Two recently seated Prairie Village city councilors made a strong push Monday for more park space, better sidewalks and trails, and improved bikeability.
During part of the council’s preliminary discussion about Prairie Village’s 2015 budget, Ward 3 Councilor Eric Mikkelson and Ward 5 Councilor Courtney McFadden urged their council peers to consider investments in areas where they say the city has fallen behind the metro area at large.
As part of their annual budget deliberations, the council was asked to consider whether it would be open to the idea of increasing its annual budget to start a fund for the acquisition of new park space. Mikkelson lobbied strongly for the idea, and distributed a packet to his council peers with studies showing the economic benefit cities derive from parks, noting that surrounding property values typically increase substantially.
“The greatest benefit, though, is an intangible benefit,” he said. “Think of the hundreds of kids over the decades who will get pushed on their first swing in a park. Just because we can’t measure that benefit doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
Mikkelson said the city needed to be prepared to act quickly in the event that new green space became available, and noted that the city was in an excellent financial position to make such a purchase.
“Thanks to the excellent financial stewardship of the city over the years, we have a lot of dry powder here,” he said. “We have to ask ourselves what is the opportunity cost of not buying additional park space? That opportunity cost gets higher all the time. We have a limited amount of green space, and it’s dwindling.”
Though Mikkelson never mentioned any potential land acquisition opportunities by name, the city may have a chance to act on the purchase of an undeveloped property sooner than later. Homestead Country Club member Tim Laughlin addressed the council shortly after Mikkelson made his case for more green space in the city, and noted that the country club, which is facing a challenge after its note was sold to a developer that wants to put new houses on the property, had recently listed part of its land for sale.
“I am encouraging the city to look into acquire the land for a park,” Laughlin said. “This is one of the few areas available that we could use to create a new park in that northeast pocket of the city.”
Later in the budget discussions, McFadden made a impassioned case for the council to consider pushing the construction of better bike routes, sidewalks and trails throughout the city. That suggestion elicited pushback from two members of the council, Laura Wassmer and Brooke Morehead, who noted that past efforts to build trails and sidewalks had been among the most contentious issues the council had faced.
“Aside from Mission Valley, I’m not sure there’s been a more controversial issue we’ve faced,” Wassmer said. “If we were a new city, I would have trails and bike lanes everywhere. But when you try to retrofit into an existing city, there are big issues. It’s a great concept, but in reality, you’re dealing with people’s personal property.”
McFadden pushed the issue, though, noting that Prairie Village’s walkability rating is considerably lower than what’s desirable, and that city residents have expressed the desire for improved walkability for years.
“We can debate the semantics of what’s a trail versus what’s a sidewalk for years and do nothing,” she said. “Or we can decide that there are areas of the city that are absolutely ready for it, and move forward.”
The council ultimately decided to keep discussion of additional green space, bike routes, trails and sidewalks open as it continues to develop its 2015 budget.