Council narrowly approves Bass Pro apartments

By Mike Genet
The Examiner
An artist's conception of The Falls apartments propoised in southeast Independence.

Plans for an apartment complex across from Bass Pro Shops in southeast Independence can move forward. 

The City Council narrowly approved Case Development’s rezoning request to build more than 280 apartments south of Hobby Lobby in the Falls at Crackerneck Creek development. The council also amended the tax increment financing agreement that governs development in that area, allowing for residential development in an area that city officials had hoped back in 2004 would be the site of a retail and commercial boon. 

In a 4-3 vote, Council Members John Perkins, Karen DeLuccie and Dan Hobart and Mayor Eileen Weir voted for rezoning, while Mike Huff, Brice Stewart and Mike Steinmeyer voted no. Huff voted for the TIF amendment in a 5-2 vote that otherwise mirrored the rezoning vote. 

Case Development, based in Oklahoma, plans a 285-unit, 23-building complex on 13.5 acres on Bass Pro Drives. The market-rate apartments would be one- and two-bedroom units, with rents ranging from about $1,000 to $1,300, with garages, a clubhouse and pool, according to city documents. 

Retail and commercial development in the area around Bass Pro Shops has happened far more slowly than anticipated before the 2008-09 recession. For a few years, that put a big dent in the city budget to cover bond payments before a couple of refinancing deals lowered and extended the debt payments, and the city budget has never fully benefitted from the area’s tax revenues.  

Case did not ask for any tax incentives for the apartments. Bill Moore, a local attorney representing the developers, said if the project was 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.  

Shift in strategy 

When a completely different council voted for the whole Crackerneck Creek plan in 2004, DeLuccie said, “We had great visions at that time of retail development. Although some have come to pass, a majority have not.” 

DeLuccie said she wishes she could envision retail going into that prime location, “But I don’t,” and the city stands to benefit from property taxes more than if the land remained vacant, she added. 

Steinmeyer said he he’d heard concerns about what a no vote would mean to potential future developers, but he was “more concerned what we’re communicating to our citizens” and said approving a third upscale apartment complex in southeast Independence would be a “typical knee-jerk response” when retail could cycle back positively. 

“I’m just wondering how apartments are going to see us out of this boondoggle,” he said. “The person that would qualify to rent one could afford a home in this city.” 

“I’m not going to be short-sighted and make a decision because nothing else is working. I’m sorry – we can do better.” 

Huff questioned why the city would do business with a developer who defaulted on bond payments shortly after the development started, adding that he wasn’t opposed to the project as much as the location. 

One neighbor questioned how the city would make up for potential lost sales tax revenue and whether a still-to-happen housing study would even show a need for such housing in the city. Another neighbor said he was concerned about the apartment complex having the same name (The Falls) as a nearby subdivision. Holmes Osborne said the city doesn’t “need to do TIFs,” has enough apartments already and with its population should still be able to attract businesses to that prime property. 

Another citizen, Jeff Rogers, said the vision for that land has changed and said increased residency will not only benefit the immediate area, but other areas of the city and it shouldn’t cancel out potential single-family home construction. 

Delay the vote? 

Steinmeyer had asked to postpone the vote until the city’s Ethics Commission could review contributions from the land developer to some council members over the years in case there were conflicts of interest. One citizen, Kenneth Love, said such council members should abstain from voting because of such contributions. 

That motion was voted down with only Huff, Stewart and Steinmeyer voting yes. 

Weir had pointed out that several council members probably received contributions from the firefighters union, and no one abstained when the council recently approved the city’s new contract with the union. After the vote, she noted that she had received $50 from the developer, Byron Constance, in 2011, as well as $500 over the course of three years from Moore – out of more than $220,000 raised in total since she first ran for the council almost a decade ago.  

The Case project would be the third such apartment complex under construction in a short time in southeast Independence, along with the Spanos apartments across from the Villages at Jackson Creek and the Grace apartments near Children’s Mercy East. Only the Spanos project is publicly incentivized, with industrial bonds that the city does not back.