For the first time since the before the COVID-19 pandemic, staff and elected officials from nine northeast Johnson County cities gathered for the 2022 State of the Cities event.
Hosted by the Northeast Johnson County Chamber of Commerce, mayors and city council presidents representing each of the nine participating cities clustered in the county’s northeast corner, discussed accomplishments and ongoing projects.
Mayor Paula Schwach of Westwood Hills ended this year’s event with a heartfelt message as she moves to Fairway, leaving behind her longtime role as an elected official.
“Doing this work… it’s been the real joy of my adult life,” Schwach said. “I want to thank the other mayors in this room because multiple times I have called your staff or I’ve spoken with you and to a person, you have supported this tiny city called Westwood Hills. I cannot thank you enough for allowing me to be one of you and to participate in the great effort that is local government.”
What you need to know
• This was the first time these cities got back together in-person since the 2020 State of the Cities event before the pandemic.
• Each city discussed its 2021 highlights, covering everything from new developments to residential programs.
Here’s a look at each individual city’s key takeaways from the event, which took place Thursday, April 28. A representative from Mission Woods was not in attendance this year.
Mayor Melanie Hepperly spoke about Fairway’s 2021 highlights, including:
- City council approving a development agreement for the Fairway Corporate Center on Shawnee Mission Parkway. Work will begin next month to turn the crumbling office park into apartments for independent “active adults.”
- The city opened Kathy Flora Lyon Park, a pocket park at 6030 Cherokee Drive, the construction of which was funded by Paul and Suzie Lyon in memory of their daughter.
- Fairway Pool exceeded revenues and set new records in 2021.
The city of Merriam is under new leadership after longtime city councilmember and former fire chief Bob Pape was elected mayor last year.
But City Council President Chris Evans Hands represented the city last week and shared the following about the city’s progress:
- Residential programs are “alive and well” in Merriam, with $240,000 going to 120 residents in 2021. This includes the addition of three new grant programs for a total of 10 opportunities, she said.
- Merriam won an ETC Institute Leading the Way award in 2021, meaning the city is in the top 10% of municipalities with resident satisfaction in local government services.
- Street improvements like Merriam Drive corridor improvements are coming soon. The city is also working to improve bikeability, she said.
Mission also welcomed a new mayor with the 2021 general election: Sollie Flora. Here’s what Flora shared about the state of Mission:
- New developments continue to come to Mission, including small businesses and restaurants along Johnson Drive. Flora also said the Mission Bowl Apartments project at 5399 Martway Street should break ground in May.
- Mission is investing heavily in outdoor parks like upgrades to Mohawk Park and renovations at Andersen Park tennis courts. This is in addition to Mission’s dedication to climate action, such as a facility conservation improvement project at Sylvester Powell Jr. Community Center.
- Residents approved a street sales tax renewal with more than 75% of support, Flora said. This will help get the city’s most degraded roads renovated and reconfigure parts of Johnson Drive.
Mission Hills Mayor David Dickey shared the following about the the state of his city:
- The city recently worked with neighbors like Prairie Village to place license plate readers at key intersections, a move aimed at helping local law enforcement track vehicles potentially connected to criminal activity.
- Tomahawk Road through Mission Hills is currently closed, and will be for a majority of 2022, he said.
- Residents approved a .25% sales tax to help Mission Hills keep the nearly 100-year-old city updated, he said.
Overland Park, Johnson County’s largest city, is now under the leadership of Mayor Curt Skoog, who could not attend the state of the cities event on Thursday.
Council President Paul Lyons shared the following highlights:
- Overland Park Police’s mental health unit launched last year, with about 16 officers and a K-9 unit. This came as a recommendation from the city’s mental health task force unit.
- Another key issue is adding toll lanes along U.S. Highway 69 from 103rd to 151st Streets, he said. This is an ongoing project that will add toll lanes going in both directions and is aimed at easing congestion along the busy roadway.
- The Overland Park Farmers’ Market is back at its downtown pavilion for the first time since before the pandemic — and opening day this year, Saturday, April 16, logged a total of 5,000 patrons for the market’s largest single-day crowd in its 40-year history.
Mayor Eric Mikkelson took a moment to acknowledge the challenges locally elected officials faced over the last two years, expressing gratitude for those in the room that never let up.
He shared the following about Prairie Village’s 2021:
- New businesses and developments are booming in Prairie Village, he said, including at the new Corinth Quarter shopping center. He also mentioned the mixed-use development heading to the Shops of Prairie Village at the former Macy’s department store, which has yet to be totally finalized.
- Diversity is top of mind in Prairie Village, with the first Black chief of police in Johnson County and the city hosting its first-ever Juneteenth event. Housing diversity is also an important part of this for Prairie Village, and the city council will soon see recommendations from a housing committee on how to diversify its housing stock.
- Mikkelson also mentioned Dolyna, Ukraine, Prairie Village’s sister city. Mikkelson said the city is in contact with Dolyna leaders, who say the city is relatively safe amid the ongoing Russian invasion of that country.
Mayor Mike Kelly spoke for his city. He’s also running for the Johnson County chairman position being vacated this year by retiring Chairman Ed Eilert.
Kelly shared a number of thoughts about Roeland Park in 2021, including:
- Solar installations at city hall and the community center are up and running. These installations have already saved enough emission to equate planting 2,500 trees, he said.
- The city finished work on its outdoor aquatic center, which now features new amenities and ADA-accessible improvements. This is in addition to continued renovations at the city’s park, R Park.
- Roeland Park hopes to see more movement on the mixed-use redevelopment at The Rocks, the former city pool site off 48th Street, he said.
Mayor David Waters shared a number of accomplishments and projects happening in Westwood, including the following:
- An ongoing 47th Street project takes a look at one of the city’s main corridors to see how it can improve the lives of residents and incorporate a more active streetscape.
- The Westwood View Elementary rebuild is a large, ongoing project in the city — in conjunction with the school district.
- Westwood is also looking at redevelopment options for the future of Rainbow Boulevard, another main corridor. Waters said the city is working with Kansas City, Kansas, on this endeavor.
Schwach, who will soon vacate her position as mayor, shared the following about the state of Westwood Hills:
- New owners took over the shops of Westwood Hills along 50th and State Line Road, making substantial exterior improvements, she said. The city also made improvements to this stretch of road.
- Westwood Hills is working with a new city website and a new logo.
- The value of housing continues to increase in Westwood Hills as $1.3 million worth of building permit improvements were approved in 2021, she said.