Olathe commission denies two of three rezoning requests for controversial development near Lenexa — what happens next

Woodland Forest

After hearing hours of testimony from unhappy neighbors earlier this month, the Olathe Planning Commission voted to deny two of the three rezoning requests made by the developer for the Woodland Forest project. The commission approved the request for single-family homes while denying the requests for an apartment complex and retail space. Above, a digital rendering of the Woodland Forest development. The portion of the project approved by the commission includes those portions labeled "R1" on the map. Image via city documents.

With dozens of neighbors speaking out against the project, the Olathe Planning Commission this week approved only one of three rezoning requests for Woodland Forest, a much-discussed residential project near the Lenexa city line.

Developer Clay Blair Services Co. has been seeking approval to develop an area just to the southeast of K-10 Highway and Woodland Road in north Olathe into a mixture of single family homes, a senior living facility, a luxury apartment complex and retail space.

That area abuts the Lenexa city line, which begins north of K-10.

The rezoning request approved this week represents only a small portion of the nearly 55 acres of the total proposed project.

Two other requests comprising the rest of the project, which drew more heated opposition from neighboring residents, were both denied.

History of Woodland Corridor

Woodland Corridor has a long history that dates back to when the property was first annexed into the city of Olathe in 1999.

Back then, the 1,300 acres of land, which stretches from K-10 south to Harold Street, were intended to be developed into neighborhoods consisting of single-family homes as part of the Woodland Corridor Plan.

By the city’s standards, that plan has not been changed. However, last year, the developer went against what Olathe had already outlined for the area.

Instead, Clay Blair Services opted to present the idea of turning the only remaining undeveloped area of Woodland Corridor into a mixed-use, multi-family development known as Woodland Forest.

The city denied that project, but the developer returned with a very similar plan, except this time, it was divided into three separate rezoning requests.

Rezoning requests

Here is a breakdown of the three rezoning requests made to the planning commission this week:

  • The first rezoning request calls for approximately 15 acres of land, closest to the surrounding neighborhoods, to be developed into 20 single-family homes and a 72-unit assisted living facility.
  • Rezoning request number two, which is the one that drew the most opposition from neighbors, is for 34 acres of the land to be converted into a 381-unit apartment complex.
  • The third rezoning request would convert four acres of land into stand-alone retail space of anywhere from 14,000 to 21,000 square feet for a gas station and convenience store.

“I urge you to realize the tactic that is going on,” said Barbara Liu, with Property Law Firm, who spoke on the behalf of the neighborhoods who currently reside in Woodland Corridor. “It is actually extinguishing my clients’ ability to protest.”

According to Liu, by breaking the development into three different rezoning requests, the developer was preventing the surrounding neighborhoods from protesting the project.

Kansas law requires property owners be within 200 feet of a proposed development be notified of the potential changes.

Based on this criteria, two of the three projects in the revised proposal — the apartment complex and retail space — would be beyond the neighboring property owner’s protest zone.

Concerned neighbors

Despite that , many neighbors spoke out against the development at the planning commission’s meeting Monday, Nov. 8.

“This [first rezoning] is a step in the right direction for this property… a majority of the correspondents are in favor of single family,” said Eric Neuer, a nearby resident to the proposed development. “But they want it for the entire property.”

Many neighbors expressed their anxiety over how the proposed apartment complex and retail space deviated too far from the other areas of Woodland Corridor, which are all entirely single-family homes. Therefore, residents said, a large portion of the proposed development would ruin the ambiance of the area.

Another common fear shared by neighbors during the meeting was the worry about a potential increase in traffic.

Curt Peterson, a lawyer with Polsinelli representing the developer, said a traffic study was conducted and found there would be no major impact to the surrounding area.

Based on the study, Peterson said, traffic would likely only increase by one car every minute during the morning peak travel time and one car every two minutes at the peak evening travel time moving south from the complex.

Neighboring residents, however, argued against this, saying the traffic study is only a small piece of information that does not tell the full story.

Resident Sally Firnhaber said the traffic study cannot possibly show how this will impact the neighbors who use the roads to walk to the pool or have their kids ride bikes on.

“While the traffic study may say it can handle it, the community and people cannot,” Firnhaber said.

Commissioner’s decisions

After a four-hour meeting, the planning commission approved one of the three proposed rezoning requests.

The first rezoning request for development of 20 single-family homes and a 72-unit assisted living facility was approved in a 6-1 vote.

Commissioner Douglas Wood voted to deny the request, saying that though it fit into the Woodland Corridor Plan, it still was a part of the way the developer was trying to deviate from what the city and surrounding neighbors wanted.

“The application for this sliver of land conforms to the rules, but as I was saying the rules have the effect of undercutting this city’s overall plan for this area,” Wood said.

Both the second rezoning request for the 381-unit apartment complex and the third request for four acres of retail space were unanimously denied by the planning commission.

“I think the Woodland Corridor Plan is rock solid, and I just don’t see any reason to deviate from that,” Commissioner Dean Vakas said.

Olathe City Council will hear the rezoning requests for the Woodland Forest development at their Dec. 7 meeting.