Shawnee can’t make up its mind about the fate of a proposed apartment complex.
At its meeting Monday night, it took the City Council five separate votes before ultimately deciding to send the project’s preliminary development plan back to the city’s planning commission.
Unsuccessful votes were taken to deny the project, approve the project and table the vote. But after midnight, the council finally realized it was too divided to make a decision either way, so it sent the item back to the planning commission for further review.
More than 100 residents showed up to the meeting to oppose the $35 million project, called The Vantage at Shawnee, which is set to be built on vacant land near Pflumm Road and West 62nd Street.
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Because the current city council chambers at Shawnee City Hall are being renovated, the meeting was held in the police training room at Shawnee Justice Center. The small room quickly filled to capacity, with dozens of frustrated residents spilling out into the hallway and front lobby of the building, many standing for up to five hours during the meeting.
At the public hearing, several residents voiced concern that the apartment complex would increase traffic, lower property values and seem out of place in the area, which is mostly surrounded by single-family homes. They also fear the apartments could one day become subsidized housing.
If approved, The Vantage would consist of 312 market-rate apartment units in 14 buildings in a luxury gated community. Its Omaha-based developer, America First Real Estate Group, also plans to include a clubhouse, dog park, pool and cabana, and a stormwater retention pond in the site’s northwest corner.
The vacant lot had currently been approved for Cobblestone, a proposed senior citizen community, which never got off the ground after being approved for a tax increment financing district in 2008.
The Vantage developers are not asking for tax incentives.
Curt Petersen, who represents America First, told the council that the apartments are set to be high quality, with 9-foot ceilings, walk-in closets and custom-made kitchen cabinets.
A small one-bedroom unit would rent for about $750 and a three-bedroom unit would be around $1,300.
The hope is to attract young professionals and baby boomers, Petersen said. He also stressed that America First has absolutely no intention of selling the development once it’s built or turning it into low-income housing, both which were fears residents had at the Planning Commission meeting two weeks ago.
He also said that a recent traffic study reveals that less traffic will be generated at the development during peak hours than the previous Cobblestone plan.
Residents, however, remained skeptical.
Many of them insisted young professionals and baby boomers were not interested in moving to an apartment complex in a residential part of town.
“Anyone who says millennials want to move to this part of Shawnee because it’s cool is crazy,” said Marianne Notley, which drew big laughs from the audience.
Another resident, Melissa Nachbar, worried that adding an apartment complex to the area would deteriorate it. She also said she was concerned that adding more residents with children to the area could possibly overcrowd the nearby elementary school, Broken Arrow.
Nearly all of the opposed residents pleaded with the council to deny the plan.
“Many of my neighbors are out in the hall asking you not to vote in favor of this project,” Brenden Davidson told the council. “Are you going to side with the residents you represent or stand in a corner with a corporate lawyer? This gated community is not what Shawnee wants or needs. It is a destructive, awful complex.”
There were a couple residents who spoke in favor of The Vantage, however.
“I think this plan is an appropriate use for this land,” said Shawnee resident Justin Nichols. “Shawnee needs a development like this one because it will help put real money back into the community. If you don’t approve a project that will benefit the city, developers will hesitate to come here in the future.”
The Shawnee Chamber of Commerce also voiced its approval of the project, stating in a press release that the project could bring new retail to the city and it would create substantial revenue to the city, the county and the school district. The statement said that the most current comparable apartment development in Shawnee was built more than 15 years ago and that there is a need for more of these types of projects in the city.
The council expressed mixed opinions.
Council members Stephanie Meyer and Jeff Vaught said they felt the plan fit in the area. Councilman Brandon Kenig agreed, adding that as a millennial himself, he understands there is a need for this type of development in the city.
“A lot of young people don’t want to upkeep a house; they like the amenities of multi-family living,” he said. “We have a thriving tech industry and bio industry. There are a lot of young professionals who would love to live in Shawnee, because they work off Johnson Drive or Shawnee Mission Parkway, but there are not a lot of high-end apartments in the area for them to make the move.”
Other members of the governing body were less enthusiastic.
Councilman Eric Jenkins said he was concerned that there was no transition between the single-family homes and the proposed apartment complex. He wasn’t against the project, but thought it was in the wrong place.
Councilmen Dan Pflumm, Jim Neighbor and Mike Kemmling agreed the development didn’t fit with the area.
The Planning Commission will once again review the item at its January meeting.
Jennifer Bhargava: firstname.lastname@example.org