Forward OP planning process is over. The hard part is just getting started

Construction has been a constant presence in downtown Overland Park the past several years as as work has continued on residential and mixed-use projects that break the mold of traditional suburban development.

Overland Park civic leaders celebrated the end of a year-long city visioning process Monday night with a reception, much applause and recognitions. But as the city council endorsed the Forward OP plan, they acknowledged that the hard part is just beginning.

“While everybody in this room understands where they’ve gone, what they’ve done with their efforts, there are some folks who are not in this room who are going to question, OK, how are we going to get there,” said Councilmember Richard Collins. “We’ve had other plans over the years that have been created and are collecting dust on a shelf somewhere. So the work is still to be done and it’s going to be a monumental effort.”

Much of that effort will be in getting support for some fundamental changes in what a suburb should be. Speakers in the council chambers Monday emphasized elements of the plan that call for much more diversity in housing styles, affordability and in acceptance of all types of people.

United Methodist Church of the Resurrection Pastor Adam Hamilton, a Forward OP steering committee member, said young adults are expecting more diversity in their communities.

Adam Hamilton, pastor of the Church of the Resurrection and Forward OP steering committee member, said young adults want and expect diversity in their communities. They may not want to live in the suburbs of Johnson County if it doesn’t have more options for housing, transportation and a more diverse community, he said. His own children have resisted moving back into “Johnson County beige” for those reasons, he said.

But if census trends continue, the county, which was 81 percent white in 2017, will become less diverse, not more, Hamilton said. And the average age has also been creeping upward.

Joan Wells, another steering committee member and CEO of Wellington, said the plan will help the city define itself as a gathering spot that people will want to be. “We want to be more than a suburban hotel option,” she said. “We want to be a comprehensive destination.”

‘You’re not off the hook’

The Forward OP plan was conceived as a grand vision of what the city should be like in 2040. After collecting input from dozens of meetings and online for a year, a consultant and the steering committee boiled things down into 39 action items emphasizing learning, city gathering places, innovation and housing and transportation options, to name a few.

But some of these ideas are a departure from the cul-de-sac enclaves that have defined suburbia for years. Young adults now are believed to want neighborhoods with less driving and more gathering places to attract them from the downtowns where they have preferred to live.

Some council and committee members predicted that translating those desires into city planning and building codes may bring resistance from people who like things the way they are.

Councilmember Curt Skoog said it will take vocal support from proponents of the changes laid out in the plan to see real movement.

“You’re not off the hook. This is an ongoing process,” said Councilmember Curt Skoog to other members of the Forward OP committee. “When issues come before us and the council we’re going to need your support. We’re going to need your support when we’re not building 4,500-square-foot houses in our city. We’re going to need support in the community to say that we can do other things.”

Other council members, including Chris Newlin and Paul Lyons, emphasized the need to accept change. “I love the vision of ‘imagine tomorrow.’ That says to me keep your foot on the gas. The second we start hitting the brake we not only stop but go backwards,” said Newlin. “No one really loves change but it’s necessary to make things happen.”

Lyons cited the success of Vision Metcalf and downtown, which have incorporated more walkability, apartments and gathering spaces into their plans.

“Change is everything. If we don’t change then we’re gonna die,” he said.

The next step for the city is implementation. The council unanimously endorsed the vision document and directed staff to start working on a more detailed implementation plan to be done in the next 90 to 100 days.

Read the entire Forward OP on the city’s website here.