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Independence expresses apartment concerns

By Mike Genet mike.genet@examiner.net

Editor's note: This story has been changed to reflect the approximate number of apartment units in the city.

With two large apartment complexes in the works in southeast Independence and another being considered, some city officials want to hit pause on apartment development for the time being.

A City Council majority approved a moratorium Tuesday for up to one year, excluding projects already under consideration. The moratorium is to be reviewed quarterly and accompanied by a housing study.

According to city documents, Independence has nearly 10,000 apartment units. In the past couple years, the council approved a 280-unit complex off Jackson Drive south of 39th Street, and a 240-unit and commercial development near Children’s Mercy East – both of which are under construction. In the coming weeks, the council is to consider a 275-unit complex proposed in the Crackerneck Creek area, next to Mardel and Hobby Lobby, across from Bass Pro Shops. 

Only the 280-unit complex off Jackson Drive involves tax incentives, though it has no city-backed bonds.

Council Member Mike Steinmeyer, who along with Council Members Mike Huff and John Perkins requested the pause on apartments, said he believes the city can focus more on attracting more permanent residents, and he worries the higher-end apartments won’t be filled near enough.

“I think our efforts should be more toward single-family homes, new homes,” Steinmeyer said. “All I would like to do is have a pause and have some direction based on information.”

“We need to look at this from the standpoint not only of capital development but community development.”

Steinmeyer offered the amendment to not nix projects under consideration after Bill Moore, an attorney representing developers for the proposed apartments in Crackerneck Creek, said that pulling the rug out from under a client that’s already invested significantly in the project would be unfair. 

The council unanimously approved that amendment, along with adding the housing study. Council Member Brice Stewart and Mayor Eileen Weir also voted for the temporary moratorium.

J.D. Kehrman, president of the Independence Economic Development Council, said a housing study would be beneficial for his staff’s work. 

“This would be a tremendous tool for us,” he told the council. “But let’s make sure the moratorium doesn’t last any longer than it absolutely has to.”

Council Members Karen DeLuccie and Dan Hobart voted against the moratorium, saying it sends the wrong message to potential developers.

“This is an attempt to solve a problem that doesn’t exist,” Hobart said, adding that the city already has a black eye because of the proposed industrial development in the Little Blue Valley in late 2019 that didn’t pan out after some negative community feedback. “We’ve got enough problems without shooting ourselves in the foot left and right.”

“I don’t want to shut anybody down if they come here with a great plan,” DeLuccie said, “and I don’t know how long it would take to do a housing study.

“It’s going to stop people from looking at Independence. We can do a housing study without a moratorium.”

Weir said she’s struggling with the idea of a moratorium, but she’s been pushing for a housing study for several years, as it wasn’t part of the city’s comprehensive plan developed several years ago, and at times it’s been planned in the budget but became an 11th-hour cut.

“Five years ago, we didn’t have any of these developments happening; now we have two and one more possibly,” she said. “Absent a (housing) plan, you may end up getting a lot of what you don’t want.”