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‘It’s All About the Money,’ Say Stilwell-Area Residents of Road Plan
People, mostly from the Stilwell area, packed a hearing of the Johnson County Planning Department concerning new roads in the Stilwell area. All but one of the speakers protested the proposal for the new roads.

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.

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Added: August 01, 2009. 04:44 PM CDT
Accurate reporting
Thanks so much for covering the meeting with facts. Sometimes the choice of words alone while reporting can influence the reader. Case in point:
250 or so meeting attendees vs
Added: August 01, 2009. 04:29 PM CDT
Response to KC Star article, Southeast residents oppose plan for new streets
As one of the dozens of residents at the Johnson County Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday evening, I must correct the information in two of the three bullets listed as county proposals in Brad Cooper's article and provide information that was omitted.

Completion of 183rd Street between Nall Avenue and Mission Road is most certainly not in the area of the new Blue Valley Southwest High School. Located just north of 179th and Quivira Road, the new high school will be accessed via 191st, 179th or 167th from the east and west; Quivira, Switzer, Metcalf, and 69 from the south; and from all of those plus Antioch from the north. How does 183rd ending at 69 come into play? The county staffers suggested in the meeting that this section would provide access to the future park just north on Mission Road and a possible future Blue Valley school to the south. Dave Hill of the District has indicated there are no long term plans to build a school at that site, and the park has been in the planning stages for at least seven years. I must also question the estimated cost. How is it that simply widening a two-mile stretch of the four lane College Blvd costs $12m and constructing a one mile length road through a densely-wooded stream bed and over railroad tracks costs 1/3 of that?

The proposal for Nall Ave between 167th and 175th is not for an upgrade. The road does not exist and is referred in all the county records that I have seen as a "Missing Link." In the third bullet Mr. Cooper states that the county commissioners decided on the connection of 179th from Metcalf to Nall when they voted to kill the South Metro Parkway. Some of us do fear these roads are a back-door attempt to resurrect the South Metro Connector. Like the residents did at the meeting, perhaps he should have asked them, "Why?"

Dean Palos announced in the meeting and was quoted as saying, "These plans are for the future, not now," yet the planners and the commissioners refuse to improve roads and make updates that are needed now. Area residents are acutely aware of the improvements needed on 175th Street both west and east of Mission Road. If the county truly desired to work with Blue Valley School District's plans, there would be projects for the installation of a four-way stop or stoplight at 159th and Quivira and a school zone with flashing lights on 179th - both necessary safety improvements to serve both the new Timber Creek Elementary and Blue Valley Southwest High School.

Resident Scott Manning was quoted that he drives the areas in question and he doesn’t see the congestion or the need. None of us does. Rather than simply referring to maps and diagrams, the county planners should get in their cars and drive out here. I invite Brad Cooper to do the same.

Tammy Clem
Stilwell, Kansas

Added: August 01, 2009. 03:34 PM CDT
It's All About the Money
Thank you for printing an unbiased report on the meeting last Thursday of the Johnson County Planning Commission. For years we have been fighting Overland Park and the Johnson County Commissioners to keep them from taking control of our area. It is indeed all about the money and the developers that have it and want more.
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