Thursday, January 31, 2019

Top Ten for 2018

·        The top issue in Independence was “Corruption” and best presented in the previous post. This City Hall has an uncanny attraction to convicted felons who all want a piece of us and now it is facilitated by lobbyists that we actually pay. The height of public misbehavior was during the last election when our Mayor Pro Tem was in a fist fight with a citizen/voter at a church polling station and the incident was covered on several news stations. A recall drive failed for Mr. Van Camp and it’s business as usual at City Hall.
·        The MACO Northcreek project on Jones Road is near completion. This was approved for state subsidies by the Missouri Housing Development Commission in spite of another state agency designating it as an archaeological site worthy of protection or at least an archaeological study before any dirt was moved. And it gets worse, Oregon California Trails Association (OCTA) officials, Travis Boley & Matt Mallinson, unconditionally approved the rezoning without open discussion, public comment, or a formal review. Housing plans designed for flat sites had to include the removal of 20 feet of the natural terrain (and archaeological resources) creating terraced landscapes and canyons which is out of character for the surrounding neighborhood built into the natural terrain. Why should the public subsidize this very expensive construction that’s out of character, unpopular, and negatively impacts our history? MACO appears to be part of a cartel represented also by the City’s over-priced lobbyist and supported by a Political Action Committee whose contributions were strategically distributed. This project has represented THE most dysfunctional, unprofessional, and corrupt processes I have ever witnessed. Did these observations lead to the governor’s shut down of one of the state’s tax credit programs?
·        Uptown Market was planned, designed, and constructed without input from historic preservation interests. This location is literally located on three nationally designated historic trails. The project was reviewed by the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) because the city was applying for and eventually granted federal funds for the project. But the SHPO’s approval of the project was based only on 20th-century Truman history a block away. Did the City submit a fraudulent application for CDBG funds because our trails history was ignored? It appears the schedule for the grand opening just prior to the Santa-Cali-Gon Labor Day festival was more important than following the rules and investigating the site’s national trails history.
·        The Brady Green Space (public park) across the street from the Truman Library that connects three other public parks and greens spaces, a hiking/biking trail marked with National Historic Trail signs, and is a landscape element of the Truman National Historic Landmark District was put on the open market for housing redevelopment by City of Independence at the direction of Parks/Recreation/Tourism Department. The property also included a monument stone with a bronze plaque (now missing) and a swale cut into the hillside that was a part of the road bed for one of the first railroads west of the Mississippi River. The rail route connected Waynes City riverboat loading to the Independence Square making it also a route for our three National Historic Trails. After a few citizens complained, the property was eventually removed from their list of unwanted surplus properties. This example along with the Pioneer Spring Log Cabin are representative of the City’s treatment of historic properties as objectionable liabilities rather than community assets.
·        The historic Monte Parker Printing Building at 1106 West Lexington Street is prominently located across the street from the Community of Christ - United Nations Peace Park. In fact, the beautiful bronze sculpture of a girl reaching up to the heavens releasing a dove is literally facing this Parker building where ironically there has been very little peace according to neighbors. The building, also owned by the Church, has been neglected for decades and finally got 5 sheets of paper posted on its boarded-up store front indicating code violation proceeding. Vagrants have been living inside making situations precarious and, frankly speaking, “un-peaceful” for the neighbors and those standing on the street corner waiting for the bus. The fate of this property will likely be similar to Church property at 1306 W. Maple chronicled in this blog in 2010 as property neglect, a sham code enforcement process, and its eventual demolition.
·        The Pioneer Spring Log Cabin has been listed as a stop on practically all tourism literature for at least four decades. This prominent street corner was designated by City Hall as a Local Landmark under the City’s voluntary program to honor the site and the contributions of many community volunteers and private donations for this once celebrated project. But more important, the Landmark Program mandates its protection and preservation in perpetuity while creating an opportunity for the City to set an example to the rest of the community for the stewardship of historic landmark properties. But after decades of neglect, several Council members want it removed calling it “ugly” and no longer historic because, “It’s not like it is Lincoln’s boyhood cabin.” Costs for restoration were even exaggerated to justify its demolition. We will see in 2019 what the City will do with this landmark and other landmarks under the City’s stewardship.
·        Three Trails Brewery appears to be ready to open real soon on the Independence Square. It seems like a good fit in a historic district and common in other historic districts throughout the county. But this one is unique. It’s located next door to the County’s Drug Court where those with criminal substance abuse are forced to visit in order avoid jail time. So now those vulnerable souls populating the sidewalk on this block, smoking cigarettes, passing the time, and waiting for their time in court will now greet patrons for this new business. If you want to visit the new brewery, I recommend not taking a vehicle that has your company logo on it. Folks passing by will speculate whether you are there for a beer or for your day in Drug Court. In spite of everything working against the success of this new business, we wish them success that will lead to the relocation of Drug Court to a more appropriate location.
·        The National Park Service (NPS) Visitors Center located in the historic Fire Station No. on Main Street will eventually be forced to leave and find another location. The Fire Station was owned by the City of Independence but will be given to a group representing our firefighting history. It appears an entity representing a small slice of local history is pushing out a federal agency that represents a national and international story. And if that dichotomy is not enough, the Square Merchants who have insisted they be exempt from following historic preservation standards are demanding that the Visitors Center that houses the nation’s historic preservation agency remain on the Square. It seems a negotiated consensus would be in order between the merchants and the NPS. If there is actual support for the preservation mission of the NPS, then the NPS would agree to support the merchants. Yes, but we forgot that win-win situations do not work in Independence.
·        The idea of moving things is catching on. The City moved their Visitors Welcome Center to the headquarters for the Santa-Cali-Gon Festival which also allows the Independence Chamber of Commerce to have offices there. Maybe this will end up being a good thing to educate Chamber folks that the name of their signature event is actually related to our rich national trails history. We’ll see if the tourism planning by trial and error works.
·        We learned in December that Mayor Eileen Weir was appointed to the National League of Cities - Community and Economic Development Federal Advocacy Committee. This committee’s responsibilities include developing federal policy positions on issues involving housing, community and economic development, land use, recreation and parks, and historic preservation. Maybe this is a move to take mistakes and lessons learned from Independence, many listed above, to the national level. Remember what the mayor said after the Truman National Historic Landmark District was placed in the Top Ten of Places in Peril in the State of Missouri, “We make mistakes ... in the name of progress.”
We are in our 10th year documenting historic preservation in Independence. The entire point of this activity is to explore why we struggle and what we can do to assure success in the treatment and protection of our rich history. If you have noticed negative trends over the years, you are not alone. In fact, situations now as bad as we have witnessed. We will see what 2019 has in store for Independence but, unfortunately, with current trends and leadership, all signs point to the continued slump.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Money Merry-Go-Round

The presence of the “Circus of Corruption” is the biggest story over the past few years affecting all aspects of local governments including our public utilities and negative impacts to our historic resources.  Governments empowered by corruption and dirty money rely less on the will of the people, citizen-based advisory boards and commissions, and professional standards for city planning and fiscal responsibility.  From a historic preservation standpoint, the “poster child” of local corruption is the old circa 1910 City Hall at 200 South Main located in Truman National Historic Landmark District.  A 50-year lease of this county-owned landmark was facilitated by County Executive Mike Sanders and granted to who would eventually became his employer.   Sanders is now a convicted felon serving prison time.  The county and the leaseholder continue to neglect the landmark while the current County Executive, Frank White, received assistance from the leaseholder for personal financial hardships.  The city remains quiet over situations and ignores these blatant violations of property maintenance codes.  Both city and county continue to use the leaseholder’s law firm for legal services continuing the prejudicial relationships between county, city, developer, and legal consultants.  Even the suggestion of expanding the local historic district to protect the expanded National Historic Landmark District is unacceptable and represents a loss of control to the those riding the merry-go-round.  So to express a geometrical assessment of the Old Town Independence, “The Circle continues on the Square.”

Monday, October 8, 2018

The Brady Bunch of Green Space

In May of this year, the City of Independence Parks & Recreation Department produced a list of unwanted surplus properties with the intent to sell those properties for development of housing. One of those properties was the “Brady Green Space” which is on the southwest corner of 24 Highway and Delaware Street and located within the Truman National Historic Landmark District. The setting of this property is on the prominent Delaware Street corridor in the heart of the Truman Heritage District, next to McCoy Park, on the hiking/biking trail marked with National Park Service National Historic Trail signs, within view of the front steps of the Truman Library & Museum, and part of a cluster of parks and green spaces that compliment the setting of this nationally and internationally important presidential library. But its most important attribute is the presence of a swale that is the remnant of one of the first railroad routes west of the Mississippi. Because this route represented national and international commerce on the national trails, this geography has national importance. But for a local government that knows very little nor cares about it’s own history while routinely and deliberately leaving out community stakeholders in decision making processes, our national history was and continues to be in peril. Our civic motto as quoted by leadership at the very top continues to be “We make mistakes ..... in the name of progress.” It’s too bad we can’t learn from those mistakes so they are not repeated. Isn’t that what history lessons are all about?

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Uptown Market goes Underwater

Thanks to reserve funds from the City of Independence Water Department that are intended to be spent on our aging utility infrastructure, we get a $3.5 million Farmers Market. Parts of the Truman National Historic Landmark District are still serviced with water mains older than Harry Truman. These water mains are at least questionable to support modern fire hydrants that also protect an 11-story HUD low-income senior housing complex (with limited ladder truck access and no sprinkler system). The city commandeered federal funds for the project but only presented the project’s impact to Truman history to authorities ignoring the city’s rich national trails history. This in spite of the fact that the new project was placed right on three nationally designated trails and the archaeological remains of businesses connected to the trails. The city’s environmental assessment report only covered a fraction of the impacted property. Also, there were no Storm Water Permits necessary to fulfill state regulations. So the city took all these shortcuts in planning, designer selection, evaluating impacts to our national histories, and implementing an accelerated construction schedule so the facility could be opened in time for Santa-Cali-Gon. Yes, we ignored the impacts of our trails history so we can celebrate our trails history.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Digging up More Dirt, Corruption, & History

While MACO’s Northcreek housing project on Jones Street is using state subsidies to remove up to 20 feet of dirt at a documented state archaeological site marked with National Park Service National Historic Trails signs, the City Council approved a state government lobbying contract with former Speaker of the Missouri House, Steve Tilley.  Mr. Tilley was able to cash in from his former position as one of the state's most powerful elected officials. His lobbying efforts and Political Action Committee (PAC) is associated with MACO, Gardner Capital, Environmental Operations and organizations led by convicted felons. This “Cartel” was described by the St. Louis Post Dispatch as “big players in buying and selling tax credits” and “who’s who of campaign donors involved in public subsidies.”  Tilley’s PAC returns loyalty by padding the campaigns of local politicians including our Mayor and City Council.  So when the City Council votes in favor of MACO’s state subsidized housing projects, public land giveaways, the money-losing solar farms, or the high-bid demolition of IPL’s Missouri City Power Plant, the “Circus of Corruption” forms a “Circus Ring” where the cash comes full circle into the pockets of politicians.  Local politicians should be dressed as “Circus Clowns” with painted smiles while they overcharge citizens and public utility customers who attend the 3-Ring Circus and cheer as the circus animals trample over our civic sense of fairness and fiscal responsibility.  So now we are paying twice the price for lobbying access. No, it’s not for access to Jeff City.  It’s access for the greedy Cartel to citizen’s wallets and the public resources of our historic community.  Their influence even extended into the national leadership of OCTA, a trails and green space preservation not-for-profit, persuading OCTA to publicly support, in writing, MACO’s rezoning for the Northcreek subsidized housing project changing our historic landscape for generations to come.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Independence Rises to New Heights

"New Heights" was meant to be literal.  On one of the highest  elevations on the most picturesque ridge along Blue Ridge Boulevard overlooking the Blue River Valley to the west and Rock Creek Valley to the east, there are large piles of demolition waste that tower up an additional 40 feet in the air.  Due to this vantage point and elevation on Blue Ridge Boulevard just north of 23rd Street, the piles can be seen from miles away.  If you recall, the City Council rezoned this property in May 2017, against the wishes of over 4,000 citizens/voters and neighbors and the City's Planning & Zoning Commission for a company ironically called "Blue Ridge Mountain," LLC, owned by Lance & Janet Houston.  The heavy equipment used on the uncontrolled land fill reverberates noises to decibels never heard in this once quiet residential neighborhood adjacent to this landfill.  There is even dumping going on as late as 2:00 am.  In a 1932 community planning document prepared under the direction of Jackson County Judge Harry Truman,  Blue Ridge Boulevard was referred to as "Kansas City's main sight-seeing  suburban road."  The document called "The Results of County Planning" highlights plans for greenways and recreation features that align with natural geographic and picturesque settings such as ridges and waterways.  It makes no mention of retail, high density housing, and, of course, landfills of waste.  Does the City Council and the Mayor really believe these 4,000 voters do not matter?  Do the visionary plans of our forefathers that wanted to highlight the natural beauty of our community matter?

Friday, March 2, 2018

More “DIrt” in Local Politics

Several professional archaeologists felt it was important to volunteer their time and expertise in the “Dirt” to walk the site at the MACO Northcreek publicaly-subsidized housing project on Jones Street just east of River Boulevard.  They found enough evidence and artifacts from the trails-era occupation and Native Americans to register the site with the Missouri Department of Natural Resources - State Historic Preservation Office as a Missouri Archaeological Site but it comes too late to make a difference.  An archaeological investigation was first suggested by citizens and neighbors over two years ago.  This suggestion was due to its location with respect to the National Trails as a likely camp ground and staging area for pioneers preparing for the westward journey, not to mention evidence of trails-era burials.  City Planning officials, City Preservation Manager, and the Missouri Housing Development Commission disagreed primarily because officials with the Oregon-California Trails Association (OCTA) unconditionally supported MACO and their housing development while stating archaeology was not appropriate for this site.  It’s sad to see city and OCTA officials place politics before professionalism in supporting yet another politically connected developer.