Coming up on a year since the Prairie Village City Council approved an ordinance that gives neighbors the power to kill planned sidewalk installation projects, it’s clear that the ordinance is working — and perhaps much better than the Council had intended.
In fact, since the ordinance went into effect, residents have halted fully half of the sidewalk projects that have gone up for a neighborhood vote, raising questions about whether the ordinance flies in the face of the city’s stated position in favor of sidewalks on every residential street.
Councilors Ted Odell and David Morrison led the project last year to develop new sidewalk ordinance language, which allows homeowners along a residential street to vote on whether they want a sidewalk project built or not. Seventy five percent of homeowners must vote against a project for it to be canceled.
“We set the threshold so high because we believe in sidewalks, and we want to have them built,” Odell said. “But we also feel it’s important for residents to have a say.”
But the way things have played out, the ordinance appears to be impeding the city’s overarching goal to improve access and walkability. During the creation of the city’s Village Vision comprehensive plan in 2009, the council adopted a policy that every residential street should have a sidewalk. That policy came in response to overwhelming public sentiment through surveys and meetings that connectivity and walkability were among the most important traits for neighborhoods in the city.
However, on several occasions since the adoption of Village Vision, large groups of neighbors organized against a planned sidewalk on their street. The ordinance came about as a formal mechanism for determining when it was appropriate to cancel sidewalk projects.
But even Odell says he’s taken by just how many sidewalk plans have been canceled.
“I am surprised, frankly,” he said.
Since the ordinance went into effect, 10 Prairie Village street projects have included plans for new sidewalks. Neighbors have voted down five of them:
- 69th Terrace (Fonticello to Nall). Sidewalks will be built
- Pawnee (75th to 77th). Sidewalks will be built
- 81st and Canterbury south of Somerset Drive. Sidewalks were built
- 90th Street (Delmar to Roe). Sidewalks were built
- 71st Terrace (Eaton to State Line). Sidewalks were built
- 64th Street(Hodges to 64th Terrace). Project canceled
- 84th Street(Delmar to Roe). Project canceled
- 70th Terrace(Fonticello to Nall). Project canceled
- Fonticello(67th to 71st). Project canceled
- 68th Street(Roe to Fonticello). Project canceled
Prairie Village Councilor Ruth Hopkins was one of three councilors to vote against the new ordinance, and says she thinks the ordinance is hindering connectivity.
“I feel very strongly about having sidewalks for everyone,” she said. “I think that was one of the very strongest statements people made through Village Vision was that they wanted a walkable city.”
And while Hopkins, a 20-year council veteran, said she wishes the ordinance were not in place, she thinks there’s a good chance it could change.
“We have changed our sidewalk policy so many times since I’ve been here, I can hardly keep it straight,” she said. “It could change. We have elections next year, and we may have a whole new group of people in here.”