Overland Park homeowners raised the pressure on the city council this week, urging the city to discontinue the use of chip seal to maintain city streets, calling the much-discussed method’s use “irresponsible.”
In a letter addressed to the mayor and city council, presidents of 24 homeowners associations representing 5,132 residents said they would rather skip street maintenance in their neighborhoods than see another layer of chip seal applied.
The letter asked that chip seal be discontinued immediately.
“We fervently believe it’s irresponsible for the city of Overland Park to continue using this dangerous material after becoming aware of the wide-spread concerns across the city,” the letter said.
It also carried a warning: “If the governing body is unwilling to modify its 2021 street maintenance plans, it will confirm the current administration does not have our best interest in mind and we will use our voice to reflect our desire for a change in leadership at the polls this November.”
That’s a reference to this year’s municipal elections, which includes a three-way competition to succeed outgoing mayor Carl Gerlach.
Why is chip seal controversial?
With chip seal, work crews resurface roads by spreading a layer of asphalt over a street, followed by a layer of finely crushed rock that is rolled in.
The city has debated chip seal and potential alternatives off and on for more than a decade, but it’s once again become a hot button issue this year after the city council in February approved $3.1 million for chip seal projects.
Residents who have opposed it on aesthetic grounds are also campaigning for safety concerns about the sharpness of the crushed rock embedded in the street.
They have said the rock is a hazard for bicyclists, skateboarders and others who want to use quiet neighborhood streets for recreation. The sticky tar and rocks also find their way into homes and cars, they said.
The letter was put together by Sheila Rodriguez, a Ward 5 council candidate who, along with councilmember and mayoral candidate Faris Farassati, has been campaigning against chip seal this year.
Rodriguez said she approached the homes associations after being told that opposition to chip seal was isolated and not widespread. An online petition in February garnered around 250 signatures, she said. But the homes association letter represents 5,132 homeowners.
Rodriguez said residents have been frustrated that their previous concerns about chip seal over the past 10 years have not resulted in change. She said she hopes the letter will illustrate that dissatisfaction is higher than city officials have believed.
A possible election issue
The letter suggests the city use chip seal on non-residential streets, and that officials take another look at the 2021 budget to see which chip seal projects could be delayed.
The city should “do less and do them right” by putting the money into a different resurfacing method, like mill and overlay or ultra-thin bonded asphalt on streets that need immediate attention, the letter says.
The letter comes just as the City Council majority put an enthusiastic final stamp of approval on the Infrastructure Advisory Board.
The advisory board was conceived not long after chip seal came to the forefront earlier this year. The board is intended to take a broader look at all types of city infrastructure, as well as funding and the city’s impact on climate change.
Some councilmembers have said the issue needs in-depth study because of the cost of other methods, which by some estimates could add $20 million to the budget each year.
Sam Passer, Rodriguez’s opponent for Ward 5, said he understands the frustrations but is hesitant to go as far as the HOAs’ letter suggests.
“I have some concerns about forgoing maintenance. That sounds too extreme to me. I’d prefer that the committee looking into chip seal reach a decision rather than just putting maintenance off,” he said in an email response.
He also cited the cost.
“We clearly need to understand where that money is going to come from before we put street maintenance at further risk,” he said.
But opponents of chip seal have argued that other cities don’t use chip seal and that the advisory board and consultant will take too long.
”While we appreciate the formation of an Infrastructure Advisory Board to evaluate long-term solutions, your unwillingness to pause the use of chip seal until their research has concluded is unacceptable,” the letter says. “This is a public safety issue that needs your immediate attention.”
Below is the full letter sent by the 24 HOA presidents: