials say that the filing was not meant to be contentious, and that it is simply a formality.
“Keep in mind, this is not a lawsuit against the individual members of the Zoning Board of Adjustment,” said special counsel for the City of Grandview, Joe Gall. “It’s just the process that the statute mandates be followed. The Board of Aldermen just feels that this variance shouldn’t have been granted.”

Some members of the ZBA, though, were nonplussed to find out about the litigation being pursued by the city.
“I don’t know what they’re doing half the time,” said Zoning Board of Adjustment Chairman Thomas W. Clemons. “I’m so fed up with the Board of Aldermen. If they’re going to decide it, what are we there for?”

The ZBA public hearing in question has been a source of controversy for months. In addition to confusion about the intention of votes held during the hearing the city has long held that the variance should legally have never been granted.

Because the location of the site is within 1,500 feet of other conditional uses (specifically, five used auto sales businesses, a tattoo parlor, and a check cashing establishment), any other such business is required to fulfill each of five variance criteria. At the time of the hearing, city officials recommended that the ZBA reject the variance request, citing a lack of evidence of those criteria. Michael Lane, who runs the Auto Donation Center, was so put off by the combative nature of the hearing that he wrote a letter to the city deriding the “extremely hostile and bitter bias” displayed by city officials.

Ultimately, Clemons said that the ZBA felt granting the variance for the Auto Donation Center was the right thing to do for the city.
 “Everybody just kind of thought ‘why not,’” Clemons said of the decision, which included a caveat
that the variance would apply only to the Auto Donation Center. “We just had to use a little common sense.”

Unfortunately, the city ordinance regarding special use permits is ironclad. City officials maintain that they don’t have an issue with the idea behind the Auto Donation Center, but merely feel that the business does not fulfill all five requirements in order to grant a variance. Under this thinking, the ZBA made their decision based on a disagreement with city ordinance, and flouted their duties as a board in granting the variance.

The issue came up again at an October 10 Board of Aldermen public hearing, where several members of the community, including nearby residents and businessowners, defended the ZBA’s decision to grant the variance. The Board of Aldermen did not vote on the variance at that session, and the issue was also not present on the October 22 agenda.

Former ZBA member Jan Martinette, who resigned from the board earlier this month, asked during that hearing for changes in the zoning ordinance.
“I dare you to change these zoning things in a timely manner,” said Martinette at the October 10 public hearing. “(The board has) to vote no or else we’re breaking the law. There is no possibility for the board to give a variance, according to the rules.”

Grandview mayor Steve Dennis acknowledged at the meeting that he had no qualms with the mission of the Auto Donation Center, but reiterated that the city always tried to be uniform in following its zoning guidelines to the letter of the law.

Last week’s filing on behalf of the Board of Aldermen assures that the matter will be decided by the letter of the law, in the hands of a Jackson County Circuit Court judge.
“There are avenues available if someone or somebody feels aggrieved by the decisions made by the
Zoning Board of Adjustment,” said Grandview’s Community Development Director Chris Chiodini of the pending litigation. “It’s weighted on the evidence that’s presented in the application and in the public hearing.”

City attorney Gall says that a decision should come from the circuit courts sooner rather than later.
“The statute says that it’s going to be given an expedited processing,” said Gall. “If he accepts it, he would issue the writ to the city.”

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Taxpayer Funding of Research Facility on November Ballot

 By Mary Wilson
Supporters and opponents to Jackson County’s Question 1, to be on November ballots, presented their cases at last Wednesday’s Southern Communities Coalition. The question, as follows, is in
regards to an independent medical research facility in Jackson County. The Hall Family Foundation and Donald J. Hall, Sr. have pledged to pay for the construction of a $75 million research facility to house the institute if the voters approve a half-cent sales tax increase to fund its creation and ongoing operations.

QUESTION No. 1: Shall the County of Jackson impose a sales tax at the rate of one-half of one percent for a period of 20 years solely for the purpose of promoting economic development by establishing a medical research and development institute in collaboration with and governed by an  independent board composed of Children’s Mercy Hospital, Saint Luke’s Hospital, the University of Missouri-Kansas City, the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute and Jackson County, that would create healthcare related jobs in the County and develop medical cures and discoveries for human diseases? All of the proceeds of this tax shall be deposited in a special account separate from the Jackson County general fund and any other special funds and utilized only for the purposes approved by the voters and set forth herein. An annual independent audit of these funds will be overseen by an oversight and audit board appointed by the County Executive and will be reported to the public and the Jackson County Legislature. According to the Committee for Research Treatments and Cures, proponents of this project, the Halls’ private contribution eliminates the need for taxpayer dollars to go toward bricks and mortar and will enable the tax dollars to go directly toward hiring scientists, researchers and support staff, along with needed equipment.

“It is to take research and accelerate it quickly into cures,” said Wayne Carter, CEO of the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute.

Advocates for a yes vote on question one touted the potential economic development that can come from the institute. They say that the institute is expected to create more than $30 million in economic output in its first year of operation, and within ten years it is projected to have a world-class team of scientific investigators along with hundreds of support staff. The development of new medications, treatments and cures could potentially induce more than $600 million in direct and indirect economic benefits for Jackson County in its first decade.

“Please keep in mind the economic development potential for our Southland area,” said former State Representative and 6th District Councilwoman Cathy Jolly. “We’re really in a poised position in the south to take advantage of the things that are happening in healthcare. I’m supporting question number one because of the promises of research. Question number one is moving Kansas City forward.”

Those on the other side of the issue included a representative from both the League of Women Voters and the Committee to Stop a Bad Cure’s Jim Fitzpatrick, who formed the committee the day after Jackson County legislature voted to put the issue on the November ballot. Both groups were in agreement that Jackson County residents should not be expected to pay a tax for medical research.

“It is, frankly, the worst tax proposal that I have seen in my forty-four years of living in Kansas City,” said Fitzpatrick. “Funding medical research is not a county function or priority, and sales taxes hit people with low incomes the hardest.”

The opponents were also in agreement that the private sector should finance it, either through private companies or foundations. According to the League of Women Voters, sales taxes take a bigger percentage out of the budget of lower income people than from those of higher income, making it more difficult for people to stretch their budgets to buy basic items.
The ballot, along with polling places in Jackson County, is in this issue of the Advocate on page 2.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Ghost Tours, Haunts and Stories Sure to Thrill


 By Mary Wilson
With the Wornall house closed for repairs through possibly the end of the year, Executive Director Anna Marie Tutera and her staff are busy planning some spooky new Halloween traditions at the Alexander Majors House in South Kansas City. All programming in the fall will be at the Majors house due to construction.
“It gives us an opportunity to showcase this house in a way we haven’t before,” said Tutera. “Wornall house has such a legacy in Kansas City that I feel like the Majors house gets overshadowed.”
Guests are invited to participate in a one-hour, lantern-lit ghost tour of the Alexander Majors House and hear about the ghosts and legends of the Civil War, as well as the strange events and ghosts who are said to still haunt the Majors House and the Wornall House. Chef Shannon Kimball and his ghostly assistants will be onsite each evening to serve a spooky menu consisting of pumpkin
chowder with a side of severed fingers, monster meatballs, broken ribs of beef, bat wings, mulled cider death punch, ghost hunter cake pops and fried worms. These made-from-scratch frightening foods are sure to fill your appetite and set the mood for a night of haunting fun. The ghost tours begin on Friday, October 18, with dates and times available through Halloween night. Ticket prices are $15 per person for the tour, or $25 per person for the tour and dinner. Advance reservations are required to reserve a spot, and space is limited. Call 816-444-1858 to register, or visit www.alexandermajors.com.
“The Majors house hasn’t been investigated as much as the Wornall house,” said Emily Heid, Coordinator of Programs and Development. “But we do have paranormal activity here. They used to hold wakes in the house, and we’ll talk about that and some of the traditions and superstitions that they had.”
If the ghost tours aren’t creepy enough for you, you are also invited to experience a real-time ghost hunt with investigators from ELITE Paranormal of Kansas City and Mystic Moms (recently featured on the BIO Channel’s My Ghost Story: Caught On Camera). Learn how to use equipment, ask questions, and actually try to detect paranormal evidence. This one is okay for young teens (with supervision from a parent/caregiver, as long as the young teens are able to sit quietly in a room and wait for equipment signals), older teens, and adults. Advance registration is required, and tickets are $50 per person.
“Working in the Wornall house, it doesn’t bother me,” said Tutera. “But the Majors house definitely has more of an ominous feel. It might be because it’s more isolated and not in a neighborhood. But, there’s just something about it.”
The Majors house will be the site of a new children’s program this fall, as well. The First Annual Not-So-Spooky Ghost Stories and Autumn Festival event will be on Sunday, October 27, from 1-4 p.m. It offers storytelling, costume parades, palm reading, face painting, blacksmithing, food demonstrations in the 1850s kitchen, samplings of apple treats, and hands-on arts and crafts activities such as making cornhusk dolls, masks, and lanterns. Plus, Chef Kimball will be onsite to serve a menu that may have you howling with delight! Food is not included in the cost of the program ticket of $10 per child. The event is free for adults and children 2 and younger. Tickets will be available at the door, and guests can RSVP by calling 816-444-1858.
“Older kids (middle and high school-aged) will be the docents and they will take you through the  house as you learn about the fall harvest,” said Heid. “It’s a fun, family event and kids can wear their costumes.”
The organization that manages the Wornall house merged with the Majors house in 2011. Tutera and her team are working to bring the Majors house up to full capacity. Currently, the house is only open on weekends, and the past two years have been spent restoring the windows and doors, along with general indoor restoration. Furniture and furnishings from the time period have been selected for the collection.
“We’ve really been working to get this house up to speed as a public museum,” said Tutera. “A lot has been accomplished in a really short amount of time. We’re very proud of that.”
Alexander Majors ran one of the country’s largest freighting companies from Kansas City, created the Pony Express, and gave “Buffalo Bill” Cody his first job. He was essential in helping shape the future of the American West and the commercial destiny of Kansas City. In the westward expansion of the 1850s, his firm’s freighting operations were instrumental in bringing supplies to settlements from the Dakotas to Arizona. The prominence of Majors’ company attracted governmental and private shippers to Westport Landing, giving Kansas City a head start towards economic success.
 Constructed in 1856, Majors’ 3,400 square foot antebellum home in Kansas City is listed on the  National Register of Historic Places. Restored in 1984, the home features original hardwood floors and millwork, as well as furnishings of the era. Also on the site are blacksmithing demonstrations, gardens, and displays of tools, wagons and carriages from the mid-1800s. The Alexander Majors Historic House and Museum is located at 8201 State Line Road in Kansas City. Public tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 p.m. Call 816-444-1858 for more information, or visit alexandermajors.com.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

GAP Secures New Location for Christmas Store After Theft

By Mary Wilson
Despite the leaves starting to change color and temperatures feeling a bit cooler as fall begins in the Midwest, Sharon Kinder, executive director of Grandview Assistance Program (GAP), has Christmas on her mind. Each year, the organization provides a Christmas store for area families in need. During a time of celebration and giving for most families, some in our area depend on local agencies such as GAP to help provide what they can’t.

This year, however, GAP is beginning the season with a deficit. For several years, the organization has partnered with a local church to provide storage space for items to be used in the Christmas store. Recently, someone took the liberty to go through those items, taking a significant amount with them. After doing a thorough inventory of all the Christmas store items, it was discovered that nearly $600 of new donated items were missing. Also, things that Kinder and her volunteers were unable to put a value on or account for went missing as well.

“Anything that we bought last year at a discount, like scarves, hats and mitten sets, are now full price,” said Kinder. “How do you put a value on that?”

In order to make up ground to provide the Christmas store this year, Kinder started to search for a secure location to store the items. The Grandview School District, one of GAP’s largest supporters, came through with a plan. Dr. Ralph Teran, Superintendent, called Kinder after getting wind of the circumstances.

“Dr. Teran, who is a great advocate for us, contacted me right away asking what the school district can do to help,” said Kinder. “There were a couple of places that the district had in mind, but this one worked out to be the best.”

The location that the district offered Kinder is the former daycare center across Highgrove Road from the high school. In the past, the district used the building as a staging area. Last Saturday, Kinder and volunteers spent some time cleaning up the building so they can begin moving items over to that location as soon as possible. According to Kinder, there is wiring for an alarm in the building and she will be researching ways to get that facilitated quickly in order to provide the security she is looking for.

“With us having the key, we’ll be the only ones going in and out,” said Kinder.

Because of the impact of the items that were taken from storage for the Christmas store, GAP is hoping to receive donations in order to provide for the community this season. Those wishing to donate have until December 9 to drop items off any time Monday through Friday at the GAP office during open hours. Suggested items for donations include: for preschoolers, baby dolls, Tonka toys, Fisher-Price toys, Playskool toys, etc.; for ages 6 – 11, radio-controlled vehicles, Barbie dolls, craft sets, Star Wars toys, Transformers, Power Rangers, Batman, Avengers, Spiderman, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Legos, Nerf, Hot Wheels, Barbies, basketballs, footballs, soccer balls, etc.; and for pre-teens and teenagers, portable CD players, cosmetic sets (both men’s and women’s), craft sets (scrapbooking, jewelry making, etc.), sports equipment (skateboards, footballs, basketballs, scooters), handheld electronic games, radio controlled vehicles, hair straighteners, etc. Also needed are winter wear (coats, gloves,
hats and scarves) and warm blankets.

“What you give locally, stays locally,” said Kinder.

GAP services Grandview and the Grandview School District area, including Martin City. GAP provides a variety of services to their clients. They are primarily an emergency assistance program dedicated to helping families and individuals, with a goal of providing stability during crisis situations. In general, GAP helps families with the following basic needs: rental assistance when an eviction notice has been received, food for short-term needs, utility assistance when a shut-off or disconnect notice has been received, school supplies and the Christmas Store.

Beginning Tuesday, November 5, Grandview Assistance Program will be taking applications for Christmas assistance on Tuesdays from 9:00 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and 1:00 p.m. to 2:30 p.m. Applications will be accepted until November 26, or until all appointment slots are full. Items needed are current (up-to-date) lease or mortgage verification, picture I.D., social security cards for all household members, and income for all household members for the month of October 2013. For more information, visit their website at www.gapcares.org, or visit 1121 Main Street in Grandview. Grandview Assistance Program is a not-for-profit agency with a 501(c) (3) status. All contributions are tax-deductible.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Oxford on the Blue Development Could Be Boon for SKC

By Paul Thompson
Ten years ago, the 350-acre South Kansas City property now slated to become the Oxford on the Blue mixed-use development project was surrounded by blight.
Options for the parcel were limited and uninspiring. The land, located north of 87th Street between I-49 and I-435, rested in a sort of development purgatory. But in the years since, momentum has slowly built throughout South Kansas City.
In 2006, Cerner acquired the former Marion Laboratories complex off 71 Highway (now I-49), where they built their South Kansas City location. In 2010, the KCMO police department broke ground on their new $28 million South Patrol headquarters off Bannister and Marion Park Drive. Cerner recently announced plans to build a massive new complex at the site of the former Bannister Mall. And now Whitney Kerr Sr., a 56-year veteran of the real estate business (and broker with Cassidy Turley) who helped bring the Corporate Woods complex to life, has compiled land for the Stowers family to develop hundreds of acres at the Oxford on the Blue site.
“There were a lot of negatives out here. All of a sudden, all these things changed,” said Kerr last week. “I think the potential of this area, with the infrastructure out there, is incredible.”
Kansas City 6th district councilman John Sharp agrees.
 “I’m tremendously excited about the Oxford on the Blue project, because this has the potential to bring thousands of good-paying jobs to southeast Kansas City,” said Sharp. “This shows how a major investment in an area often serves as a catalyst for even more development.”
The possibility for greater transportation options in the area also remains an alluring draw for the developers of the site. The parcel is located near the light rail train route that’s been proposed by County Executive Mike Sanders, and Kerr remains bullish on the opportunity to bring back one of the city’s trademark modes of transportation: the passenger streetcar.
At one point, according to Kerr, Kansas City had 75 miles of cable cars which preceded San Francisco’s famous trolley system. Kerr thinks that the public would benefit if the downtown streetcar plan, which will connect Union Station to the River Market (and garnered a $20 million federal TIGER grant this summer), could be extended along its original route to the newly announced developments in South Kansas City. Councilman Sharp added that some at City Hall are already pursuing the idea.
 “Council members from the 4th, 5th, and 6th districts have all provided sales tax funding to study the expansion of the Country Club streetcar line,” said Sharp. “Having developments at this (Oxford on the Blue) site certainly makes it much more important to extend the streetcar lines to serve them.”
That original trolley route was converted to the Trolley Track Trail, a six-mile walking and biking path that connects the South Kansas City Waldo and Brookside areas to UMKC’s campus, thanks to the Rails-to-Trails program created by Congress in 1983. But as is happening downtown, the trails could still be re-purposed back to their original intent in the future.
Even without the transportation hubs in the area, there is significant buzz in South Kansas City. Kerr says that the developers for the Oxford on the Blue site will work to get the zoning altered on the parcel from Rural-Agriculture to an Urban Renewal District, in order to incentivize business activity in the area. The developer will also be applying for PIEA (Planned Industrial Expansion Authority) tax abatements to help get the project off the ground. Early plans for the site have encouraged city officials.
 “I think everyone at City Hall who is familiar with the project is very excited about it,” said Sharp. “It’s been described to me as a high-tech office park which would also have support retail, and likely have on-site housing as an additional element.”
Kerr says that development at the Oxford on the Blue site will help drive the economy in South Kansas City, ultimately providing well-paying jobs and attracting viable homeowners to neighborhoods surrounding the site. “I think it’s going to be a wonderful thing for them,” Kerr said.
Of course, Kerr acknowledged that there are still issues that could arise as the project prepares to go to City Hall in the coming months. Chiefly, the strength of the economy remains an important factor for any development to proceed as planned.
“Anybody who’s involved in major capital investments is affected by the cost of money,” said Kerr. “Probably the biggest concern that the private sector has is the health of the economy.”