Waldo residents question why KCATA may give tax breaks to a project without affordable housing
Under a plan approved by RKCDC, the transportation authority's economic development arm, the Waldo74Broadway project would receive a 75% tax exemption for 20 years. Local residents say they're frustrated about why the plan includes no units set aside as affordable.
Residents of Kansas City’s Waldo neighborhood may soon see changes along a popular commercial strip, where the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s development arm has recommended the first of three approvals for tax incentives for an apartment development at 74th Street and Broadway.
The six-story project, called Waldo74Broadway, is expected to contain 296 apartment units as well as a new location for The Well, a restaurant known for its rooftop dining area. As proposed, it will not set aside any units as affordable housing, and its developer, EPC Real Estate Group, will receive a 75% tax exemption for the project for 20 years.
The project will take up most of the city block bordered by Broadway to the west, Wyandotte Street to the east, 74th Street to the north and 74th Terrace to the south.
RideKC Development Corp. (RKCDC), the economic development arm of KCATA, is pursuing the apartment building as part of its plan to construct higher-density housing around transit nodes. At its Sept. 14 meeting, RKCDC approved the Waldo project as well as an apartment development at 31st Street and Gillham Road.
KCATA’s ability to issue bonds is outlined in the federal law that created the organization.
Unlike tax incentive financing granted by Kansas City, the RideKC project does not require approval from the City Council to grant the tax break. An EPC official said the development company is working with the city planning staff. Diane Binckley, deputy director of city planning and development, told The Beacon that no City Council approvals would be required from a land-use standpoint.
At a neighborhood association meeting on Sept. 26, Waldo residents voiced concerns about the development, which EPC said it would consider as the project moves forward. Residents questioned the number of parking spaces and whether construction would cause extra traffic or burden local utilities. They also expressed frustration with the planned tax break and the absence of a plan for affordable housing.
“Generally, I love the idea of probably younger professionals coming into this area and populating our businesses,” Waldo resident B. Michael McFarland said after the meeting. “Personally, I’m usually against tax abatements in general, and I don’t like the fact that there’s no affordable housing. So I’m mixed.”
Waldo74Broadway will receive a 75% tax break for 20 years
The $90 million project planned in Waldo received its first approval at RKCDC’s board meeting on Sept. 14. This approval is called the “inducement resolution,” which is the first of three steps — it will be followed by a “bond authorization” and a “bond issuance.” After the final bond issuance approval, the project will be formally granted its tax abatement.
The goal of transit-oriented development, through RKCDC’s START project, is to create walkable neighborhoods surrounding transit. Approved projects must meet certain criteria, such as prioritizing pedestrian safety over traffic flow and including retail space on the ground floor.
The transit agency’s ability to issue tax incentives to developers is relatively new, and it has been a point of contention among KC taxing jurisdictions such as Kansas City Public Schools, which believes that KCATA should not be involved in economic development.
KCPS receives the majority of its funding from KC property taxes, and it has criticized RKCDC for a lack of transparency. All other economic development agencies, such as Port KC, inform KCPS about projects that could affect its funding.
Former KCPS Superintendent Mark Bedell also criticized RKCDC for a lack of development projects in neighborhoods east of Troost Avenue, a historic economic and racial dividing line in Kansas City created by racist housing practices.
At least seven projects are under public consideration by RKCDC, including the two approved on Sept. 14. Only one is located east of Troost.
“There are actually several projects east of Troost that have been brought to RKCDC and are in the pipeline but not public yet,” a representative of RKCDC wrote in an email. One project expected to be presented is at 41st Street and the Paseo and is a proposal from Community Builders KC, he said.
Dozens drawn to meeting
The Sept. 26 neighborhood meeting included representatives from EPC as well as Chris Lewellen, who owns The Well and two other bars in the area and who supports the project.
Roughly 40 residents attended.
The two EPC representatives, executive vice president Austin Bradley and project executive Jeremy Tinkler, said that the project is in the early planning stages and their aim was to hear feedback before major decisions had been made.
The majority of questions focused on the tax abatement, affordable housing and neighborhood impact.
“Everything that you have talked about sounds lovely. What I am curious about is the tax abatement,” one resident said. “This building is going to make a ton of money … And yet there’s going to be a 20-year tax abatement. Why?”
In response, Bradley said that the development would not be possible without the tax abatement, based on EPC’s financial analysis.
Kathleen Pointer, the senior policy analyst for KCPS, asked EPC for a third-party financial analysis, which she said would verify the level of tax abatement required for this project to break even. Pointer said that she would have preferred to ask RKCDC directly about an analysis, but the development agency was not responsive to her inquiries, so she felt compelled to ask the question at the neighborhood meeting.
“At this time, it has not been asked of us,” Bradley said. “If it is, then we’re happy to provide that.”
Pointer responded, “The school district is asking you for that.”
In an interview with The Beacon, Bradley clarified that EPC would provide a third-party financial analysis if required by RKCDC. He said that otherwise, it may not be under their control.
The Beacon contacted RKCDC CEO and President Brien Starner for an interview about the Waldo74Broadway project. Starner declined an interview. An email from a representative said that “neighbors’ issues and concerns are for EPC to answer.”
When asked whether the transit agency plans to conduct a third-party financial analysis on this development, the representative said he was not sure.
Developers are 'digesting' feedback
The day after the neighborhood association meeting, Bradley said the team was still “digesting” the feedback from the night before.
“We’re early in the process, and so we have the ability to take in feedback and keep it in consideration as we go forward,” Bradley said. “It’s a blessing and a curse of having these early meetings with the neighborhoods. There’s a lot of detail that’s wanted. The good thing is we get this feedback that we can consider, but the downfall is we don’t have everything nailed down to a tee quite yet.”
The next RKCDC board meeting will occur on Oct. 12 at 9 a.m. There is time allotted on the agenda for public comment, and anyone who wishes to speak must submit a written request by email following the instructions on the published agenda. RKCDC has not yet published its agenda for its October meeting, but for its Sept. 14 meeting, the deadline was 4 p.m. on the day before.