Westwood candidates on the issues: 47th Street corridor and the future of Woodside Village

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Woodside Village in Westwood.
Woodside Village in Westwood.

Based on input from our readers, we asked the candidates running for Westwood City Council to respond to three questions about issues facing the city. Here are their responses:

47th Street corridor improvements

Westwood has been coordinating with neighboring cities on ideas for improving the 47th Street corridor. What steps would you like to see to make it safer and more inviting for both pedestrians and motorists?

Lisa Cummins (incumbent)
In early 2017, Westwood was awarded a grant from the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) to facilitate a study of how to redesign the 47th Street corridor or as is now known as “The 47”. I participated on the selection committee which evaluated 4 proposals for conducting the study; ultimately choosing BikeWalk KC.

“The 47” is a corridor which borders Roeland Park, Unified Government and Westwood. Working collaboratively and making the area safer for both pedestrians and motorists is the focus of this study On September 16th, BikeWalk KC facilitated a walking tour of ‘The 47” which demonstrated to myself and numerous other constituents the challenges of the areas.

My ideas and suggestions for “The 47” include having:

  • Crosswalk signals in between the north and south side of 47th Street in the high traffic areas which allow for pedestrians and cyclist to cross safely; much like the light that is located on Rainbow by the University of Kansas Cancer Center.
  • A center lane for traffic turning into the businesses that align 47th Street.
  • One east bound and one west bound lane for through traffic might help with some of the congestion.
  • Wider sidewalks, with possible green space in between the traffic lanes and the sidewalk would allow pedestrians to feel safer.
  • Bike lanes which could be designed to help the flow of that mode of transportation as well.

I am excited to see the suggestions that BikeWalk KC brings to the table once the comments and road study have been completed. Improving the walkability of “The 47” will benefit our citizens and enhance the area as a destination in Northeast Johnson County.

Janson Hannaman (incumbent)
Westwood, Roeland Park, and Kansas City, Kansas collaborated in 2002 to adopt an overlay district that covered both sides of 47th Street from Rainbow Boulevard to just west of Mission Road. The goal was to encourage a cohesive corridor that would fit together and support improvements for properties in all three cities. In the last several years, Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market, Taco Republic, 1889 Pizza Napoletana, Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop, Gus’s Fried Chicken and many others have either renovated buildings or moved into spaces renovated by others. The 47th and Mission Road Overlay Committee is supporting this momentum and is moving forward with a district-wide branding theme to help unify this area and push it towards becoming a local destination.

Westwood was recently awarded a $48,000 grant to assist with planning on 47th Street to design a street that is safe and comfortable for all users, whether they are walking, biking, or driving. This evaluation is currently in progress, and one of the initial ideas that I support is a “road-diet” concept that would narrow the street so that there was one travel lane in each direction with a center turn lane used for turns in both directions. This allows for greater room on the side of the travel lanes for wider sidewalks, possible bike lanes, and shorter crossing distances for pedestrians. This also helps avoid sudden stops when drivers in the left lane are attempting to turn across traffic into a store parking lot and often improves overall traffic flow. Pedestrian activity is good for stores, and if we want to encourage this we need to make it a more pleasant experience to walk or bike through and around our community. I believe this multi-city collaboration would be in the long-term interests of all three communities.

Jeff Harris
Westwood has been coordinating with neighboring cities on ideas for improving the 47th Street corridor. What steps would you like to see to make it safer and more inviting for both pedestrians and motorists?

The three cities that connect along 47th Street – Kansas City KS, Westwood, and Roeland Park – have partnered well to establish a environment friendly to businesses of all sizes, from locally owned Joe’s Kansas City, 1889 Pizza Napolenta, and Ulah, to the Walmart Neighborhood Market.

The result, though, is a thriving destination corridor sitting along a four lane road at a gateway to Johnson County from the east and to Kansas City from the west. So we’ve added healthy foot traffic to a roadway built mainly for local motorists and regional residents passing through. That’s a good challenge to have, but still a challenge.

I would like to see the cities continue to partner on design changes that slow and better control vehicle traffic like changes to lane structure, better left turn flow at 47th Street and Rainbow (mainly turning left to the north and to the west), and better visual representation of cross walks. I would also like to see better and wider sidewalks on the north and south sides of 47th, better landscaping that makes sidewalks greener and more attractive, and in combination with changes to lane structure, a bike line on one side. The cities should also seriously consider a managed crosswalk or a traffic light at 47th Street and Fisher Street (KCK side on the north) and Belinder Avenue (Westwood side on the south). And the cities should explore better ways to manage the amount of foot traffic crossing 47th Street between Northwood Shopping Center and Walmart.

Pam Merrigan
Did not respond.

Thomas Scott
I think about what would make me comfortable walking on this street with my family. Some ideas that come to mind are: textured road space to make drivers aware if they are coming closer to the curb, a green space buffer between the curb and sidewalk, a wider sidewalk that allows for groups to pass and/or walk further from the roadway, aligning our walkways with ADA recommendations, and exploring other safety features surrounding cities have implemented to help protect pedestrians and motorists.

Jayme Tebow
I attended the initial public meeting at City Hall where Mayor Kostar presented the plans for the 47th Street Development Corridor. It’s exciting to see that vision coming to fruition.

This question seems to be more about immediate fixes vs. long-term development. There has been discussion about a road diet, wide sidewalks and bike lanes on 47th Street. That may be a grand plan for the future, but I think the more immediate and certainly more affordable need is for an improved crosswalk at 47th and Belinder and a new crosswalk from Walmart to the Northwood shops in KCK. Both of these crossings are dangerous especially for the elderly, handicapped, and families with strollers and children. Idea? Perhaps installing signage saying “Yield for pedestrians in crosswalk” similar to those along Johnson Drive in downtown Mission.

The future of Woodside Village

What’s your view of the Woodside Village development, and what would you like to see happen with future phases of the project?

Lisa Cummins (incumbent)
The Woodside Village project has added a great dimension to the City of Westwood. High end apartments, charging some of the highest rents in the area, and have had a waiting list once completed. The unique shops, are thriving businesses. Visiting The Roasterie on any given day you will see the tables full; meetings, study groups, friends gathering in a well-known local coffee shop. Ulah, a locally owned men’s apparel and specialty shop, and Shelby Herrick Salon, which moved from the Fairway Shops, are two more shops that call Woodside Village home. Blue Sushi is busy all day and into the evening; the evidence can be seen from the street below with the number of customers.

The next phase of the project is the 48,000 square foot club expansion. The club sits on land owned by the City of Westwood, for which the City receives a monthly lease payment. The number of members that walk through the doors make this a thriving club in Westwood. Completing the club expansion will pave the way for the final phase of the mixed use project with an additional 242 apartments and additional shops and businesses.

All of this business and energy brings with it tax dollars to the City. The project sits on what was Youth for Christ, a non-profit organization, which brought no tax dollars to the city. We are seeing a 6% increase in revenues to the City which will help with some of the upcoming projects facing the city. More importantly, I want to see this project be a success. The project sits on our corridor, leaving our residential streets to be the walkable, bikeable and community that we all love about this City.

Janson Hannaman (incumbent)
When the Woodside Village development was approved in 2011, people were unsure how the project would impact the rest of the city. I believe that the mixed-use development has had a tremendous positive impact for Westwood as a whole. First, I believe that the announcement of the project spurred other investment up and down 47th Street, from Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market to Lulu’s Thai Noodle Shop. As the apartments came on line, it showed that the local market could support high-end rents, which has led to many single-family rental properties being improved or renovated and sold to owner-occupants.

Second, I believe that much of the concern over Woodside Village relates to the tax incentives used to make the overall project feasible. While I believe that tax incentives should be used sparingly and thoroughly vetted on a case-by-case basis, I do believe that this was an instance where it was used appropriately. The city allowed a development to move forward that has turned into a hub of activity and spurred investment elsewhere in the city. Where we previously received no tax revenue, Woodside Village is now contributing to Westwood’s budget through sales and use tax, franchise fees, liquor tax, and more. State general education funding and state and county sales taxes are also being fully collected.

Next up would be the Woodside Club expansion, a $20 million investment in a building that Westwood owns and will continue to own and receive increased lease payments from. Finally, I would like to see the project be completed with the building of the remaining units, also approved in 2011, on the south side of 47th Place. I would love for the south phase to include a larger tenant (such as Trader Joe’s or a small-format grocery like Green Acres) as well as a walking trail.

Jeff Harris
My view of Woodside Village is mostly unchanged since I spoke about it at City Council in 2016. The use of Tax Increment Financing to encourage development should continue to be tool for cities to use. However, it can be abused and I am happy to see it come under scrutiny in Kansas City Missouri and Overland Park. Given the size of the Woodside Village TIF agreement and the continued need to see the project succeed, it is very unlikely our city would consider another agreement for the time being.

During the work on our new Comprehensive Plan, I supported language that stabilizes the current residential character of our interior and keeps commercial and mixed use development on our 47th Street and Rainbow Boulevard corridors. So I believe Woodside Village is in the right location and would keep any future development also on these corridors.

Woodside Village is of a design, size, and type of housing mostly new to our city, and I recognize it is difficult to adapt to change. But I welcome over 100 new residents and a new housing option to the city, and I am pleased phase one filled quickly. I welcome new businesses to the city, especially locally owned, and am pleased to see tax revenue up.

We have recently seen building repairs taking place, and I expect the developer and the property manager to ensure a safe, clean, and welcoming building.

I would like to see the two future phases of the project – renovation of the club, a prized asset for a city of our size, and phase two – be successful. Westwood has made contractual and financial agreements and it is important for us to meet our commitments. I am not interested in an agenda of failure for this development.

Thomas Scott
My view on development within any community is that it fits in with the surrounding properties and community as a whole, is respectful of the surrounding properties, and enhances the surrounding properties and community. I would want to engage the community to see what they would like to see happen and what concerns they might have, particularly if they own a surrounding property. I think that we could accomplish this by engaging through several different mediums because we understand that everyone has different scheduling demands. We can consolidate ideas, talk through the findings, and get creative with how to address the different ideas and concerns.

Jayme Tebow
Woodside Village must be successful for the financial security of our residents and our existing small businesses. I like that we have new businesses there, but it is the responsibility of the governing body of Westwood to ensure their success by providing greater oversight in policing property maintenance.

I want to see Phase 1 become that destination location we were promised and necessary repairs completed before there are discussions about future phases.

Biggest challenge facing the city

What’s the biggest challenge currently facing Westwood, and what should the city council be doing to address it?

Lisa Cummins (incumbent)
The biggest challenge to the City is our infrastructure. Through the Comprehensive Plan process, which took approximately two years to complete, it was identified we need to increase investment in infrastructure and facilities in the city. At the October City Council meeting, the city contracted the services of Uhl Engineering, Inc. a professional engineering company for field survey work, project construction design, bid management, and construction phasing and inspection services. The estimated $2.7 million for ten streets and storm water infrastructure projects will need to be funded by the City. In an effort to determine the best type of financing for constructing the needed infrastructure projects, at the September City Council meeting, the city engaged the services of Springsted Inc a corporation to assist with this process.

Recognizing that these improvements were forthcoming, the city proactively established several years ago a Capital Improvement fund for such projects. While the fund grows annually, it does not contain the needed funds to cover the estimated projects which is why Springsted was retained.

By continuing to work with the City Council, working alongside the city staff {building and codes, public works and city administrator} I believe that we will be able to determine how we can facilitate these needed infrastructure projects to better enhance the livability of our beloved Westwood.

Janson Hannaman (incumbent)
As a small, land-locked community, Westwood’s budget was for decades supported by having Sprint headquarters located here. We installed a lot of good infrastructure in the Seventies and Eighties with tax revenue from Sprint. When Sprint left for Overland Park, it left a hole in the City’s budget that took years to recover from. To make up for that, the City raised property taxes (although we’ve been able to cut them twice in the last four years) and started pushing off the replacement of that original infrastructure. Although in 2014 Westwood implemented a Capital Improvement Fund, we are now at the point where there are interlocking street and stormwater projects that need to be addressed. Thankfully, we have been able to build a broader tax base to afford to pay for these improvements.

At our last council meeting, we approved an engineering contract to design several of these interlocking projects. In addition, we have hired a municipal financial advisor to assist in developing the best plan to pay for these improvements. Most cities, such as Prairie Village, Fairway, and Leawood issue bonds for these type of projects, as interest rates are typically lower than the rate of construction inflation (meaning the cost of borrowing now is less than the cost of waiting to build a fund balance) and it aligns the timing of the taxation with the actual use of the improvements. We also are considering a streetlight plan to incorporate more, but smaller, streetlights to improve light spacing for both walking and driving.

These kinds of investments in infrastructure are often followed by increased private investment, as residents renovate, refresh or add on. This helps support enrollment at Westwood View, as new families move into the community, and drives commercial improvement, which together makes the community stronger.

Jeff Harris
For a city of Westwood’s size, we have a number of opportunities and decisions to make in the coming years. These are our “opportunity dominoes”.

The first opportunity is already happening: work on a capital improvement plan that catches us up on infrastructure repairs. This work is overdue and important so Westwood has high quality roads, sidewalks, and stormwater systems for our residents. This plan may require city debt to be completed on time.

The city council should be fully transparent about the plan, why debt may be required, how decisions were reached, the details of the plan, and how to pay for it.

The likely next opportunity is to have a new Westwood View school built. I recently discussed this with one of the candidates for Shawnee Mission School Board and recognized we are likely at least a year away from a district decision.

In the meantime, the city council should continue to build good working relationships with the School Board, especially the new members about to be elected, and the new superintendent.

There are two properties in play: the school’s current location and the potential future location on the radio tower property. Depending on when and where the district decides to build, the next opportunity is likely a decision about the other property.

The city doesn’t own these properties, but the city council should be prepared to foster good discussion with the school district and with residents. And then those decisions helps us decide the future of Dennis Park and the 5050 Rainbow property.

The biggest challenge facing Westwood is to be ready to make these decisions and manage these opportunities to the best interest of our citizens. The city council should build good working relationships and seek transparency.

Thomas Scott
I am conservative when it comes to city council and think we should focus on the core items: Maintaining and improving infrastructure, keeping us safe, and aligning policies with the reasons we all moved here. My family loves the small-town feel, all the friendly neighbors, great school, and proximity to all the great amenities in the surrounding Kansas City Metro. I think that there are two large opportunities we can immediately begin to address. We can improve infrastructure items like street surfaces, sidewalks, lighting, and storm water drainage. We can also improve the two-way communication between the city and residents through enhancing the current channels and exploring new communication technologies. Through these, we can help residents understand and feel engaged in city decisions and understand how we get from point A to point B on decisions made.

Jayme Tebow
As I speak with my neighbors, they ask, “Why can’t I know what’s planned for my city?” Residents shouldn’t be kept in the dark when it’s their money and their quality of life at risk.

We just finished updating our master plan and large areas were left simply as “Planning Areas.” The City Council needs to encourage openness to promote trust. When residents are left in the dark, they tend to speculate.

About the author

Jay Senter
Jay Senter

Jay Senter is the founder and publisher of the Post.

He earned his bachelor’s degree in business at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he worked as a reporter and editor at The Badger Herald.

He went on to receive a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas, where he earned the Calder Pickett Award. While he was in graduate school, he also worked as a reporter for the Lawrence Journal-World.