‘Leave it alone!’ At input session, residents stress desire to preserve Santa Fe Commons green space

Santa Fe Commons Park is set for updates in the coming years — but how extensive those updates should be is the subject of debate.

Residents close to downtown Overland Park had a few, mostly small-scale suggestions to improve Santa Fe Commons Park during a public input session Thursday.

Maybe add a small splash play area, or a playground, or a dog park. But perhaps the most consistently expressed sentiment was on one of the many sticky notes left on a board during Thursday’s public input meeting: “Leave it alone!”

Residents wrote down their suggestions for the park during Thursday’s public input session.
The city and consultant RDG Planning and Design got a lively response to their request for ideas about changes to the small downtown park. Around 100 showed up, many of them a half hour early, to Matt Ross Community Center to drop pennies in jars or put stickers next to images to signal their favorite concepts for the park.

Many of the attendees were neighbors who already had strong opinions about downtown building projects and a proposal to move the Farmers Market into the park.

“Who do I yell at about all the apartments?” asked Linda McGuckin as she signed in. McGuckin said the apartment building projects are ruining the quaintness of Old Town that draws people in. Parking is already a problem in her neighborhood during events, she said. “Our quaint city is no longer quaint.”

Her opinion was echoed by Jane Boos-Crawford. “People aren’t going to want to come here,” she said. “It’s not historic and it’s not Old Town anymore if they keep doing what they’re doing.”

As is typical in consultant-led input sessions, attendees were asked to vote with pennies or sticky dots on some possibilities for the park. The big winners were for open green space, performance area (some suggested upgrading the gazebo), a playground or a water feature. Losers were a memorial, restaurant or ice skating.

Only a few lonely pennies sat in the jar next to “Farmers Market.” The proposal to move the market to Santa Fe Commons Park has been put on hold because residents and other stakeholders are so split on it.

For many at the input session, the Farmers Market was a non-starter. “There’s no reason to eat up a beautiful park for something that already has its own space,” said Boos-Crawford. She and some others at the meeting said parking in the Old Town area is already a problem, even before the apartments are occupied. She faulted city officials for not requiring enough green space in an area that is quickly being built up with apartments and more retail.

“I’m on the verge of putting out bumper stickers,” she said. They’d read: Overland Park City.

Some of the people attending said they wouldn’t object to smaller changes to the park. Upgrading the bathrooms and rebuilding the gazebo were mentioned, as was the possibility of a fenced off-leash dog park. “Dogs bring people together, great way to meet neighbors” someone wrote on a suggestion sheet.

Jeanine Ruttan said it would be nice if the park were more intergenerational, perhaps with a playground. “But it doesn’t need to be more than a little upgrade,” she said.

Joe Lee agreed, saying the park is mostly quiet unless events are happening there. He said he’d like to see a playground or senior exercise area that would bring more people during the day.

Ann Willer and her husband John Harp had different ideas. Willer said she likes the park the way it is. “I’d like to retain the historic flavor of the park.”

Harp’s view: “I say make it interesting, modernist and fun.” He said he’d like to see some artistic sculpture there, or maybe a Zen garden.

The meeting was the first step to a redesign of the park. A preliminary concept plan will be presented July 18, with the final concept review scheduled for Aug. 16.

A small seating structure near the Santa Fe Towers apartments. Many input sessions attendees stressed the desire to preserve green space.