Sunset Manor Task Force distills four meetings into four ideas

By BURKE WASSON

Four meetings’ worth of proposed solutions presented to the Sunset Manor Task Force have been whittled down to four ideas to improve the troubled subdivision that the Novus Development Co. had targeted as the site of a new shopping center.

The task force, which was created by recently ousted Sunset Hills Mayor Jim Hobbs as a way for Sunset Manor homeowners to share their ideas with the city, met Saturday to prioritize their goals for the development. Each goal will be presented April 25 to the Board of Aldermen, which will welcome four newly elected aldermen and new Mayor John Hunzeker at that time.

Using a points-based prioritization system with anonymous ballots, task force members came to the conclusion that the most important goal originated from owners of homes and businesses near Sunset Manor is that “the city should not have an eminent domain law, but allow the property owner to bargain directly with a developer.”

But while the task force’s points system showed that having no eminent domain in Sunset Hills is the most important proposal to be considered by the Board of Aldermen, only one task force member actually voted it as the most important.

Three of the six task force members who attended Saturday’s meeting voted that the most important goal is that “the city should move forward with a new development that has approved funding.”

One task force representative voted that the most important proposal is that “the city should buy out the Sunset Manor property at Novus contract prices.”

And one member of the task force voted that the most pressing goal heard from participants of the task force’s March sessions is that “the city should stop all development for the future” for 10 years.

To prioritize the four goals that had been deemed most important out of the roughly 40 ideas heard between four meetings on March 11 and March 18, task force members were asked Saturday to designate each of the four ideas as one of five degrees of importance: most (five points), moderate (four points), average (three points), marginal (two points) and least (one point).

By that system, the no-eminent-domain proposal scored 23 points, the proposal for new development scored 21, the city buy-out proposal scored 21 and the proposal for a 10-year moratorium on development scored 18.

Each of the task force members — Jane Treppler, Kary Kew, Jason Dugger, Bob Wayne, Jane Chickey, John Buchholz, John Lakebrink and Keith Doder — listened to a number of concerns during the March sessions at City Hall. Task force members are required to own property at Sunset Manor and were selected in March by task force Chairwoman Pat Otto with the assistance of the Board of Aldermen.

Otto said now that the task force has met to prioritize its goals for Sunset Manor, the real decisions are now in the hands of the aldermen. No proposals are binding, so the board can essentially take them or leave them.

Two newly elected city officials — Hunzeker and Ward 1 Alderman Frank Hardy, who attended Saturday’s meeting — both said they would consider whatever proposals the task force has to report to them.

“They’ve done a great job of running down who owns what property because they were very specific on the task force that only people that own property would have a voice in the outcome of the task force,” Hunzeker said. “We’re not, obviously, bound to use the information that the task force is going to provide for the aldermen. But at this juncture, any information is good information.”

Otto outlined a 10-page report that the Sunset Manor Task Force is scheduled to present to the Board of Aldermen at its next meeting. The report will include an executive summary that will show both the rank-ordered goals and the results of the city’s recent straw poll for Sunset Manor homeowners. Six pages of results from the four meetings will also be shown to aldermen, along with a one-page narrative report that includes the Board of Aldermen’s original charge to the task force, a copy of the goal-setting ranking summary completed Saturday and a one-page report on the straw poll.

The straw poll results show that out of 72 Sunset Manor homeowners who voted, they were split in half with 36 people voting to proceed with the development and 36 voting to stop it. Absentee owners who took part in the straw poll favored proceeding with the development of Sunset Manor by a vote of 45-30.

Straw vote calculations also show that as of April 1, 119 Sunset Manor homeowners — roughly 45 percent of all property owners in the development — were living in those homes. However, Otto said that ownership of those homes are “very fluid at this time” and that the task force has learned since April 1 that there have been a handful of homeowners who sold their properties after the straw vote.

Hunzeker said while he will consider the task force’s recommendations, he does not hold much regard for the results of the city’s recent straw poll because he believes it was a weak attempt by the Board of Aldermen to show concern.

“The straw poll, I thought, was badly worded and poorly executed,” Hunzeker said. “So will I pay much attention to the outcome of the straw ballot? Probably not. Will I be interested in reading what a majority of people had to say in the (task force) sessions? Yes. Will it be important to look at the one that got the most votes? Yes. Will it be important to read the ones that got the second-most votes and the third-most votes? Yes. All of the above. Everybody that was invited, they may or may not have got the opportunity to speak, but in the counts associated with what they thought ought to happen, there’s some great ideas. To that extent, we’ll certainly pay attention.”

While some participants of past task force sessions in March have criticized the format of the task force’s fact finding, Otto said she is nonetheless pleased with its outcome and expressed gratitude to the members she selected to sit on the task force.

“These people sitting here have done yeoman’s work sitting here listening to what their neighbors ask,” Otto said. “I feel that they’ve given their time and a lot of intellectual input and effort into this.”