Proposed changes to Pocket Park critiqued

Parkville considering alternatives for area along Main Street

Some Parkville area residents claim a deja vu effect as city officials host what appear to be “private meetings,” inviting only select property owners for input as they plan for downtown improvements.

The residents fear city officials are conducting business as they did more than a year ago with Creekside Development. In that case, after months of planning, officials announced public hearings to garner “citizen input” for the massive development that opponents allege was already signed, sealed, and delivered in closed-door sessions.

However, city officials say they are being inclusive to residents by hosting a public Zoom meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 4, which can be accessed through the city’s website. City Administrator Joe Parente said earlier meetings were early in the process.

“We’re walking through the steps of this project. There’s no done deal. We’re opening up all the processes to the public.” He added, “Whoever is providing you with this information is misguided.”

Parente did, however, agree that the public was not invited to earlier stakeholder meetings. “You have to start with a smaller group,” he said. “You can’t plan anything when you invite everybody.”

Jason Maki, head of a citizens’ group that objects to the way the city conducts business, has filed a civil suit against the City of Parkville and its officials over the city’s refusal to release some communications regarding Creekside, the more-than-300-acre Parkville development currently under construction. Brian Mertz is the developer of the project.

Members of Citizens for a Better Parkville claim the development was discussed in closed sessions out of the public eye. In addition, city officials have refused to release some documents Maki requested under the Sunshine Law, which is designed to promote government transparency.

The downtown improvements are part of the city’s master plan, a long-range vision for overall city improvements, including improvements for three city parks, including Pocket Park, located along Main Street. One plan would cost $150,000, which is part of the 2021 budget of $150,000 but another plan would cost about $400,000. A summary of the July 21 stakeholder meeting about Pocket Park stated that “considerations could be made for additional funding.”

Parkville resident Brett Krause said he believes city leaders’ actions, including recent Pocket Park Master Plan Stakeholder meetings in which only select people are invited to attend, look familiar.

“I think they’re lining it up very similarly to Creekside,” he said. “They’re putting everything together with a nice, big bow and shoving it down the throats of the public. They’re right back to their old tricks here.”

The owner/operator of Frank’s Italian Restaurant at 100 Main Street, said he was not invited to a Pocket Park master plan stakeholder meeting several weeks ago. After Ali Mahzoon complained to city officials, he said he received an invitation to the July 21 meeting. But Mahzoon said he did not feel right attending because some downtown property owners were not invited.

“I did not want to go without them,” he said, adding that the meeting was held at 3 p.m., which also excluded his participation because he is working in the restaurant at that time.

Mahzoon said he believes some people, including landlords, are being excluded because city leaders “wanted to make a decision without the tenants-without their input.”

Mahzoon said he understands that proposed plans will take away a stairway that provides access to his restaurant’s upstairs patio seating. City officials have told him the stairs belong to the city because they rest on city property, but because the building’s owner has paid taxes on the stairs, they do not belong to the city, Mahzoon argues.

In addition, his business and others downtown would lose a street-level loading dock in front of the building where deliveries are made. The July 21 meeting summary stated such loading “may be able to be accommodated at other locations during preferred delivery timeframes.” These include adding a delivery stall on the north end of the space while creating a bump out for the remaining space to the south.

While Mahzoon said he “didn’t want to mention any names,” he said he believes some business owners’ interests are being protected.

Creekside developer Brian Mertz owns a street level bar and restaurant with an upstairs bed and breakfast next to the Pocket Park.

Mahzoon said an outdoor stairway leading to Mertz’s property’s second floor will remain and perhaps even be improved or widened.

Parkville resident Brett Krause said he believes that Mertz is getting special treatment from city leaders because of his work as developer, adding that Mertz has received tax abatements for his business and “he’s Nan’s buddy,” speaking of Mayor Nan Johnston.

Some downtown merchants fear the plans will eliminate or reduce street parking, which they claim already is in short supply on the narrow, historic streets.

Tom Hutsler, who owns a downtown antique mall, said: “You could always use more parking and not to take away existing parking.” However, the Pocket Park meeting summary stated, “It was made clear that the number of on-street parking stalls available to the public should not be reduced.”

Parkville resident Elaine Kellerman said she especially objects to discussion about a plan to reduce train whistles from the downtown railroad tracks, which sound several times each day. Some downtown business owners have complained the whistles are too loud and disruptive, but Kellerman said she has always loved trains and their whistles.

Stakeholders have discussed using “wayside horns” (electronic whistles attached to a signal pole pointed toward traffic.) The horns signal train engineers if traffic is detected, sounding an alternate, electronic whistle which is less disruptive.

Kellerman said she personally observed the system and heard the alternate whistles at a Kansas railroad crossing. She said the whistles are what makes Parkville historic and quaint. She moved to Parkville about two years ago because of the city’s historic riverfront appeal, she said, adding that changing the whistles is part of “a push to sanitize everything.”

Kellerman added, “If I had known, I would not have chosen to live here. They want to silence the trains to attract more business and garner more sales tax dollars,” she said.

Kellerman is so adamant about keeping the train’s whistle that she has collected more than 100 signatures from residents who agree the whistles should remain. She complained that questions on a city website about changes to downtown do not allow citizens the option of preferring no changes to downtown, which is her preferred plan. She said the questions are misleading.

“It’s just to give you a sense that you have a say in this,” she said. They never ask you, ‘do you want this at all?’”

Kellerman added, “Parkville is pretty cool the way it is. It’s a small town and I don’t know where they want to take it.” She fears “over-development” and “more stuff packed into a small space” and the city getting “so over-grown that we lose our quaint feeling and overall charm. We need to hold onto the things that make Parkville Parkville.”

Hutsler, a downtown business owner who chairs a downtown Community Improvement District, said he believes plans to re-configure Pocket Park are unnecessary. He described the park as “absolutely beautiful.”

Hutsler added that moving existing statues of Pete Grigsby and Mark Twain have been discussed by stakeholders. But he said he has seen a lot of visitors taking photos near the statues, a sign of the popularity of the statues.

“If it’s not broken don’t spend money to fix it,” he said. “If you’re going to use taxpayer money, do something that needs to be beautified.”

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