Good fences, it is said, make good neighbors. And right now the city of Overland Park and residents abutting the Westlinks golf course are getting ready to test just how true that adage may be.
For six years, the city and homeowners in Nottingham by the Green, near 125th Street and Quivira Road, have been battling it out over replacement of a deteriorating wrought iron fence around the perimeter of the city-owned course. The neighbors want replacement with a comparable fence that would cost the city roughly $365,000. The city wants a cheaper chain link fence – or possibly none at all.
On Wednesday night, city council members who met with some 70 of the residents came up with a new alternative: The city could build the more expensive option – at taxpayer expense – for each of the 86 to 89 properties that back up to the course. But this time the fence would be placed just on or just inside the homeowner’s property line.
The fence would essentially be a gift to the homeowner, who would take responsibility for its upkeep. After that, the city would be free of any maintenance obligation.
“That way it gets the city out of the fence business,” said Councilmember Curt Skoog, chairman of the council’s community development committee that met with the neighbors. “You all have told us we’re not good at the fence business. So why would we choose to stay back in it?”
It would involve many waivers, legal discussions and agreement of all the residents, and for those reasons, the committee decided to delay further discussions until the idea has been investigated. But as the meeting ended, it was a compromise that some members felt had the most possibility of getting the city out of the eternal sand trap that has been the Westlinks fence controversy.
Homeowners, city have been at odds since 2013
The nine-hole Westlinks course is a self-contained island that is a part of the Sykes/Lady course but across the street. It was developed by Mark Simpson and opened in 1984. At the time, the developer agreed to pay part of the cost of putting in the iron fence. He then gradually donated the golf course land back to the city.
Neighbors say the city hasn’t done a good job of maintaining the fence, to the point that it now has structural problems and needs to be removed or replaced. The city floated the idea of putting in a chain link fence instead, which would cost roughly $165,000.
But the neighbors Wednesday’s meeting were adamantly against that idea, saying it would devalue their property. Homes abutting the course have an average sale price of $578,000, said Chuck Jansen, a real estate agent who was one of four people speaking for the neighbors.
Simpson, who also attended, called chain link a “terrible mistake.”
Others agreed. Randy Coleman, another spokesperson, praised the clubhouse and its fencing. “You check in over there as a golfer, you come over to Westlinks and all of a sudden if there’s no fence, if there’s a chain link fence your quality of play drops like a rock. I can’t imagine.”
Gregg Yowell, another spokesperson who is a frequent golfer, said, “You put in a chain link fence, you’re not going to have a first-class golfing experience.”
Spokesperson Eleanor “Snookie” Krumbiegel said people bought homes on the course with the expectation that the fence would remain. The homes association does not allow chain link fencing, she said, and homeowners who wanted to connect their own fencing to the golf course had to put in the more expensive kind. “I really think this is disgraceful to think of chain link fencing around our homes and around your golf course.”
After the initial negative reaction to chain link, city staff concluded that a fence was not needed. Many modern, quality courses do not have fencing. Instead, staff recommended removal of the fence and possible addition of buffers.
But neighbors countered that at Westlinks, the cart path is very close to the fence line – in some cases less than a yard away. Some kind of fence is needed, they said, to keep children from wandering away or being threatened by angry golfers, and there isn’t enough room to put in a berm or landscaping.
The neighborhood association contended that the fence should be metal in a style similar to the wrought iron, and that the city should make good on its promise and pay for it. The city staff, on the other hand, pointed out that any legal agreement to keep the fence ended after the city took full ownership of the course.
That’s where things have stood since 2013. The golf course budget comes mostly from user fees, but since the fence costs are not within the usual budget, money would have to be taken from the general fund. The staff also noted that whatever decision the city reaches could set a precedent for other golf course properties.
The roughly 70 people who showed up for the public hearing at times broke into spontaneous discussion and at one point had to be admonished for booing. But Councilmember Faris Farassati drew applause when he argued that the fence should be replaced on city property and at city expense. “I don’t think it’s that complicated. We made a promise. We have to hold it,” he said.
The city can find a way to budget for it, he said. “I do not believe this is going to break the back of the city.”
Councilmember Richard Collins said a compromise is not likely to make all parties happy.
“None of us up here wants to cut the baby in half,” he said. “You have to keep in mind that we up here represent the entire city. We also have an obligation to the other 199,900 people who reside in this city.”