Pivotal point for Independence: Apartment plan is the right step

The Examiner

The city of Independence is at a pivotal point.  

An apartment project on the City Council agenda next Monday, inexplicably, appears to have an uncertain fate. There’s a lot more at stake than high-end housing in a growing part of the community. 

On top of the Van Trust development debacle a couple of years ago, saying no this project would amount to hanging a “closed” sign at the city limits. 

Quick review: Independence Center opened nearly 50 years ago, and everyone waited for developers to rush in around it. For 20 solid years, that did not happen. So the city embraced local tax incentives to get back in the game, and that is why there are stores and restaurants along 39th Street, Jackson Drive and Valley View Parkway. 

The most common incentive – “tool” is the euphemism that developers prefer – has been tax-increment financing. Once it got on board with this tool other cities had used for decades, it went all in – and overall it’s worked. Not every project came together, but the community has come out about as well we could have hoped for at the outset in the mid-1990s.  

Let’s remember the stated purpose of TIF. It’s not just more chain stores with a handful of good jobs and plenty of jobs with low pay and few if any benefits. It’s a means to an end, that is, improving the community’s overall quality of life. 

And that includes new and better places to live. Apartments have sprung up north of 39th Street thanks to all of this development. Apartments are going in near Children’s Mercy East.  

The project up for a vote – market-rate housing with no public subsidies to build or operate – is no different than those other projects. This is the market at work. It’s fine to say the city should have more single-family homes, but the market is saying otherwise. 

Some city leaders want a housing study. Fine. But don’t let that be an excuse to turn down an investment in the community that’s on the table today. 

It’s easy – too easy – to conflate this project with the failures of the Bass Pro Shops TIF. It was a doozy of a failure, but this project needs to be considered on its own merits. The council is being asked to make a zoning change and amend the Bass Pro TIF to allow residential development – i.e. acknowledge that retail development is not coming to the area south of Hobby Lobby. Open up that space to a better use. 

That’s it. Approve those changes, and let the developer invest in the community. Add to the city’s stock of good housing. Add housing where people have the amenities they want close at hand. This is a big trend. Let’s not be behind on this one.