By Stacy Martin, The City Sentinel
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.
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, alleges 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.
Attorney Todd McKinnis has filed a lawsuit against filers of a citizens’ referendum petition 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. That proposal’s petition referendum heads to a vote of the people Oct. 12.
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 4300 signatures. About 1000 of them were disqualified for reasons that included signers not living in Edmond, leaving around 3100 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.
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.
There was to be a proposed 1/4 cent sales tax increase on the Oct. 12 ballot allowing the city to buy the land from Edmond City Attorney Stephen T. Murdock said the sales tax proposal must occur on the same date as the vote on the citizens referendum petition. so, unless something changes, that will likely not occur on Oct. 12 either.
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.