Omaha City Council Freezes Fresh Thyme Plans For Now


February 24th, 2016

Omaha City Seal in the Legislative Chambers

Omaha City Seal in the Legislative Chambers

Omaha City Council members discussed an ago-old municipal question during Tuesday’s Council meeting…how to put a square store in a round lot?

After reciting the pledge of allegiance, City Council President Ben Gray began Tuesday’s meeting with an invocation. He used the time to pay tribute to Marguerita Washington.

“[She] was the editor and publisher of the Omaha Star,” Gray said. “She passed away last week. It’s a great loss for the community in general and for those who worked at the paper as well.”

Washington took over the Omaha Star, Nebraska’s only black weekly paper, in 1998. She was just the second editor since the paper’s founding in 1938.

The first agenda item the Council discussed was some old business about a fresh food supplier.

Developer SDG, Omaha wants to build a Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in the Tivoli sub-division in West Omaha. But the lot SDG wants to build on is round, and the design of the store is square.

As pointed out during Tuesday’s meeting, there are several design obstacles to overcome when trying to fit a square store into a round lot; among them, deciding where to place the loading docks and trash bins.

The ordinance, originally before the Council two weeks ago, calls for Fresh Thyme’s loading docks and trash bins to be placed across the street from the entrance of a Hampton Inn hotel.

Tim Sanwick, the hotel’s manager, told Council members loading docks are an eyesore to guests, but his biggest concern would be the noise pollution created by trucks coming and going from the store during overnight hours when guests are sleeping.

Sanwick wants SDG to shift the lay-out of the store so the back faces another building. SDG and Fresh Thyme contend rotating the store to Sanwick’s specifications would cut off street access for their customers. After several minutes of debate on how best to rectify the round lot, square store scenario Council members ultimately decided to lay the ordinance over a second time.

The Council then set their attention on the problem-plagued Pawn Plus. The business was cited last year for non-compliance and illegally operating a salvage yard at its location on 90th street.

Dave Fanslau with the City’s Planning Department said the area is littered with car parts and called it a “worst of the worst scenario”.

“The site has been under code enforcement actions for a number of years. Last summer we received an official complaint,” Fanslau said. “[We] sent the property owner a letter in August giving him about two and a half months to clean up the site. In October we re-inspected the site, and nothing had been done.”

Council members voted unanimously to revoke Pawn Plus’ permit to sell cars, but Fanslau said it will be an ongoing process to bring the property into compliance with city code.

Much of the rest of Tuesday’s Council meeting was filled with smiles and high praises, as Council members awarded nearly a million dollars in different community investment initiatives.

Among them include $30,000 to for the D2 Center’s Youth Academic Navigator Program, $50,000 for the creation of a neighborhood advocacy program, and more than $100,000 for area truancy prevention programs.

Thomas Warren, the president and CEO of the Urban League of Nebraska, told the Council truancy reduction programs have a direct impact on students’ academic achievement and test scores.

“It has also translated into enrollment in post-secondary education institutions, as well as [higher] graduation rates at our public institutions, UNO and UNL,” Warren said.

Heartland Workforce Solutions also benefited from decisions made during Tuesday’s meeting. As part of the Council’s ongoing efforts to help workers from Omaha’s impoverished areas find jobs, Council members approved a deal to give Heartland Workforce Solutions $400,000 to implement an evidence-based workforce training system.

Heartland’s Executive Director, Erin Porterfield, told Council members the money will be used to teach businesses how to engage more creatively with people living in impoverished areas.

Porterfield said the money will also be used to help unskilled workers obtain what’s called a National Career Readiness Certificate. Porterfield said NCRC’s help employers understand the reading, math, and problem solving skills of potential workers.

Porter said Heartland will train people and give them the knowledge to pass the NCRC. She said Heartland Workforce Solutions will also work with businesses to show them the benefits of utilizing NCRC scores.

 Porterfield says Omaha is the first community in Nebraska to make use of the NCRC program.

And finally, people looking for a place to live along Omaha’s riverfront may have some more options in the next few years.

Bridget Hadley with the City’s planning department told Council members Nustyle Development wants to convert a former power plant on Leavenworth Street into a 217-unit residential community.

“It definitely gives us access to the Riverfront, one of Omaha’s greatest natural resources, and it continues to help re-purpose older structures,” Hadley said.

Council members gave the green-light on the redevelopment project. It’s expected to cost around $38 million to transform the power station into apartments. Just over $6 million in tax increment financing was allocated for the project.

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