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Independence City Council to vote on resolution to remove Rockwood solar panels

Stock Independence City Hall 4
Posted at 4:43 PM, Jan 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-17 19:16:00-05

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — On Tuesday, members of the Independence City Council are expected to vote on a resolution to remove the Rockwood Golf Club solar panels by 2025.

The resolution was submitted by council members Mike Steinmeyer and Mike Huff, who want the Rockwood property to be converted back to a green space and remain part of the city's parks system.

Huff and Steinmeyer need four votes to pass the resolution. The KSHB 41 I-Team reached out to and heard back from all members of the council. Here's how they plan to vote:

Mike Huff: Yes
Mike Steinmeyer: Yes
John Perkins: No
Dan Hobart: No
Mayor Eileen Weir: Undecided
Karen DeLuccie: Undecided
Brice Stewart: Undecided

John Perkins said he's not in favor of it because it's not clear what the financial impact of removing the panels would be.

"What does that look like? What kind of contract do we have with MC Power remaining?" Perkins asked.

Additionally, Perkins said the city's parks system may not be able to handle the costs.

Mayor Eileen Weir said she does not decide her votes before council meetings and prior to council discussions.

"There may be citizens who speak on this and I would want to take that into consideration," Weir said. "The solar panels can always be incorporated into future Rockwood development. BNIM did a development plan a few years ago and simply placed the panels on top of buildings. I think there are lots of options based on future development at Rockwood and elsewhere but the lease to MC Power allows us to maintain the property. Without that income we would likely be facing a much different situation."

Unease over the financial implications of removing the panels was common among the council people.

"While I would like to see the solar panels removed, I am going to need more information on the cost to the city before I make a decision," Brice Stewart said.

Karen DeLuccie said she's going to make a decision before Tuesday's meeting.

"I am reading the contracts this afternoon," DeLuccie said. "I'm very concerned about a penalty and a breach of contract."

The historic, 97-acre property was demolished by the city in 2018.

At the time, city council member Tom VanCamp said the city purchased the land abruptly because a developer, Joe Campbell, threatened to place low-income housing in the area.

It's a move that upset people whose homes were located on the old Rockwood Golf Course.

At the time, residents like Beverly Harvey complained about the lack of transparency among city officials who made the decision without citizen involvement.

Within months thousands of solar panels were placed on the property as part of the city's ongoing initiative to move toward green energy.

The city entered into a contract with MC Power to lease the panels for several years. However, the city does have the option of buying the panels at some point.

The I-Team first reported on the resolution to remove the panels last month when it failed to make it on the agenda.

At the time, Jeremy Cover, city attorney, encouraged Huff and Steinmeyer to remove the resolution from the agenda citing legal liability for both the council members and the city.

The resolution was also found on the website of Holmes Osborne, who is running for mayor in 2022.

The initial fears of low-income housing in the area that led to the purchase of Rockwood is referenced in the resolution to remove the panels.

The first draft of the document accused Mayor Eileen Weir of being in negotiations with a low-income housing developer for the remaining portions of the Rockwood property.

While Weir said she is willing to meet with any group that has ideas for the property, she denied being in negotiations.

The new resolution does not name Weir but instead writes, "Elected officials are currently in negotiations with a developer to put low-income housing on the remaining golf course not occupied by solar panels."

The I-Team put in an open records request for all emails among city officials to learn more about the city's plans for the Rockwood property.

While the emails show there is some interest in developing the area for housing, none of the emails indicate negotiations are taking place.

However, Huff and Steinmeyer question if the I-Team received a complete set of records.

Council members provided the materials in response to the records request on their own behalf.

The I-Team asked the city clerk to have a third party supply the records instead.

While those results did yield more records, nothing indicated negotiations are taking place.

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