Prairie Village City Council approves purchasing Faith Lutheran property for $1.1 million as future park site

Faith Lutheran Church at 67th and Roe.
Faith Lutheran Church at 67th and Roe.

The Prairie Village City Council approved spending $1.1 million to purchase the Faith Lutheran Church property at 67th and Roe Monday, but there were objections the city could better use its money improving Harmon Park.

City officials said acquisition of the 3-acre church site was a unique chance to address park needs identified in strategic plans for the Ward 1 area in the north part of the community. The church is selling its property after the congregation decided to close.

“This is a timely opportunity to acquire property for parkland in the north,” said City Administrator Quinn Bennion.

The $1.1 million price was negotiated by the church after the city indicated its interest in the land. There were two other offers made for the property, one by a developer who wanted to build houses there, another by a group that wanted to use the building as a community center.

The purchase price however, will likely grow to about $1.2 million when soft costs such as environmental studies, surveying and other legal fees are included. The money is coming from an economic development fund established by the city more than a decade ago.

That purchase price also does not include the cost of demolition and developing the park itself. Bennion estimated the demo cost could be close to the estimates the county received for demolishing the Meadowbrook clubhouse, in the $133,000- to $230,000 range.

Under the terms of the deal, the city will not actually close on the church sale until Oct. 31, 2017, to allow the church and an autism clinic operating there time to close operations. Demolition would occur after the sale was completed.

“In the spring, we need to have a discussion about funding to finish demolition, and the park design and development,” Bennion said.

One potential source of funding is the $400,000 in new revenues the city will receive annually from the recently approved sales tax hike approved for a new Johnson County Courthouse. Under state law, part of the sales taxes generated by the increase are shared with communities.

While the proposal received strong backing from the majority of the Council, Council members Andrew Wang and Brooke Morehead voted against the purchase.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity that I won’t vote to take advantage of,” Wang said. “I don’t feel we’re under-parked or that every citizen needs to be able to walk to a park…We’re making a down payment on a program we haven’t figured out how to fund.”

Wang said the money would be better used in support of a concept being championed by Morehead called “Village Square.” Her idea is to upgrade and improve Harmon Park and make it into the center of recreational and cultural  life in Prairie Village.

“Village Square would have benefited everyone in Prairie Village,” Wang said. “It would generate a community feel.”

The Village Square is in the very early study phase. The city has allotted $50,000 to hire a consultant to study the idea. Morehead said her vision would make the more centrally-located Harmon Park and its nearby facilities, including City Hall,  the civic heart of Prairie Village.

“Harmon Park needs to be reinvested,” she said. “The pavilion is falling apart, the pool needs to be more interesting, the Jazz Festival needs an amphitheater. Let’s do an overall concept for the next generation to make Prairie Village outstanding.

Council member Jori Nelson said moving forward with a park on the Faith Lutheran site did not mean the city couldn’t also pursue the Village Square idea.

Council member Eric Mikkelson said it was important the money in the economic development fund be used for a new park, noting the city was fiscally strong enough to handle other needs as well.

“We can do both,” he said. “We can continue to have great roads and police, and have a great park.”

Two members of the public who live near the church also spoke in opposition to the Faith Lutheran purchase.

Marc Baratta said it would be better for the church land to be developed with housing to add to the tax base of the city. He said the revenues could be used to improve the city’s current trails and parks.

Jeremy Johnson pointed out that McCrum Park was only one block away from the church land and Porter Park also was reasonably close. He added the Faith Lutheran property also wasn’t big enough for soccer or softball fields.

“We have other parks and a lot of green space,” Johnson said. “It doesn’t seem to be a high priority for the neighborhood.”