The Johnson County Planning Commission put the brakes on a plan to extend Nall Avenue Tuesday but despite objections of Stilwell-area residents, the planners gave a green light to proposals to extend two east-west roads that would have the effect of creating direct connections between Metcalf and Mission roads in the southeastern part of the county.
Chris Iliff, planning commissioner, urged other planners not to add the Nall connection between 167th and 175th streets to the county’s Comprehensive Arterial Road Network Plan. The cost and engineering effort required to cross the Blue River and a railroad would be too daunting, he said. Other commissioners agreed.
However, Iliff had few words of encouragement to the Stilwell-area residents who expressed sometimes vociferous opposition to the Nall and east-west road proposals, which involve widening and paving short runs of 179th and 183rd streets.
Because of two large “island annexations” by Overland Park south of the city and near the area, the road extensions are inevitable, he said.
“Most of this land is owned by developers who are salivating at the thought of sewer districts going in,” he said. “That’s the only impediment to development… The roads will have to come.”
Iliff said he’s been involved in efforts to incorporate Stilwill, which have failed, as have efforts designed to keep Overland Park from annexing more land. Overland Park’s wishes dominate when it comes to policies involving development, Iliff said.
“We’re too small,” he said. “We don’t have the numbers.
At least three of the commissioners live in Overland Park.
“You can’t stop the development,” planner Mike Folks said. “… You can guide the train but you can’t stop it.”
In most cases, planning commission votes are recommendations. The final decision is up to county commissioners, who have frequently ignored the planners’ recommendations, Iliff said.
Tuesday’s meeting was the second part of a public hearing on changes to the Comprehensive Arterial Road Network Plan.
Most of those who attended the meeting were veterans of earlier successful struggles to prevent development of two east-west roads, the 21st Century Parkway and the South Metro Connector. Many are members of the South Metro Opposition Coalition (SMOC).
After the Johnson County Commission stopped work on the South Metro, they turned back to developing the county’s “section-line” road network to handle expected growth, Dean Palos, county planning and development director, said.
The proposed improvements aren’t an attempt to resurrect the earlier east-west roads and are extensions that would connect gaps in the section-line road network in the southeast part of the county, he said.
“These are not going to State Line Road,” Palos said.
Extending 183rd Street between Nall and Mission roads is in the county’s five-year capital improvement plan, Palos said.
“That doesn’t mean it’s going to be built,” Palos said. Because of the economy and budget constraints there’s a possibility that the county won’t do the road any time in the near future, he said.
The proposed CARNP changes are a response to growth, he said. The county has been growing by 10,000 people a year and much of that growth will occur in the southern part of the county, he said.
“It’s not the county that’s changing this area,” Palos said. “It’s the additional people who are building homes and the people trying to develop the area.”
Few of the 250 or so meeting attendees were swayed and many called the proposal a backdoor way to resurrect the South Metro, which would connect the proposed Burlington Northern Santa Fe intermodal freight center at Gardner with U.S. 71 in Missouri, and a Kansas City Southern intermodal freight center on the Missouri side with I-35 in Kansas.
The planners are ignoring a formal report by the Upper Blue River Valley Watershed that says continued road-building and development in an area bounded by 183rd, 167th, Metcalf and Mission would pose a significant threat to the water and land in the area, said Bob Moss, a past chairman of the Berryhill neighborhood.
Jim Vore said other existing east-west roads in the area can adequately serve future growth.
It’s ironic that the county has said the extensions would provide better access to a proposed county park near Stilwell but that the extensions themselves would cause serious environmental damage to an existing wilderness area owned by The Nature Conservancy, he said.
The proposed road improvements represent an attempt by Overland Park to bully Stilwell, said Peter Friend, a staffer for state representative Ray Merrick, who fought annexation attempts by Overland Park as well as the South Metro road.
“There’s really no secret that Overland Park runs the county,” Friend said.
Stilwell isn’t allowed to incorporate and the larger Overland Park is continuing its efforts to annex Stilwell, he said.
Palos said the recommendations will now go to the county commission. Because of the time needed to transcribe comments from Tuesday’s meetings along with written letters, it’s not likely that the recommendations will be presented to the county commissioners until late August or early September, he said.
“I’m not surprised but I’m disappointed,“ Pat Bottaro, who testified earlier, said after the vote. “I think it’s the writing on the wall.”
The county’s planning and development policies are dominated by Overland Park and Overland Park’s policies are dominated by developers, he said.
“It’s all about the money,” he said.