By Paula Burkes
For the City Sentinel
Registered voters in Edmond are a month away from a possible end to a decades-long feud involving land abutting Hafer Park.
In an Oct. 12 special election, voters will determine whether they’re willing to pay a quarter of a cent more in sales taxes for a year to buy and add 22 acres northeast of 15th Street and Bryant Avenue to the city’s parks system.
“That’s only 25 cents per every $100 a resident or a visitor spends in Edmond from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31,” said Lydia Lee, an Edmond attorney who’s heading the sales tax initiative and has led two previous efforts to stop planned urban developments near the park in the past 15 years.
The adjusted Edmond sales tax — at a temporary, year-long 8.5 percent — would tie with Moore’s sales tax and be lower than every other city in the metro, including Oklahoma City, at 8.65%; Norman, 8.75%; Yukon, Mustang and El Reno, 8.85%; Guthrie and Del City, 9%; Midwest City, 9.1%; and Shawnee, 9.495%.
Lee and other sales tax proponents want to squash a proposed $30 million high-density, multi-family, 278-resident project, by SSLM Development and area developer Richard McKown that Lee said “would impact the peaceful visual effect of the largely wooded area;” increase traffic in the area and burden already over-crowded classrooms.
In a “Yes for Hafer Park” campaign, Lee and cohorts hope to convince residents to agree to the tax that’s expected to raise $5 million, which will be used to buy the land at just under $4 million and also cover the closing costs of the sale, the cost of the special election, and any improvements to the park.
“If the tax passes, the land cannot be sold off in the future without a vote of the people,” Lee said.
Eleven residents, including former mayor Dan O’Neil, who helped launch the sales-tax alternative, recently gathered at Hafer to plan a pro-tax, “Yes for Hafer” campaign.
There’s widespread support for the tax. But there are opponents, including Councilman and Edmond developer Josh Moore, who crafted the alternative alongside O’Neill and other concerned citizens and voted, along with all of his fellow council members, to put the issue to the vote of the people.
“I’m on both sides,” Moore said in a recent telephone interview.
“I supported working with the landowner, developer and citizens to take the issue to the vote of the people, especially since the land in question has been controversial for so long.”
“But personally, I don’t support the tax,” he said.
“I don’t think we should pay more tax or that the city should get into the habit of buying private property.”
When pressed about traffic concerns, Moore said that without any traffic changes, the proposed development “would be horrible. I know 100% that measures need to be taken to improve traffic,” he said.
Edmond City Manager Larry Stevens said if citizens pass the increased sales tax, he’ll recommend a park-related use for the land to the council.
“They may decide they want public input, but ultimately the decision is the council’s, as it should be,” Stevens said.
If the tax doesn’t pass, there’s another effort to thwart the development. Concerned citizens garnered enough signatures, which were certified by the City of Edmond, to put a referendum to roll back the zoning there on the ballot in a special election.
However, a lawsuit alleging fraud in the signature collection procession has been filed.
The suit, which is scheduled to be heard Oct. 5 in district court, essentially delays the vote on the referendum question. If fraud is disproved in court, the issue by law/democratic process will appear on a subsequent ballot.
Note: Paula Burkes is an award-winning retired Business Reporter for The Oklahoman.