Crackerneck apartment complex on Independence council's agenda

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

The scheduled City Council vote next week on whether to approve an apartment complex in Independence’s much-maligned Falls at Crackerneck Creek development area appears to be close either way. 

Case Development, based in Oklahoma, hopes to build a 285-unit, 23-building complex on Bass Pro Drive, on 13.5 vacant acres south of Mardel and Hobby Lobby and southwest of Bass Pro Shops. The market-rate apartments would be one- and two-bedroom units, with rents ranging from about $1,000 to $1,300, according to city documents, with garages, a clubhouse and pool. 

An artist's conception of The Falls apartments propoised in southeast Independence.

The council will vote on both rezoning the land and whether to amend the tax-assisted plan for the Falls at Crackerneck Creek – commonly known as the “Bass Pro TIF,” named for the anchor store. The original plan, dating back more than 15 years, called for retail and commercial development, which eventually happened at a far slower pace than anticipated before the 2008-09 recession hit. For a few years, that put a big dent in the city budget to cover bond payments, and the budget has never fully benefitted from the area’s tax revenues.    

Case did not ask for any tax incentives for the apartment project. Bill Moore, an attorney representing the developers, said that if the project is approved, the city will receive about $1.3 million in a special fund for debt repayment, and Case will also make a $150,000 contribution to other taxing jurisdictions, such as the school district and library system. 

Some council members appear to have decided on way or another, but others say they’re still mulling their votes.  

Council Member Karen DeLuccie said the council essentially is voting on whether to allow such a project that, when the TIF expires in 2027, would have few obstacles in its path.  

DeLuccie said some citizens have asked the council to “hold the developer’s feet to the fire” regarding development there, but she said the apartment complex does that in a way. Not allowing the development, she said, “That is not going to pay the TIF.” 

The question, she said, is whether that debt repayment money is worth amending the TIF before it expires. 

“They seem fine; It’s not a fly-by-night crew that’s going to leave us in a lurch,” DeLuccie said of Case. “They’re going to manage it.” 

“People don’t trust anything related to Bass Pro – for good reason,” said Council Member Dan Hobart, whose parents live in the nearby residential area. “However, we cannot live in the past, and if we’re going to grow and develop as a city, we have to build good things. We have to be able to invite grade-A developers.” 

“It would be nice to have a housing study done first; that’s not going to happen in time.” 

Mayor Eileen Weir said she had suggested a few years ago amending the TIF agreement to allow something beyond retailers in the area, and she says a development such as the Case apartments can help the surrounding retail. 

“Now we find ourselves in a situation where residential development is hot, including rental,” she said. “Office (development) right now is pretty dead, and it wasn’t when we started this discussion. We worked a long time to get a market-rate housing development in Independence.” 

If approved, the Case project would be the third such apartment complex under construction in southeast Independence, after the Spanos apartments across from the Villages at Jackson Creek and the Grace apartments near Children’s Mercy East. Only the Spanos project, the first one of the three, is incentivized, with industrial bonds that the city does not back. 

The mayor says there’s enough of that housing market for the city to have three projects. 

“I know some people want that comfort level and ‘Let’s see if this works,’” Weir said, but with developers like Case, “They do more research in selecting where they’re going to invest their money than we could ever do. Essentially they’re the ones taking all the risk.” 

Weir pointed to the assertions made by Moore, Case Development president Scott Case and local land owner Byron Constance during last week’s council meeting. 

“This is a lifestyle choice people are making all across the country,” the mayor said of the desire for such apartments. “If they’re not going to find it in Independence, they’ll find it somewhere else.  

“I don’t believe there’s a saturation, I really don’t.”  

Some other council members aren’t as sold. 

“I think we’re oversaturated with apartments,” Council Member Brice Stewart said, adding that the city needs more solid single-family housing.  

Stewart said his decision “might be different” if the city didn’t already have two similar apartment complexes deep into construction in the same area of the city. 

Council Member John Perkins said he’s “still weighing the pros and cons,” such as the lack of incentives against whether the project supports the city’s housing needs, particularly with rents that would start at about $1,000. 

“I’m trying to wrestle those price points, and we’d like to bring those to Independence, but we’ve got two other complexes being built,” he said. “That’s a tremendous amount of competition within that renter community to fill that.” 

“Given the history of that development, you don’t want to burden the city more down the road. Anything that goes over there, have to weigh the pros and cons.” 

Council Member Mike Huff said he’s also weighing whether it’s worth putting a residential development in that commercial development. The Bass Pro TIF has been a financial millstone around the city since the recession a dozen years ago and has required refinancing deals so the city didn’t have to resume general fund allocations to cover bond payments. 

“I don’t know if that’s the answer to this,” he said. “I don’t know if this is going to fix it. 

“I’m not against the project as much as whether it’s the answer.”  

Council Member Mike Steinmeyer earlier this year had pushed for a moratorium on rental developments until a housing study could be completed. The council ultimately agreed to a pause after the Case project, since it was already in the planning stages in City Hall. A housing study remains in the proposed 2021-22 budget on which the council will also vote next week.