It was a Monday morning when I finally read the prior week’s Lee’s Summit Tribune, three-day old news enticing me from the table I was straightening. My habit is reading all that crosses my line of sight; the newspaper had caught my eye.
I read a front-page, top-right article about the 2013 New Partners for Smart Growth conference I had attended just the week before. That Friday night, Lee’s Summit Mayor Randy Rhoads had accepted the 2013 Leadership Award on behalf of The City of Lee’s Summit, Missouri. It made me so proud, given what I know of our recent 2012 Lee’s Summit Sustainable Action plan and the LS360° plan.
I thought back to the conference: I had digested at least a metric ton of data and case studies and best-practices from all those mayors, city managers, city and citizen planners, elected officials and staff, private sector and industry interests, nonprofits, community organizers, and university and neighborhood leadership. Great learning was transferred on how we up the ante in growing our cities large and small, urban, suburban, and rural, conservative and liberal, in fiscally and environmentally sustainable ways ... with a side of economic development and a tall glass of inclusive community processes.
I took away this: Smart Growth means you try to find the most winners for any given development or other community improvement. You seek out and push for the win-win-win-(win) situations where the most people benefit in the overarching goal to improve your community’s rank on the live, work, and play gauges.
At the conference, I heard from Joseph Minicozzi, a North Carolina expert cross-trained in city planning in the public and private sectors, as well as private sector real estate finance. Joe has developed award-winning analytic tools that have set the stage for a paradigm shift for thinking about development patterns.
In his speech, Joe shared how his current city of Asheville, North Carolina—a city about 10,000 people smaller than Lee’s Summit—is realizing “an astounding +800 percent greater return on downtown mixed-use development projects on a per acre basis compared to when ground is broken near the city limits for a large single-use development like a Super Walmart. A typical acre of mixed-use downtown Asheville yields $360,000 more in tax revenue to city government than an acre of strip malls or big box stores.” (http://www.planetizen.com/node/53922)
Joe’s key message: we are “perpetuating an error when it comes to how we think about real estate. Our mistake has been looking at the overall value of a development project rather than its per unit productivity. Especially relevant in these times of limited public means, every city should be thinking long and hard about encouraging, and not accidentally discouraging, the property tax bonus that comes with mixed-use urbanism. Put simply, density gets far more bang for its buck.”
Back to my compulsive reading habit on that Monday morning: another front-page bit caught my eye on the proposed second Walmart for Lee’s Summit, the contentious discussion, and the decision to delay the development application.
I saw irony there on the front page of my newspaper: a second Walmart development versus the principals of Smart Growth.
When the Lee’s Summit City Council reconvenes to discuss the Walmart application during a special session at 6:15 p.m. on Thursday, February 28, I wish Joe could be there to help us see more about what is possible for our community, and to help us through the conversation on if and how density suits us here in Lee’s Summit. Absent that, I plan to attend on February 28 and voice my concerns about what other mixed-use developments might serve us better and on more levels.
While I respect and honor the hard work of those dedicated individuals involved with bringing the Walmart application forward for our City’s consideration, my sense is that it may not be a win-win-win-(win) development for our community. For my family, for my city, for us all, I remain hopeful we can find the way forward where we can win and win and win.
Steff Hedenkamp is a writer, editor, and communications professional who serves individuals, companies, nonprofits, and government—translating more than 15 years of experience in public relations, messaging, communications, stakeholder engagement efforts, and advocacy & issue campaigns into actionable approaches to help clients most effectively reach their target audiences.