UNIVERSITY HEIGHTS — With just a week before the election, a slate of University Heights candidates have announced a campaign to challenge the council over One University Place, a controversial multiuse development project that drove debate in the city’s past two votes and was approved by council in August.
The group, UH Concerned Citizens 2015, has been circulating fliers and knocking on doors to stump for a slate of five candidates — three of whom are write-in candidates — in an effort to oust most of the existing council.
John Deeth, clerk with the Johnson County Auditor’s Office, said the recently announced slate has the office printing additional ballots and adding a staffer to the University Heights polling place — ironically located at 1300 Melrose Ave., the site of the controversial project, where St. Andrew Presbyterian Church still sits — in preparation for increased voter turnout.
One University Place, intended as a commercial and residential development, first drew public attention back in 2009 and played a big role in the city’s council meetings in 2011 and 2013, with the majority opinion of the project shifting to support the project after the most recent vote.
Supporters say the building will add amenities and value to the community, while detractors say the project is too big and question the use of tax increment financing, or TIF, to help fund it.
Weldon Heitman, who is running as a write-in for mayor, said efforts ramped up this past weekend. Heitman said he is unsure if a new council would be able to change course on One University Place, but added that the group hopes to investigate the council’s approval of the project and $4 million in annual tax rebates.
“I don’t know if we’re going to win this or not, but it’s certainly worth a try,” he said.
Mike Haverkamp, running for his fourth term on council, said he is concerned that there is no time for candidate forums or debate.
“I would have to say I am surprised and a bit disappointed that in a community such as ours, where we have so much citizen participation, that this group emerges at essentially the last moment,” he said. “I don’t think these actions represent transparency or accountability.”
Incumbent Silvia Quezada has been endorsed by the group, which includes and newcomers Dorothy Maher, Shahzad Ali, James Rick Hopson and Jerry Zimmerman, with all but Maher and Quezada are running as write-ins.
Those candidates are challenging incumbent council members Carla Aldrich, Mike Haverkamp, Jim Lane and newcomer Stephany Gahn.
Heitman is running as a write-in candidate against incumbent Mayor Louise From. The mayor of University Heights does not vote on matters, and terms for the mayor and council members run two years.
“The next council will have to deal with issues such as what is the best method of paying for our community space, what the community center design will be like, and policies regarding its use,” Haverkamp said. “I don’t foresee the next council being dominated by One University Place in the same way the last two councils have been. Frankly there are a lot of other issues that the council should be working on.”
Deeth said he forecasts a close vote.
In those past two elections, candidates announced early enough to appear on the ballot. With write-in candidates, results will take longer to verify as they will need to be hand-counted, Deeth said.
Voters also will weigh in on changing University Heights’s council terms from two years to staggered four-year terms.
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