Some of the 250 that attended the May 23 Enhanced Enterprise Zone public meeting at Lee’s Summit City Hall admitted they didn’t know the full spectrum of the EEZ or all its variables.
But the overwhelming majority did know this – anything with the word “blight” in wasn’t sitting well with them.
While defining what exactly an EEZ is, does and accomplishes continued to be a sticking point between the advisory board and those that live within the proposed boundaries, one glaring constant emerged from town-hall-style meeting – this group doesn’t like the designation and will continue to fight it.
“My concern is with the word ‘blight,’” Hugo Gibson, a local chiropractor. “How can it not have a negative effect?”
That single word became the largest sticking point and heftiest hurdle for the EEZ Advisory Board, its chair, Keith Asel, and city consultant Chris Sally, all of whom were on hand to face the crowd and answer some questions citizens had about the proposal.
Sally gave a brief overview of what an EEZ can accomplish in the economic development realm and gave examples of some of the other 14 EEZs around Kansas City.
An Enhanced Enterprise Zone establishes an area targeted for business retention, development and growth where tax credits can be used to spur such progress. To establish such a zone, 60 percent or more of the residents must have below 90 percent of the median income of all residents in the area and the level of unemployment must be equal to or over the average rate for the county in that area.
By state statute, such a zone does not alter local zoning nor can a city enact eminent domain on an EEZ area, a claim made by members of the Show-Me Institute.
“Any use of eminent domain within an EEZ is deliberately misleading,” Sally told the crowd, adding that the term “blight” doesn’t mean a residence is blighted or run down and would not decrease property values, a claim that brought groans and sighs from the audience.
From there, the opinionated crowd only became more vocal.
City Manager Steve Arbo and Asel both discussed the format for the public meeting, which was to include stipulations on length of time each person could speak and avoiding topics that had already been brought up.
Dozens of hands shot up during the two-plus hour meeting as visibly angry residents of the proposed EEZ laid out a litany of questions about the program and arguments against blighting an area for economic development.
Among them: Would blighting the area be required to be disclosed on the sale of the property? Could a blight designation trigger future condemnation? What is the impact of blight on the historical areas? How does blight contribute to the crime rate? What does an EEZ do to insurance rates?
Many in the audience repeatedly also asked why the Lee’s Summit City Council was not in attendance to answer questions at the meeting. Arbo and Asel pointed out that indeed council members Rob Binney, Kathy Hofmann, Allan Gray, Dave Mosby and Brian Whitley were in the room.
Many accused the city of withholding the notice of the public meeting from some residences in the proposed EEZ and from those that live in John Knox Village – part of the proposed area.
Mark Dunning, director of codes administration for the city, provided the letter that was sent out to the Lee’s Summit Journal. The letter included information on an EEZ, time, date and location of the public meeting, but made no mention of city council members or Mayor Randy Rhoads being present to answer questions. Asel said that would be premature anyway, as the advisory board hasn’t decided yet whether to move this proposal forward to the full council.
Still, those answers didn’t resonate with many.
“I think this whole process is dishonest,” resident Sandy Smith said, adding she thought the full council should be on hand to answer questions.
Dunning addressed the concerns on the meeting notice, saying the city sent notices to all that were found to be in the proposed area, but if a building owner had more than one structure, they didn’t receive multiple notices.
The council may have a public hearing on the EEZ at the June 6 session and issues and questions that were brought up at the May 23 meeting were recorded by Arbo to be sent forward to the full council.
“The council isn’t supporting or defending this,” Arbo said, adding that he is gathering concerns to ensure a good process moving ahead.
While it was unclear if the committee will continue to pursue this particular EEZ, Sally noted that others around Kansas City have brought in over $325 million in economic development and 2,100 jobs.
“We have a responsibility to explore all economic development tools available at the state level,” Sally said, adding that the Kansas City Area Development Council currently has 110 businesses looking at the Metro area – and that none of those are looking in Lee’s Summit.
Other concerns that were disclosed included a mistrust of city processes regarding future use of the EEZ and questions regarding why the city would use this economic development tool now when one hasn’t been used in previous development.
Resident Noah Post asked a pointed question about what would keep the city from taking the homes outright in five to 10 years.
“I’m tired of you all screwing with us,” he said. “You’ve tried this before…”
The Enhanced Enterprise Zone Board consists of Asel, Terri Harmon, Ron Williams, Bill Brown, Mark White and Troy Pfeifer.
Brown said the mayor-appointed board was supposed to accomplish the single goal of exploring economic development possibilities, which he believes it did.
“The EEZ Advisory Council was charged with looking at the opportunity of the establishment of the EEZ as an economic development tool for the community. No other agenda other than with a view to answer the question of ‘can this tool be used in Lee’s Summit to increase commercial investment and create new employment activities?’” Brown said. “The public hearing was designed to provide fact-based information regarding the authorizing EEZ legislation and implementing regulation, the use of the EEZs in Missouri to date and to solicit public comments. There has been misinformation and misunderstanding on the subject matter injected into the process and we wanted to make sure that we spoke to those issues-particularly around the issues of the blight designation, which is required under the program and its potential use for eminent domain, which is statutorily prohibited with the program. We heard strong feedback and that will be duly noted in our future deliberations.
“I can assure you that the EEZ Advisory Board is making all efforts to have a information based, transparent dialogue with the community and we hope this will be helpful to the city council who will ultimately make a decision about implementing an EEZ.”
The eligible EEZ as it stands borders Colbern Road at Unity to the north, over to Douglas Road and Independence Avenue to 291 Highway to the east, Chipman Road and south to Fifth Street and Jefferson Street in what is considered the traditional area of downtown Lee’s Summit and a block of land west from Oldham Road to Pryor Road.