The final frontier? In Leawood, it’s 135th Street, from Nall Avenue to State Line.
By TERI SCHAEFER
Special to The Star
“135th Street is basically the last corridor Leawood has to develop,” said Richard Coleman, Leawood’s community development director.
Faced with growing interest in developing the largely unimproved corridor, Leawood officials are considering alternatives for the acreage. It’s called the 135th Street Community Plan.
But figuring out exactly what to build — and what not build — on one of the last remaining stretches of pristine soil in southeast Johnson County is a challenge. City planners and private developers have an idea of what they’d like, but want to know what citizens prefer first.
So they’re listening to the public. Three times since August, Leawood officials have held public meetings, seeking input on a mixed-use master blueprint for the roadway and surrounding neighborhood.
Some ideas: parks, residential development, bike paths and commercial growth, all with a cozy, old downtown ambiance.
Keeping car traffic to a minimum is also popular.
“Limit the number of intersections and entrances to 135th,” suggested one resident, identified as Jay, writing on a Website set up to take recommendations.
Said another, identified as Chuck: “I do not wish for 135th St. to become bumper-to-bumper with traffic congestion. I like being able to leave my neighborhood and get places relatively quickly.”
City planners will combine the residents’ initial ideas with their own proposals in November, then offer a report and recommendations.
It’s an important process, because the final 135th Street plan is expected to provide an outline for two decades of growth and development along the roadway. The Mid-America Regional Council is paying for part of the study.
Private developers hoping for tony strip malls, stores, and high-priced housing may be concerned with the initial citizen discussions. Many residents say they want to preserve as much green space as possible.
“The emphasis should be on lots of usable green space,” said Brad, who, like the others who posted online comments, did not provide a last name. “We need a master plan which guides the appropriate type of retail development and beautifully integrates the two.”
City planners understand the viewpoint, and think they can address it with mixed development, a popular strategy for combining shops, offices, housing, and entertainment in a smaller space.
“One of our concerns is traffic,” Coleman said. “We’re trying to mitigate it by ‘new suburban urbanism’ so drivers will get more finished in one trip.”
Mixed-use developments typically include housing, retail and entertainment options. The final land use plan for 135th Street is likely to include all three.
Leawood already has three mixed-use developments: Parkway Plaza at 135th and Roe, Park Place at Town Center Drive and Nall, and Mission Farms at Mission Road and Interstate 435.
The developments offer retail shops and offices with living spaces, some located on the second floor — an arrangement popular with immigrant shop owners at the turn of the century. Some of the living areas are rented, while others are available for purchase.
But Melanie Mann, co-developer of the Park Place project, cautioned that mixed-use developments can be difficult to sell to the public. They’re often dense and vertical, precisely the opposite of many traditional suburban developments.
“Mixed-use developments are projects that integrate different land uses such as retail, restaurants, residences, civic buildings, offices and parks inside a smaller defined area,” she said.
She’s confident a mixed-use plan can be found for 135th Street, suggesting it might resemble the development scheme on the Country Club Plaza.
The Leawood plan is also likely to include trees, sidewalks, green space and other pedestrian amenities mixed into the bricks and mortar, she said. Front porches and gathering places are also possible.
The green space is likely to prove popular with residents, who have repeatedly told developers and city officials they want to keep the corridor as people-friendly as possible.
Residents can learn more at www.Leawood.org. The website includes maps, surveys and a general outline of existing uses along the roadway. It also contains a timeline for consideration of the issue.
“I think we’re headed in the right direction,” Coleman said.