Affordable housing, green space, assistance with college tuition make short list for Overland Park’s long-term vision

Steve Carr of Overland Park votes for one suggestion at the Forward OP meeting Thursday.

Ideals are running high as Overland Park decides where it wants to be in the decades ahead.

Diverse yet affordable housing options, big green spaces for public gathering, a center for cultural understanding, free or subsidized college tuition to qualified residents – those were just a few of the suggestions that made it onto the short list of the nine-month-long study of the city’s vision.

That short list is still 39 action items long. But it is considerably smaller than the over 5,000 suggestions received since Forward OP began its vision quest in January. City leaders and a consultant will continue to take comments for a few more days before compiling a final report for the city council and stakeholders to consider.

Diverse and affordable housing was among the top priorities identified in the Forward OP process.

Billed as a “reveal” of the final draft, the 39 items were displayed on easels at Thursday evening for a presentation by the visioning steering committee and consulting firm planning NEXT. About 200 attendees were asked to choose their favorites with green stickers.

The suggestions covered everything from how welcoming and diverse the city is to health, education and transportation wishes. Some other items included building a new state-of-the-art city hall, creating a center for health resources, creating a center for social entrepreneurship, creating an international center for cultural understanding, and having a plan for city leadership to reflect the diversity of the city.

By the end of the evening, a few of the items had attracted a large number of green dots. Diverse and affordable housing options that are friendly to all ages and abilities was one of the top vote-getters, along with the creation of a signature gathering green space for festivals and events. There was also a lot of support for state-of-the-art transportation, walkability and implementation of the existing bike master plan.

Assistance with college tuition is an item on the draft plan’s short list.

Education also ranked high among attendees who placed their stickers next to a comprehensive plan to promote lifelong learning, counseling on post-secondary options and free or subsidized college tuition to residents.

“We want Overland Park to be a forward thinking, innovative and welcoming community,” said steering committee co-chair Brenda Sharpe in brief opening remarks.

Sharpe praised the optimism of city residents who have enthusiastically provided their thoughts on the city’s future. “When we signed up for this we were told this was about a six-month proposition. The good news is there was so much feedback coming in from all parts of this community that we stretched it out to a year,” Sharpe said.

Some of the people on hand carried their own big ideas. Tom Stroud of Overland Park would like to see neighborhood “hubs” to serve as small community meeting places for coffee or to pick up packages delivered by on-line companies. Having the hubs in converted homes would encourage walking, he said.

The hubs didn’t make the most recent cut, however. Stroud said he supports another item that did – mentoring youth. Perhaps kids could be taught how to run attractions like lemonade stands along the city’s trails, Stroud said.

Shahid Qadri, a 26-year resident of Overland Park, said the city should encourage participation and understanding of international business and how it benefits the city. Qadri is recently retired from Black & Veatch overseeing international business.

For those who missed Thursday’s presentation, the easels will be left up at the Matt Ross Community Center through Sept. 30. After that, they’ll be at Tomahawk Ridge Community Center Oct. 1-4.

The draft is also accessible online at ForwardOP.org.

The city will continue to take feedback on the idea before presenting a final report to the city council, chamber of commerce and other stakeholders in the coming weeks. The consultants hope to have the work complete by the end of this year.