A group of residents packed the Overland Park Community Development Committee meeting on Wednesday in a last ditch effort to get the city to reconsider plans for the reconfiguration of Santa Fe Commons off downtown Overland Park. But the committee ended up voting 4-2 to send the plans — which call for the demolition of the gazebo and construction of a performance area in the shape of a paper airplane — to the council for final approval later this month.
More than a dozen citizens watched from the perimeter of the meeting room holding signs reading “Save our gazebo” as the committee discussed whether to advance the plan. Councilman Richard Collins made the motion to recommend adoption by the full council, saying that the city had engaged in a lengthy public planning process and that it was time to move forward.
“We’ve been discussing this project for almost a year,” Collins said. “I think it’s time to bring it to a final conclusion.”
But Councilman Faris Farassati said that, given the pushback he had witnessed to the design from a number of neighborhood residents, he thought it would be prudent to hold off the start of construction and to arrange for additional public input. Farassati had written an email to city staff and fellow members of the council Wednesday morning indicating that he had heard a good deal of opposition from neighborhood residents at a recent meeting at Dalton flower shop.
“The overall opinion expressed to me is that the current design of the park is NOT favorable by the public. They have also mentioned that they were under the impression that the design presented in public meetings by our staff was indeed ‘preliminary’ and not final,” Farassati wrote. “Since this is a public amenity being built for the community, I believe that further discussion and input from the public is necessary. There is no reason to rush this to construction phase while we are facing strong opposition…”
Farassati said there was little downside to keeping the park as it is for another summer and giving residents additional opportunities to give input. The main issues he has heard from residents are that they want the gazebo preserved, and they don’t like the design of the paper airplane-shaped performance stage.
Former Councilman Terry Goodman wrote to the council and staff ahead of the meeting as well, urging them to consider slowing down the process given the opposition to the plan that he had witnessed.
“Although I understand that the [city council] has complied with a ‘traditional’ process to date, I’m not sure that said process has generated the quality of public input that one might hope for before making an irrevocable decision,” Goodman wrote.
At the meeting Wednesday, Farassati reiterated his concerns, saying that no matter how long the planning process had been in the works, it had apparently not produced an outcome favorable to many of the people who live in the immediate vicinity of the project.
“Fifteen months, 15 years or 15 days, this project cannot move forward without agreement from the public,” he said.
But those concerns did not sway enough members of the committee to prevent the plan from being advanced to the full council. Farassati and Councilwoman Gina Burke voted against the plan. The other four members seated for the committee Wednesday — Collins, Curt Skoog, Logan Heley and Jim Kite — all voted in favor of it.
Heley, who represents the ward where the park is located, said he believed the enhancements included in the plan as currently configured would create a park where residents are “going to make memories.”
“The park that we have there now is not going to get the job done,” Heley said.
The plan is expected to go before the full council for final approval at its April 15 meeting.
Part of the construction costs for the updated park will come from a $1 million donation from businessman Frank Thompson and his wife Evangeline. The city plans to rename the park Thompson Park in recognition of that contribution.