Owing to concerns over a citizen-led referendum petition and the lack of a binding contract, the Edmond City Council postponed until May 24 its consideration of a proposed sales tax election for the potential purchase of 22 acres of land adjacent to E.C. Hafer Park.
Located near East 15th Street and North Bryant Avenue, the privately owned parcel has been a contentious property for more than a decade in Edmond, and most recently the City Council has approved its rezoning for a potential mixed-use development that would include 276 residential units.
At its April 26 meeting, the Edmond council advanced a proposal that had support from the land owner, developer and many opponents of the housing and retail project: Asking Edmond voters to approve a year-long $0.0025 sales tax to raise an estimated $5 million, most of which would be used to purchase the 22 acres to expand or protect Hafer Park.
Monday, however, Councilman David Chapman made a motion to delay the council’s vote until May 24.
“I don’t think that we have a contract,” Chapman said. “Or at least we haven’t seen one as a council.”
New Councilwoman Christin Mugg agreed with Chapman’s concern and ultimately seconded his motion.
“It’s my understanding we have a non-binding letter of intent. So there is no promise the current owner will sell the land to the city,” she said. “As council member Chapman mentioned, we have no agreement from the owner to sell it to the city, and I agree with Mr. Chapman it is a bit premature putting something to a vote of the people to tax them and raise $5 million when we have no biding contact that the seller will sell that to the city.”
‘People are going to get confused’
But a second concern and complicating factor also swayed the council into delaying its vote. Since the April 26 meeting where the sales tax proposal had taken shape with support from most parties, opponents of the proposed housing development filed a referendum petition seeking to overturn the council’s zoning change on the property.
“I think people are going to get confused right now. With a referendum petition being out there and then us voting on this. There may be a ballot question if they get enough signatures on [the referendum],” said Councilman Josh Moore. “(And if) we’re going to be moving forward on a vote for another plan (for a sales tax to buy the property), I’m assuming most citizens are going to say, ‘What’s going on here? What are we supposed to do?'”
Moore emphasized that the Edmond council had nothing to do with the filed referendum petition.
“I think we had a pretty good plan in place, and a lot of people worked together on that,” Moore said. “So it’s kind of been a curveball a little bit, and I don’t know if I want to play along with that.”
Representatives of the developer, Richard McKown, and the land owner, Sooner Investment, pledged that they would uphold the sale agreement and would sign a contract to that effect by the end of the week. Still, the council voted 5-0 to postpone consideration of the sales tax proposal until May 24.
“We are all in on the plan we developed,” said Todd McKinnis, an attorney representing McKown. “I just want us to focus on moving forward with this process. I also don’t want the city to have two elections 30 days apart, if that would be the case.”
Attorney Lydia Lee, who opposes the land’s commercial and residential development and who has worked with McKinnis and the city to create the sales tax compromise, also said she wants the situation to move forward. Lee noted that referendum proponents have until nearly the end of June to collect the required signatures to force a vote on repealing or upholding the zoning change.
“I think by proceeding with this sales tax election and getting it to a vote of the people and putting everything we’ve got to urging people to vote yes (…) by doing that, that will in effect render any referendum moot at that point,” Lee said.
Charles Moles, who also opposes the residential and commercial development, said he supports the referendum effort because he fears the developer and land owner will ultimately campaign against the sales tax proposal.
“We have no assurance that the developer and the property owner won’t campaign against the sales tax,” Moles said.