KC Streetcar expansion rides on the decision of voters with property along proposed path

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Expanding Kansas City's Streetcar line from Union Station to the UMKC campus – the decision now rests in the hands of voters who own property along the potential path, and not everyone along the proposed line supports the idea.

Right now the Streetcar route spans nearly three miles, from River Market to Union Station.

Its ridership numbers are exceeding expectations, according to the Kansas City Streetcar Authority, which anticipates ringing in 2 million rides in just its first year of operation.

The high demand recently prompted expanded hours and a request to buy two more streetcars.

Most shops, clothing stores and restaurants along the route told FOX 4 the increased foot traffic has helped their businesses boom.

“Now it`s like, there will be a line out the door, a line to the door and there`s nowhere to sit inside,” said Max Chaney, a barista at Quay Coffee in River Market. “It`s brought so much business down to the River Market that it`s just flourishing. It`s great!”

Economic development and increased ridership are both being touted as reasons why the city should expand its Streetcar route nearly four more miles from Union Station to UMKC.

It's a proposal in the works, as voters who own property along the potential path will soon get the chance to decide whether they want to help pay for it through the creation of a new Transportation Development District (TDD).

“We call that the Benefits Zone,” said Donna Mandelbaum, communications manager of the KC Streetcar Authority. “It`s basically a couple of blocks off the Streetcar line East and West and North and South.”

The TDD would include a 1 percent sales tax, plus special property assessments.

“What this vote currently is doing is saying, for those of you that are in the benefits district that will use this more frequently than say others in outlying areas of Kansas City, are you willing to put your own money into this?” Mandelbaum explained.

Not everyone is on board.

Sherry DeJanes, an attorney whose office building would fall into the new taxing zone, thinks ridership numbers and economic benefits are exaggerated, and calls the expansion election “unfair and complicated.”

“We believe it`s not transportation and it`s really not going to fulfill the needs of the city in any appreciable way,” DeJanes said.

DeJanes points out the city owns properties within the proposed TDD, and thus will be responsible for paying property assessments as well. It’s money she said will have to come from all taxpayers across the city, not just within the TDD, and that she feels would be better spent investing in better roads, buses and sewers.

She's now working with a group that got a petition initiative on the August ballot. If approved, it would stop any planning or building of a Streetcar expansion without a city-wide vote, not just those who own property along the line.

“So we`re going, ‘Wait a minute!’” DeJanes said. “’Before you start spending millions of our dollars, ask us if we want this.’ That`s all the initiative petition says. It doesn’t say, ‘Don`t do it.’ It says, ‘If you`re going to do it, find out if we`re going to back it before you start spending our money on it.’”

The mail-in ballot application process has already begun and will end on May 23. Ballots will be mailed out to voters on June 20 to vote on the taxing district. If approved, a second election to approve the actual taxes would be held early next year.

For more information on how to apply for a ballot, click here.