Overland Park councilmembers suggest city needs to better engage neighborhoods affected by proposed developments

Overland Park Mayor Carl Gerlach said it was up to the city council — not city staff — to make changes to notification policies. “If you want to update policies it’s up to you. So let’s not beat up on anybody else,” Gerlach said. “Let’s beat up on ourselves and get some work done.”

By Roxie Hammill

Overland Park follows the state law when it comes to notifying neighbors about new developments. But some city council members, caught by surprise at a neighborhood turnout against a planned apartment complex, wondered this week if state law is really enough.

“I think we do have a problem with our process. We follow state statues but our motto is ‘Above and Beyond by Design,’” said council member Logan Heley. “I think we ought to be doing more when it comes to engagement beyond our state statues.”

Heley drew applause from the 15 to 20 neighbors who had come prepared to speak against a five-story, 500-unit apartment complex planned for the northwest corner of 127th Street and Metcalf Avenue.

The project, proposed by the Price Brothers development company, was up for what would have been a final vote on rezoning. Since it had already been approved by the planning commission with no neighborhood opposition, some council members were caught off guard when neighbors showed up for the final vote asking for a one-month delay.

The apartments are planned for an area near St. Luke’s South hospital campus and a mixture of two- and three-story buildings and apartments. There are single family homes to the east, but they fall outside the 200-foot area.

But the residents told council member Faris Farassati that they would be affected by the five-story building and its traffic. About 50 showed up for a meeting March 31 with developer Doug Price to discuss their concerns.

Residents said they weren’t adequately notified of a big project that would affect them.

“Two hundred feet is not adequate. I know that ‘s state law but I would think Overland Park being the more progressive community that it is would improve that,” said Mary Coffman, who lives on 129th Place near the area in question.

State law requires a notice for people within 200 feet if a project is in the city, or 1,000 feet if some of the project backs up to unincorporated land. In addition, signs are posted outside the property announcing pending land use action. If a project is big and the staff knows from past experience that it could be controversial, the city will also contact homeowner’s associations and mail notices farther than 200 feet, said city spokesman Sean Reilly.

This project wasn’t on the controversy radar, though, and nearby residents said they would have appreciated more of a heads-up. As things were, they missed chances to speak at earlier meetings and only met with the developer a few days ago at a hastily-arranged location that didn’t suit the occasion.

Hearing the late objections puts the city in a difficult spot, some council members pointed out. Any changes to the development plan at this point would set the project back weeks or months as the changes work their way back through committees and planning. And delays are costly for developers.

Price also said communication should have been better between the city staff, homes associations and the developer. Homeowners associations should have been notified, for instance.

“Communications clearly ought to be improved, including myself,” he said.

Heley said communication about development has also been an issue in his ward in northern Overland Park. “I think our process needs to be changed so we don’t have issues like this come up at the last minute,” he said. “A lot of their concerns should have happened very early in the process, not as we’re headed for a final vote.”

Public expectations are higher than they have been in the past for notification and engagement, Heley said.

Council member Chris Newlin also suggested the rules for notification might need to be changed.

“That 200 feet is kind of close in proximity to development sometimes. In areas such as 127th and Metcalf it doesn’t really reach homes.”

In the end, the neighbors agreed to a two-week delay so they could have another informational meeting with the developer.

Mayor Carl Gerlach noted any changes in city policy will have to come from the council.

“If you want to update policies it’s up to you. So let’s not beat up on anybody else,” such as city staffers, Gerlach said. “Let’s beat up on ourselves and get some work done.”