Parkville officials rethinking Hwy. 9 trail

A project pulled off the 2014 Parkville City budget may not be as dead as it once appeared to be, and several aldermen seem to have had a reversal of opinion on the project. At a Finance Committee meeting Monday, aldermen and City staff discussed the future of the Highway 9 bicycle and pedestrian trail project.  The City last year received a $350,000 grant from the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) to build the trail, with the City’s input on the project budgeted at more than $150,000. The City planned to fund its portion by borrowing funds from its Fewson Fund — a philanthropic trust dedicated to such projects — and through spending about $66,600 from the general fund. Most monies borrowed from the Fewson Fund would need to be paid back over the course of several years. In November, Alderman Chris Fisher brought up concerns about the project and about spending so much money when the City may be facing problems with failed Neighborhood Improvement Districts (NIDs) later this year. At the Monday meeting, City Administrator Lauren Palmer updated the Board on the status of the project. Mayor Jim Brooks had notified MARC the City wouldn’t be accepting the grant funds and simply planned to complete the project design and have a potential “shovel-ready” project for the future. Palmer said she felt she owed the Board an apology for unintentionally understating the ease with which the design could be finished. The design contract was for a total of $54,203, and the City has paid $42,063 to date, so about $12,000 remains to finish the design phase. However, there are no budgeted funds to finish this design process, so the Board either needs to identify some to finish the design, or drop the project entirely. Director of Public Works Kirk Rome said he had instructed the design firm to stop work until the problem can be addressed. “So at this point, we’re not proceeding with the design and will let this project die a quiet death,” Palmer said. Alderman Nan Johnston, who initially supported the trail and protested its removal from the budget, said she had second thoughts about spending the additional money for design. She suggested it may just be the time to let the trail go. “I think we should finish it,” said Alderman Diane Driver. “If it costs $12,000 to have the whole package in our hands, maybe we should consider it. It will never be cheaper than it is now.” Rome said the City will own the incomplete plans, which were still mostly finished and required only a few minor adjustments. The plans could still be put to use at a future date, if an opportunity arose. The original plan to have a shovel-ready project with designs and easements in place may be a long shot, though. “If I were a homeowner and I was asked to provide an easement, I would want to see the trail built and there’s no guarantee that will even be done at this point,” said Finance Committee Chair Jim Werner. “I just think it’s a waste of time.” Johnston and Werner said the location of the trail was still problematic. Even though it’s a Hwy. 9 trail, the path veers off the highway at several narrow choke-points due to the location of the graveyard and other right-of-ways. “The alignment problem will still be out there, no matter how and when the project is readdressed,” Palmer said. “This trail alignment was chosen because it was the best one available.” Driver said she was concerned about the people already walking on the shoulder along Hwy. 9. “We have a lot of people using what’s basically a third-world quality shoulder to get up Hwy. 9,” she said. It was a concern echoed by Aldermen Kari Lamer and Kendall Welch. Welch admitted she had a change of heart since her December vote to drop the trail project from the budget. She said she had assumed another alignment was possible, or that the trail could be done in some other way, but after further research realized this was the most viable plan. “I realized it was better this than nothing,” she said. Lamer said she was adamant that the Board needed to look at some kind of trail on Hwy. 9, whether it was with this plan or not. “The City should make an effort to make these connections between downtown and Park University and Parkville Commons,” she said. The point is moot now anyway, as the City already notified MARC of its intent not to accept the grant – something which Rome admits will be something of a black eye for the City during future grant proposals. At the committee’s suggestion, Palmer said City staff could check with the design firm to see if they would be willing to place the project on hold at the already-negotiated price, and see if the City would be willing to fund the $12,000 later in the year. That Board decision, members of the committee acknowledged, would largely depend on the outcome of bond sales for the Brush Creek and Brink Myers NIDs. The committee approved and sent on to the Board a proposal for Michael Short of Oppenheimer Funds and Laura Radcliff of Stifel Nicolaus to act as co-managers for the bond sale. Co-managers are common on large or complex deals – and the Parkville NIDs have a complex history. The NID areas have been affected not only by the Brink Myers retaining wall collapse, but also the 2008 economic collapse and the property foreclosures that followed. The financial difficulties in the districts may force the City to make payments on the NID due to lack of tax-revenue-generating development. The Board of Aldermen will address the proposal next week, but the outlook was somewhat more positive than it had been in recent months. “We’re in so much better of a place than we could be,” Werner said.