The legislative chambers inside the Omaha/Douglas County Civic Center.

Former Omaha City Councilmember Ben Gray’s appointment to the Omaha Municipal Land Bank (OMLB) board of directors failed for the second time during Tuesday’s Omaha City Council meeting. The appointment required a supermajority of five votes and only received four.

Several of Gray’s former constituents in District 2 spoke at July 13’s city council meeting to oppose his appointment. The council decided to lay it over two weeks. Gray served as the district’s councilmember for 12 years and helped create the OMLB. Councilmember Juanita Johnson defeated Gray in May’s city elections.

Opponents from July 13’s meeting said Gray didn’t represent the community and that the OMLB, which acquires and either renovates or demolishes dilapidated properties, had failed to do enough for their district. 

The council didn’t take any time for discussion before Councilmember Aimee Melton moved for approval. Councilmembers Johnson, Begley and Palermo voted against the appointment, preventing the necessary supermajority vote. Mayor Jean Stothert will make another appointment to fill District 2’s voting spot on the OMLB board.

The Omaha City Council laid over an ordinance to rezone property at 4615 Davenport St. after opponents said they worried any developments would “change the character” of the neighborhood. The lot would be rezoned from an R4 Single-Family district to an R5 Urban-Family district. 

Residents of the Dundee neighborhood said it would allow the developer to build multi-family housing, which would cause traffic and parking issues. The applicant, Chad Ahlvers, said he didn’t have final plans for the lot, but it would likely be single-family homes or a duplex.

Michael Carter from city planning said that R5 districts have the same height limits as R4, and that building anything more dense than a duplex was unlikely. Councilmember Danny Begley moved for the layover to get more information.

Also during Tuesday’s meeting, the council approved the $5.9 million tax-increment financing plan for Blackstone Plaza, and a held public hearing on the city’s agreement with the Nebraska Humane Society.

During Tuesday’s Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting, newly appointed Health Director Lindsay Huse gave a weekly update using the Douglas County COVID-19 dashboard. The dashboard is an interactive data source with case numbers, vaccination rates and other information.

The occupancy rate at metro hospitals neared 80%, which Huse said was concerning. The strain of treating COVID-19 patients makes it difficult for medical professionals to respond to emergencies like heart attacks, Huse said. The University of Nebraska Medical Center reported their COVID ICU was full over the weekend.

COVID-19 cases have been steadily increasing in July, which Huse attributed largely to transmission among unvaccinated people as well as the rise of the Delta variant. Those aged 20-34 made up 30.6% of cases, as younger age groups are less likely to be vaccinated.

Vaccination rates among Black Douglas County residents remain lower than other groups, which Huse said is partly because the Black population is younger on average.

A map of vaccination rates in the county showed a stark difference between east and west. ZIP Code 68007, which includes Bennington, had a vaccination rate of 77.3%. ZIP code 68111, which is part of North Omaha, had a vaccination rate of 35.3%.

No vaccine has been approved for children under the age of 12, and Huse said she doesn’t expect there to be one until later this fall. This current rise in cases, which Commissioner Maureen Boyle called a “pandemic of the unvaccinated,” is a bigger threat for children starting school in August.

The decision to require masks is up to the schools, but Huse said she recommends any unvaccinated students or staff wear masks. Commissioners Jim Cavanaugh and Maureen Boyle said mask requirements would be crucial for keeping families safe when school starts.

“Those non-pharmaceutical interventions like mask-wearing, and distancing and hand-washing are also so important,” Huse said. “Because those buy time for the vaccine to be approved for those younger groups.”

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