Swope Ridge residents want sewers, not soccer.

How TIF flushed Swope Ridge to make way for soccer 

Swope Ridge residents want sewers, not soccer.

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Jackson County Executive Mike Sanders applauded the plan as a show of city-county cooperation to get a recreational amenity built.

Sanders' son plays competitive soccer, and the dearth of high-quality fields on the Missouri side of the metro has sent his family to Overland Park's Soccer Complex, a collection of 12 fields that keeps a full schedule of local and regional tournaments. He saw the Swope Park project as KC's first step toward attracting similar events. "What ultimately started out, I think, as a fairly acrimonious process, through this process is a project I think we can all get behind," he said.

Losiewicz didn't see the advantage to Swope Ridge. She asked the City Council to put off voting on the plan until her neighborhood could, through a mediator, get a better deal — a deal that delivered on an old promise.

The TIF plan in 1991 was unequivocal about whether Swope Ridge needed sewers. The plan spelled out how much that improvement would cost (though the $195,000 figure outlined for the project was, even in 1991 dollars, optimistic). A study authorized by the TIF Commission in 2012 found again that Swope Ridge needed sewers.

"As identified in previous TIF plans, the soil conditions in much of the area are not conducive to the use of septic tank absorption fields and can negatively affect the public health through excessively slow absorption of effluent, surfacing of effluent, seepage or contamination of ground water," reads a report by Development Initiatives, a company often called upon by the TIF Commission to carry out blight or conservation studies to help grease the skids for TIF.

Scott Wagner, a Northland councilman, sounded troubled. "Raytown will get theirs, the library will get theirs, so now it's a matter of taking this godawful 1991 document with the promise of the world that we'll never deliver on," Wagner said.

Circo, second in command after Sly James, said she understood the frustration of the neighborhood. But she added that even if the city built sewer lines in Swope Ridge, residents wanting service would have to pay to connect to the sewer line.

A private plumber tells The Pitch that cost can start at $3,000 and go higher than $10,000, depending on a number of circumstances.

"Even if it was affordable to put in the sanitary sewer system, we can't force the homeowner to tie into that, and there's no guarantee they would utilize that," Circo told her fellow council members.

The original TIF anticipated Circo's objection. It included a home-improvement grant program that freed up funds for property owners (up to $3,000 each) to pay either for sewer hookups or exterior improvements to their homes. (Those grants never materialized.)

The deal that Swope Ridge property owners have now isn't a great one. Each house in the Winchester TIF district is eligible for a $750 grant for septic-tank improvement. After that, each property can apply for up to $22,500 in funding to have septic tanks replaced, if necessary, or for exterior home improvements. 

And there's a catch.

Unless the property owner's income is less than median, he or she must match the grant dollar for dollar for home improvements. Those who earn more than 125 percent of median income must match 2-to-1. Those who get grants also get a five-year lien on their property.

"What we're getting is a piddly dab," says Humston, the longtime Swope Ridge resident. "I think it's a rotten thing."

Other benefits are coming, such as improvements to (and a widening of) Bennington Road, one of the neighborhood's main thoroughfares.

But at the Swope Ridge meeting in April, everyone was talking sewers.

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