Hafer Park sales tax
Edmond may have a chance to consider a 0.25 cent one-year sales tax for expanding or protecting E.C. Hafer Park by purchasing an adjoining 22-acre lot of land. The current land owner, Sooner Investment, has intended to move forward with a multi-use development project unless the city purchases the 22 acres. (Megan Prather)

After 42 minutes of discussion tonight about a potential ballot conundrum regarding a contentious 22-acre plot of land next to Hafer Park, Edmond Mayor Darrell Davis looked to his left and right before asking, “So, council, what do we want to do?”

Following another 50-minute exchange of frustration with an Edmond resident concerned about the issue, a rebuttal from a private developer’s attorney and further discussion, the Edmond City Council unanimously approved placing a Hafer Park sales tax question before voters in an Oct. 12 special election.

If approved, the year-long 0.25 cent sales tax would generate an estimated $5 million, about $4 million of which would be used to purchase 22 acres adjacent to Hafer Park for the park’s expansion or protection.

The council delayed its May 10 consideration of the issue while it awaited a contract with the potential seller.

“We had a plan from the beginning, and I was on that council from the beginning,” Councilman Josh Moore said. “And I was in a meeting or two or three, and I gave my word to the group that we would move forward with an option for the citizens to be able to purchase this land, and if that was not successful, then the applicant would be able to move forward with their project that has an approved [Planned Unit Development].”

Not so fast, ‘there is conflicting language’

Hafer Park sales tax
Members of the Edmond City Council listen to a presentation Monday, May 24, 2021. (Tres Savage)

Although Moore’s motion to set the Oct. 12 vote passed unanimously, the issue is far more complicated, and the PUD for a mixed-use development on the land may not move forward if the sales tax fails. Even further, the city’s purchase of the land near Hafer Park might not move forward even if the sales tax vote passes.

That’s because some residents opposed to development are collecting signatures for a referendum petition that would void the PUD. The situation frustrated all parties Monday night.

“The referendum is hanging over our head on this,” Davis said. “There is conflicting language.”

Moore said he is concerned that voters will also be conflicted, or even outright confused, if the referendum to void the PUD and the sales tax to buy the park both end up on the October ballot.

Citizens on all sides of the issue agreed the situation is confusing, but each blamed another for the imbroglio, taking the podium in a metaphorical cast of Spidermen pointing at one another.

“I understand it confuses the issue if we have a referendum and a sales tax on the same ballot,” said Matt Adam Thomas, one of the citizens who filed the referendum petition to reject the proposed development. “This petition only asks for the citizens to be allowed to vote on the issue, and I believe it is the right thing to do.”

Edmond citizen Lydia Lee also opposes the development, but she took a different approach to the issue, working with the land owner, developer and the City Council to craft the sales tax proposal for the city to buy the property.

“We are talking about an incredibly confusing vote for citizens,” Lee said of the potential for two questions to be on the Oct. 12 ballot. “Now, it is a royal mess.”

Todd McKinnis, an attorney representing the project developer, agreed about the mess but took umbrage with criticism of his client.

“The confusion didn’t start with us. That is so offensive. Just quit with the petition,” McKinnis implored. “Let the people who are out hocking signatures go encourage people to vote yes on the sales tax.”

Thomas’ group circulating the referendum petition will need to gather 2,712 valid voter signatures and submit them to city officials by June 25 to force their separate public vote on the land’s zoning.

But even if the sales tax fails and the referendum on the land’s zoning passes, McKinnis said developers and the landowner will be back before the Edmond City Council quickly with other proposals.

“It’s going to become monetized. It’s not going to not be anything. Unless the city buys it, (in which case) it’s going to become a park or a part of the park system,” McKinnis said. “I understand the concern about, well, if the sales tax passes and if you take away our zoning, my answer to that is that’s the only way we have any value.”

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Background on Hafer Park sales tax

The Edmond City Council began publicly discussing the idea for a Hafer Park sales tax vote in April, with municipal leaders pleasantly surprised that the land owner and developer were open to the idea of selling the land to the city.

Located near the northeast corner of East 15th Street and North Bryant Avenue, the parcel of property has been controversial in Edmond for years, most recently in 2017, when voters rejected a zoning change and functionally killed a development project on the site. A decade earlier, voters also made developing that property more difficult by approving new zoning requirements.

Other Edmond City Council actions

On Monday, the Edmond City Council also approved a site plan for renovations to the Kickingbird Golf Course, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“I’m super excited about this project,” said Brian Sorenson, Edmond’s director of golf. “We’re really looking with this new plan to put us back on the map for the next 50 years.”

The renovations will include a new clubhouse, a range pavilion, expanded parking and other improvements.

Sorenson said the golf course has seen increased demand during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Golf was one of those businesses, it was a safe outdoor activity, so Kickingbird Golf Course and the surrounding golf courses saw record rounds of golf being played,” he said.

He said the goal would be to open the new clubhouse in the fall of 2022, although high construction costs mean the bidding process has not begun yet.

The golf course will close July 1 for construction, two weeks later than originally planned.