After a months-long marathon of meetings, planning and behind-the-scenes negotiation, the finish line appears to be in sight for the public park and mixed-use development project on the Meadowbrook Country Club property.
With two votes on Monday, the Prairie Village City Council paved the way developer VanTrust Real Estate and the Johnson County Park and Recreation District to begin detailed construction planning for the project, which will bring an 87-acre public park to one of the last parcels of green space in northeast Johnson County.
The proceedings attracted an overflow crowd of more than 100 local residents who packed into the chambers in part to hear how the council would broker the controversy over whether to allow a public street to pass through the park from the Nall Avenue side on the west over to the Roe Avenue side on the east. A through street had been part of the initial plans VanTrust and the parks district presented to the public and the council several months ago. But concerns from members of the Kenilworth Homes Association about the increased traffic such a street would bring to their neighborhood led planners to strike the through street and replace it with a circular parking lot in a version of the plan presented to the council last month. The removal of the public road exit on Roe, however, prompted concerns from homeowners along Somerset Drive and business owners on the south of the property, who said that without the Roe exit, their areas would be burdened with accommodating more than their fair share of traffic from the park.
Mayor Laura Wassmer started the proceedings reminding the audience of the numerous constituencies that had a stake in the plan, and that there was no way to make everyone happy.
“The alternative if we can’t find a compromise is that we have no park,” she said. “And I think we can all agree that would be a travesty.”
Bruce Ridge, president of the Kenilworth Homes Association, opened public comment on the proposal by telling council members that the homeowners were in support of a compromise plan that had the park road exiting on Roe Avenue at the very north of the park property — not directly across from 91st Street, as had been the preference of city public works planners.
While there was general consensus among all of the constituencies present that the Roe Avenue exit in the far northeast corner of the park was acceptable, some of the accompanying parking issues proved sticky. Councilors Jori Nelson and Eric Mikkelson voiced objections to the inclusion of a small parking lot near the Roe Avenue exit in the version of the master plan presented to the council, saying that it would encroach on precious green space, and that the parallel spaces along the road should provide adequate parking for that part of the park. But Kelly VanElders of Landworks Studio, which put together the parks plan, said that the parking lot was the safest way to accommodate the pick-up/drop-off traffic that part of the park was likely to attract. The plans for the northeast corner now call for a playground, shelter and fields that can be used for sports practice.
“We think the safest way [to accommodate parents picking up and dropping off children] is to have a small parking lot,” VanElders said.
Based on those concerns, Nelson and Mikkelson voted against the resolution approving the parks master plan, but it passed 10-2.
The council also unanimously approved a resolution changing the zoning of the property from R1-A, which allows for residential properties, to MDX, a mixed-use designation that will allow for the incorporation of parkland, a hotel, single-family housing, an apartment and small retail all on the same swath of land.
The parks master plan will now go before the county park board and the Board of County Commissioners for final approval.