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Edmond Update: Two Proposed Apartment Developments draw lawsuits; Sales Tax Vote still on for Oct. 12

Stacy Martin, Managing Editor

Edmond residents who led the citizens’ referendum petitions against a proposed apartment project near I-35 and Memorial as well as a 22-acre mixed use development adjacent to Hafer Park have been sued.

But a ¼ cent, 12-month, sales tax proposal allowing the city to buy the land and perhaps convert it to park land will still be held Oct. 12. The Edmond City Council voted on the matter Monday night (August 9),

If the sales tax fails, the developer may proceed with developing it into a mixed, residential/commercial project.

“We think it’s the right thing,” said developer attorney Todd McKinnis about the sales tax vote. “The next thing is to put it on the ballot and have the sales tax vote which could potentially end the entire dispute with the Hafer Park project. This has been a long struggle.

“There seems to be a lot of momentum behind the people that want to protect Hafer Park. So if they get activated it’s got a pretty good chance of passing.’’

Meanwhile, the Hafer dispute McKinnis speaks of involves one of two lawsuits that have been filed against those who spearheaded the citizens referendum petition.

In the Hafer Park -area project, attorney Mark Stonecipher (an Oklahoma City councilman) on behalf of SSLM Development, LLC, SCV Development LLC and Stephen Moriarty, alleged that the signatures on the petition were obtained using fraud and deceit and that the effort violates the federal Fair Housing Act, which provides for equal access to affordable housing in all neighborhoods.

“We think we had a good plan,” McKinnis said.

“I know my developer has more productive.things to do. I don’t think he’ll be developing anything in Edmond (if the sales tax vote prevails), which is a shame because it really is a great project and it would really benefit Edmond.”

Meanwhile McKinnis filed a lawsuit against filers of the citizens’ referenda  petitions objecting to the apartment development at I-35 and Memorial, McKinnis said.

The lawsuit alleges residents signing the petition had it confused with the hotly-contested development of 22 acres adjacent to Hafer Park, near 15th and Bryant.

Case and Associates of Tulsa proposes 301 garden style apartments to the north of I-35 and Memorial. The developer negotiated several compromises with the dozen or so nearby residents most affected by the proposal and satisfied their concerns about building height and elevation.

Nevertheless, the citizens’ referendum petition contained roughly 4,300 signatures. About 1,000 of them were disqualified for reasons that included signers not living in Edmond, leaving around 3200 valid signatures. Many of those objecting do not live particularly close to the proposed development, McKinnis said.

The filing of the lawsuits likely means neither referendum petition will not go to a vote of the people as previously planned on Oct. 12, McKinnis said.

Case has been calling people who signed the referendum and asking them if they intended to object to the Case project or the Hafer project. Enough people were confused that the developer felt justified in authorizing the lawsuit, said McKinnis. The calls are continuing, he told The City Sentinel.

Edmond resident Paula Burkes claims the Case callers have been bullying people who signed the referendum petition. Burkes is a retired business writer for The Oklahoman. She addressed her remarks to a July meeting of the Edmond City Council.

“I called her and told her I didn’t appreciate her accusing my client of a felony,” said McKinnis, referring to voter intimidation. “There is no bullying, no intimidation. They call using a script containing three questions. “

Opponents to both projects say they will exacerbate school crowding, worsen traffic problems, hurt property values and could even increase crime.

“I know there are emotional issues,” said McKinnis. “I’ve been doing this for 27 years. It’s a shame the facts rarely get the service they’re due in the process. There is not a single empirical study or other evidence which shows support for these things.”

At Hafer, proposed is a $30 million property to include “mansion block” homes by SSLM Development, led by Richard McKown, a metro area developer of more than four decades. There will be four one- and two- bedroom homes per structure. At full occupancy it will have about 278 residents, most likely empty nesters and young professionals. The developer estimates there will only be about 15 children living there, resulting in little school crowding impact, while providing a $30 million ad valorem tax benefit to area schools.

There will be a separate commercial area with restaurants retail and other development accessible to the property’s residents.

As for traffic, McKinnis said the project’s developer already knows there is a traffic problem at 15th and Bryant. He said the developer will be paying for a traffic mitigation study and will pay to make traffic improvements in the area. He also believes the area’s residents will sometimes walk to nearby offices, restaurants and retail establishments.

“I think some people want it to be a park and some people want it to be not developed ever,’’ McKinnis said.

The land has been the subject of multiple, failed development efforts in recent years after citizens objected to them.

The proposed real estate contract is written as an either-or option. Either Edmond citizens approve the sales tax and the city buys the land or the development moves ahead as planned. The landowner and developer included a clause that could allow them to back out of the contract if the sales tax passes and the referendum passes.