Homeowners, student-athletes’ families at St. James Academy and Lenexa city leaders clashed in a lively, lengthy discussion Tuesday over the prospect of a new sports complex and accompanying mixed-use commercial development proposed for vacant land near the school in the remote western corner of the city.
The conceptual plan, which the Lenexa council voted 5-3 to approve, allows the nonprofit Friends of Lenexa Sports Foundation to build a sports complex on 34 acres of undeveloped property immediately to the west of St. James Academy, on the south side of Prairie Star Parkway between Clare Road and Canyon Creek Boulevard.
The proposal calls for two lighted baseball fields, a lighted multi-use field, a 100,900-square-foot indoor athletic facility and related parking, pedestrian paths and other amenities. The indoor facility would have an indoor baseball practice field and gymnasium for court sports.
Here’s a look at the sports complex layout:
The council spent roughly two hours listening to presentations and testimony from both neighbors and parents of student-athletes at St. James Academy, and discussing among themselves.
Mayor Michael Boehm cast the deciding vote, while councilmembers Corey Hunt, Tom Nolte and Bill Nicks voted against the project. Councilmember Steve Lemons was absent.
Supporters of the sports complex, including school officials at St. James Academy and parents, said student-athletes would be able to cross the street from school to use the sports complex for practice and to play occasional games in their various sports, including baseball, soccer, lacrosse, softball, volleyball and basketball.
City staff counted 27 St. James students in the crowded Lenexa council chambers. Many of them signed in at the meeting to show support for the sports complex; some were dressed in baseball uniforms.
Tom Feiden, chair of the Friends of Lenexa Sports Foundation and a coach at St. James Academy, said to think of the sports complex as “an extension of the campus.” He expressed concerns with 500 student-athletes leaving campus daily to practice their sport during the spring.
Homeowners and St. James community disagree on sports complex
Neighbors said they were primarily concerned that the sports complex would disrupt their homes with outdoor lighting and noise from daily use. Gordon Pinsky, president of one of the neighboring homes associations, said he was told the complex was “for the greater Lenexa community” and not an extension of campus.
Some residents said finding out that the sports complex is “an extension of St. James” changes their perspective, although they still had concerns about how the use will impact the quietude of their neighborhoods.
“Now that it’s being said that it’s an extension of the campus, that’s all fine and good but I feel like today was not the time to find that out to be able to make a decision,” said Nicole Stimac, a homeowner near the school.
Kathy O’Brien, an Overland Park resident who sent her children to St. James, asked the homeowners to remember the St. James students were just kids playing sports and having fun.
“They’ve been good neighbors to you all, and they deserve to have a place for these kids to walk across the street safely and not have to load up a car-full and drive 20 minutes to Wyandotte fields or however far away it is in order to practice,” O’Brien said.
Project leaders stressed that the complex would not be used for competition sports, and the facilities would be available for use by sports teams from other schools and organizations.
The council also voted 5-3 to approve two other items for the sports complex: a special use permit to allow indoor and outdoor entertainment on site, and rezoning the property from residential and neighborhood commercial (CP-1) to community commercial (CP-2).
Some councilmembers sympathized with neighbors, while others said the complex would be complementary to the academy and an asset to the greater Lenexa community. Councilmember Mandy Stuke said there is still time to “massage this,” as the project leaders still require approval for a preliminary development plan of the site. Project leaders and homeowners can work through a compromise at a later date to address lighting and sound concerns.
Developer withdraws rezoning request amid public complaints against drive-through fast food places
Earlier in the meeting, the council spent two hours considering a concept plan for a commercial development neighboring the site for the sports complex, but the developer withdrew the rezoning request before the council could vote on it.
Dan Foster with Schlagel and Associates, the same developer for the sports complex project, had requested council approval of a mixed-use concept plan and rezoning of about 16 acres of property on the southeast corner of Prairie Star Parkway and Canyon Creek Boulevard.
That concept plan included construction of a small suburban neighborhood center of five buildings with entry plazas, outdoor seating areas, raised planters, a central plaza and with two stand-alone sites that include a daycare and convenience store with gasoline pumps.
The site required rezoning from neighborhood commercial (CP-1) to community commercial (CP-2), which would allow fast food restaurants with drive-throughs. Foster said rezoning would allow them to find a drive-through coffee shop tenant.
After hearing pushback from some of the same neighboring homeowners who also had concerns about the prospect of heavier commercial traffic as well as drive-through restaurants near their homes, the developer withdrew the rezoning request.