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About to get underway here at the Omaha City Council. Lots of things on the agenda, and will be tweeting all of them, but we’ve also got the confirmation of Colleen Brennan to the vacant District 5 seat.

Our story today on some raising legal questions about Brennan’s appointment.

Her official inauguration will be early in the agenda

Councilmember Harding opens the meeting welcoming Brennan, saying he pledges to work together. Says many are unhappy with this result, but they need to unify to do what’s best for Omaha. (Paraphrasing)

Brennan is sworn in, short comments that she’s honored for this opportunity

We're on to talking about planning items. One of the big pieces to watch: Res 11.

Many people upset about the proposition to demolish apartments to make way for a $10m project that would include 55 market rate apartments and a one-story building for "amenity space"

$1.4m would come from Tax Increment Finance (one of the biggest, if not the biggest, public tool to finance construction like this).

On that note, we're listening to some rezoning items. Currently hearing about whether 1026 North 33rd Street will be rezoned from a single family home to a duplex. Previous owner had made it into apartments.

one member of the bemis neighborhood is here saying she's worried about what precedent this rezoning would set. Original zoning was set to keep single family homes from turning into apartments, they're afraid this will undo decades of work to maintain the neighborhood as is

Just an observation while we get history of the Bemis neighborhood (first place I lived in Omaha). We had many sheriff's deputies here before Brennan was sworn in. Now I only see one. Don't know if that's protocol, but there was no protesting or resistance in the chamber today.

Chris Jerram asks one neighbor whether he's the guy who has the oldest tree in the state on his property. Not him, but apparently, yeah, oldest tree in Nebraska is in the Bemis neighborhood.

Or is it this one?? (no picture) very interested in what the oldest tree in Nebraska is now.

okay never mind I guess there is a picture when you link it. Twitter just trying to make me look bad.

Anyway back to the meeting. The main message about this is: the bemis neighborhood isn't against multi-family homes, but they want to keep the longstanding integrity of this neighborhood as well as insure it for the future.

converting homes into multi-family homes is a great way to create denser housing and more housing opportunities. Omaha has a need for safe affordable housing and allowing for that middle housing. (read about it in this story)

Residents aren't against middle housing, but they want it to be planned in a sustainable way. Sustainable as in, will this be around in a century, not just a decade.

Councilmember Gray said he's opposing this. Says the city and the homebuyer were left in the dark. Gray and Council President Chris Jerram both live in this neighborhood which apparently touches District 2 and 3

Looks like this is going to be delayed. Neighborhood leader is open to working with the property owner to come up with alternative solutions.

aaaand we're going to lay this over to Jan. 26 (no meeting next week)

Interesting comparison. Habitat is applying for $440,000 in TIF money to build 20 single family homes, the next item on the list is a private developer applying for $1.4 to build 55 market-rate apartments

Larry Stohr, very frequent speaker and attendee of these meetings, storms off after Jerram stops him from talking about TIF. Stohr started talking about not how the city doesn't have enough money for covid relief and now it's spending money on construction.

Oversimplified, but Jerram said Stohr was out of order. Stohr says he's going to complain about Stohr to the state.

Alright, we're starting with the Dewey Park Apartment project. Hearing from city planning first.

In case you need a visual, Dewey park to the north east.

city says the current buildings, both two stories, hold three families per floor, mostly vacant. New apartments will rent for $890-$1,100/month. There'll also be parking, landscaping, sidewalk and other improvements

correction there's 6 units between the two buildings. Both built in the 1930s, not able to be certified as historic buildings.

Greenslate attorney, developer of the Dewey Apts. project, said they've been sensitive to the idea of tearing down these buildings. He said some buildings just aren't worth saving. Costs a lot of money to maintain them, convert them to a new use, ect.

One of the objectives was to build something that could orient itself into the neighborhood. Greenslate went with a Tudor style facade that fits with architecture in the area.

Another big piece of this is these apartments are transit oriented developments (TOD). Essentially, built for people who don't have cars or don't use one every day. The ideal resident is a bus rider, bike rider, walker, ect.

TOD will probably be a big buzz word in the future. Lots of urban planning is trying to build high density living space that prioritizes alternative transportation over cars.

Finally we reach "what is affordable housing." Attorney says no one can say what "affordable" is (lots of people I've talked to would beg to differ). He says Greenslate believes their rents can bring in working class people, but agrees that not everyone can afford living here

Based on HUD figures their rents ($850-$1,100) encompass the city's median rent $950, he said.

One opponent of this project states a fundamental problem of trying to build transit friendly developments here. Omaha built out, not up. We're a car city. Lots of people want to change this (see ORBT) but is enough of the city going to adopt that attitude?

Sophia Smith from Zoom says she lives in a triplex where she only pays $900 for a two-bedroom home. Meanwhile Greenslate would be charging around that for studios.

Smith said Greenslate is misrepresenting their role in revitalizing areas like Blackstone. Instead what they're doing is bulldozing areas and pricing people out of their homes. Smith lives in one of the triplexes that Greenslate is proposing to demolish.

yeah small correction because you know, typing and listening. Smith lives in one of the tri-plexes that Greenslate is proposing to demolish. She pays $900, Greenslate said those apartments go for $1,200. Greenslate is pushing her out by the end of the week, she said.

Greenslate attorney Brent Beller is at the mic now. Says he disagrees with Smith, Greenslate is homegrown, gives back to the city and believes in developing the city and doing it the right way.

Says he lives on Farnam before Blackstone was the little urban mecca it is now. Saw their effect on the area over the years.

Beller said the $1200 figure for Smith's apartment came from the current property owner. They didn't do a traditional rent assessment (fwiw)

Beller is speaking to rebut any of the opposition. Would like to hear more from Smith in this meeting because you can clearly see she has more to say from her Zoom window, she's just muted.

At one point Beller said Smith was given notice to evict in November and that her rent for December and January would be paid for (if I heard right?) and she's clearly rolling her eyes and saying no.

Jerram asks whether Greenslate would dedicate any of the apartments to low-income housing. Apparently that was taken off the table for legal and financial reasons.

Matt Kuhse says that the city law department also finds that you can't require apartments to have a certain number of low-income units per development. Jerram said the planning committee has been working on this issue bc Smith is not unique. But their hands are tied, he said.

I would really like a Gatorade right now.

We're getting some context on the city's master plan–basically the city has limited space to develop high density housing, which is best along transit lines. If we don't redevelop places like this site, we'll be "stuck with what we have."

TOD has been around in Omaha for longer than it's been a buzz word. Missing middle, less parking, a variety of housing options are all part of the city of omaha's master plan.

If you ever want a boring but extremely important read I'll direct you to the aforementioned master plan.

Usually zoning and development discussions pass by without any fanfare. These discussions today have really highlighted why zoning, developments and where we spend public funding have very, very real, practical consequences

Jerram said he's supportive of this resolution–citing the need for high density, building up urban core, ect.

Harding echoes a lot of Jerram's comments, motions to approve

Councilmember Festersen recognized, says that the planning committee is attuned to this issue. Festersen says the planning committee has asked for a legal analysis of whether they could require a certain number of affordable housing projects be built per TIF allocation.

Harding says 55 units is a drop in the bucket to the 80,000 units affordable housing units that Omaha needs so this is not the make or break on this issue (paraphrasing). Festersen said in the future we need to consider that median rent does not represent what's affordable.

and with that, city council unanimously approves the $1.4m TIF allocation to Greenslate. Smith leaves the call, still on mute but obviously very upset.

Not one to plug my own stories twice in one tweet thread, but if you're interested in these sorts of things and the difference even one building can make in changing the story on affordable housing, this story pretty much touches on all of that.

We're into the liquor licenses. The Sports Hall in Blackstone is moving a block away. The Down Under on Leavenworth is also applying for a new license for their current location. Both pass.

Palermo is again talking about not hiring a new street maintenance manager. Instead he wants to hire several more street maintenance employees to plow streets, fill potholes, ect. Says this is necessary to fulfill basic city services that people constantly complain about.

Every candidate is up for re-election and Palermo said every candidate will have to answer to the citizens if they don't prioritize hiring more street maintenance workers. Asks to delay it until Feb. 9.

City has 186 snow removal workers budgeted, 154 are currently hired, 9 more will be hired soon, that makes 23 open budgeted positions.

Hearing public opposition to these items which relate to police spending, grant acceptances

These are on the consent agenda and Sarah Johnson said these should be pulled out and discussed more. The last two items especially will affect more people of color, she said.

David Carney talks about item 40. Says that one service offered is by Dave Grossman who offers "warrior mindset" trainings, including the wolf, the sheep and the sheepdog. Carney said an officer last year referred to him as a sheep and himself as the sheepdog.

Gray makes a motion to remove item 42 from the consent agenda.

On PoliceOne, Lt. Ken Fox from OPD said the department will choose which courses it will use. Says the platform has 1,400 courses to choose from. Says OPD hasn't had a "warrior mindset" in a long time, especially under Schmaderer, and that trainings will go through vetting.

Gray again on the grant for marijuana searches. Council's been told it would be for i-80 stops and not for low level offenders. Gray said that's what's been said, but sometimes that's not what actually happens.

Reminds me of of what protesters tried to tell him about demonstrations over the summer.

Council voted 3-4 to deny item 42 (grant for marijuana stops)–brennan, gray and festersen voting in favor / harding, jerram, melton and palermo voting against. Motion fails. Members vote along the same lines to approve item 42.

Originally tweeted by Chris Bowling (@ChrisMBowling) on January 12, 2021.

Subscribe to The Reader Newsletter

Our awesome email newsletter briefing tells you everything you need to know about what’s going on in Omaha. Delivered to your inbox every day at 11:00am.

Become a Supporting Member

Subscribe to and become a supporting member to keep locally owned news alive. We need to pay writers, so you can read even more. We won’t waste your time, our news will focus, as it always has, on the stories other media miss and a cultural community — from arts to foods to local independent business — that defines us. Please support your locally-owned news media by becoming a member today.

Chris Bowling

Chris has worked for The Reader since January 2020. As an investigative reporter and news editor he’s taken deep dives into topics such as police transparency, affordable housing and COVID-19. Originally...

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