Fairway Planning Commission tells Highlands mom to hold off on installing Little Free Library

Highlands teacher Mike Torkelson volunteered to build the Little Free Library for the Margolins when they said they wanted to promote literacy in their Fairway neighborhood.
Highlands teacher Mike Torkelson volunteered to build the Little Free Library for the Margolins when they said they wanted to promote literacy in their Fairway neighborhood.

Yet another northeast Johnson County family has encountered a hurdle in trying to place a Little Free Library in their front yard.

Fairway mom Erin Margolin says she went before the city’s Planning Commission Monday as a formality to get official approval to install a Little Free Library she commissioned for the family’s yard on Glenfield Drive — but the commission told her to hold off until they had a chance to fully review the city’s code governing detached structures.

“I thought I was just going through the channels to get official approval and that this would go right through,” she said. “I guess I was naive.”

Margolin first contacted the Reinhardt Homes Association to make sure it was okay with them to place the Little Free Library on her property. The homes association told her that as long at the structure was 11 feet away from the curb, it would pass muster with them — but that she needed to check with the city as well. The response she got from the Planning Commission Monday was less receptive than she imagined.

“It was pretty clear a couple of people on the commission weren’t crazy about the idea,” she said. “They suggested I could put it in a wagon or on a dolly and wheel it in and out of the house every day until they get the code issues figured out.”

Fairway Codes Administrator Bill Sandy said the city planned to do a review of Chapter 15 of its codes, which govern residential structures, at a July 9 sub-committee meeting to come up with guidelines for Little Free Libraries in Fairway. He said the city wasn’t looking to “shut [the Little Free Library] down,” but was simply urging Margolin caution in installing in permanently until the codes regarding Little Free Libraries are formalized.

“We wouldn’t want to tell her to go ahead and put it in and then find out a month later that it doesn’t strictly fit the code, so you’ve got an expensive job to remove it,” he said.

Sandy said that city was trying to be proactive in establishing guidelines for the Little Free Libraries as they have become more popular. Families have placed Little Free Libraries in their yards in Prairie Village, Mission and Roeland Park, among other local cities, without having issues. Margolin’s request to place a Little Free Library was the first Fairway had received, Sandy said.

Much like the Collins family in Leawood, Margolin said her only motivation for planting a library in her front yard was to promote reading. When she mentioned that she was interested in having a Little Free Library built, Highlands Elementary teacher Mike Torkelson volunteered to build the structure for her, spending roughly 20 hours on construction.

“I would love nothing more than to promote literacy with a Little Free Library in our yard,” she said. “I just can’t believe it’s an issue.”

The next meeting of the Fairway Planning Commission is July 28. Margolin says she plans on showing up to find out the fate of her proposal. Leawood’s City Council is expected to address the controversy over its current ban on Little Free Libraries at its normally scheduled meeting next Monday, July 7.