Support for Prairie Village trails system splits council, agitates residents

Prairie Village Trails system
Support for the construction of eight-feet-wide trails — like this one between Corinth Square and Franklin Park — proved a contentious issue for the Prairie Village City Council.

An agenda item that read as a simple call for clarification about the Prairie Village City Council’s support for a series of walking and biking trails devolved into a nightmarish bureaucratic squabble that seemed leave city staff, council members and residents frustrated Monday.

City Administrator Quinn Bennion and Assistant City Administrator Dennis Enslinger addressed the council early in the evening asking them to provide direction to city staff and help clear up “mixed signals” about whether staff should proceed in executing the Comprehensive Trail System Plan that the council adopted when it approved the Parks Master Plan in 2009.

The measure adopted by the council after an extensive public input and planning process calls for a system of trails — commonly understood to be eight- to ten-feet-wide concrete or asphalt paths — to connect the city’s parks and shopping centers. The first segments of the system were implemented between Corinth Square and Franklin Park last year, and between Porter Park and the Village Shops earlier this year. Both projects elicited major concern from neighbors, who either balked at the idea of having a wide path outside their homes, or who felt they hadn’t been properly included in the process.

“When the council adopts something like (the Parks Master Plan), we take it as our guide,” Bennion said. “But we understand these projects bring a lot of angst among residents.”

Enslinger took a few moments to explain what he viewed as the importance of comprehensive plans — like the Parks Master Plan and Village Vision — as a blueprint for moving communities forward.

“At this point, we’re not sure if the community and the council see Village Vision as a reflection of where it wants to be,” Enslinger said. “Staff is supportive of whatever vision the council has. But there should be a vision.”

That sentiment, it appears, did not sit well with all members of the council.

“I feel like I’ve been spanked for not falling in lock-step with Village Vision,” said Councilman Steve Noll, who was vocal in calling for action to replace the chain link fence along the Brush Creek Trail.

The council then spent a considerable amount of time debating the merits of the trails system, with several members expressing the view that eight-feet-wide trails were simply too big and intrusive for many parts of the city, and that the city should instead focus on connectivity, making sure good sidewalks were in place in key locations.

Several homeowners from along Nall Avenue attended the meeting, expressing concerns with a measure before the Planning Commission that would move a planned trail from Roe Avenue to Nall. The residents said they were upset that there hadn’t been more active communication about the proposed change, that they couldn’t envision becoming responsible for maintenance and snow removal of a new wide path, and that a path along Nall would not be used enough to justify its existence.

Ultimately, Councilman David Belz made a motion to show support for executing the Comprehensive Trail System Plan with eight-feet-wide trails while noting that each trail would have to be approached on an individual basis, and that a more narrow path may be appropriate in some locations. After more extensive discussion, the item came up for a vote — which ended in a 6-6 tie. Mayor Ron Shaffer broke the tie in support of Belz’s motion.

Council members Dale Beckerman, David Belz, Charles Clark, Ruth Hopkins, Michael Kelly and Andrew Wang vote in favor of the measure. Diana Ewy Sharp, Al Herrera, David Morrison, Steve Noll, Dale Warman and Laura Wassmer voted against it.

“I think you all have just created a nightmare,” Wassmer said. “People are not going to support eight-foot trails, and we’re going to have more and more meetings like these where people come and they’re angry.”

The council also moved to direct the Planning Commission to postpone its planned public hearing on the proposal to shift the planned Roe Avenue trail west to Nall Avenue so that city staff could communicate to all of the homeowners along both corridors that the item would be coming up for discussion. The Planning Commission is likely to hold the public hearing at its April 3 meeting.

(We should note that we misinterpreted the agenda item in the council’s packet, and assumed it was tied directly to the Roe/Nall trail issue as opposed to the trails system more generally. As such, the lede in yesterday’s preview story was inaccurate).