Westwood city officials have spent almost two years working on a new comprehensive plan to help determine future development in the tiny Johnson County city.
On Monday night, following more than two hours of sometimes impassioned opposition from residents, it was clear the end was not yet in sight.
The Westwood Planning Commission chose not to take any action on the master plan after the lengthy public hearing and said its members would go through the document at its April 3 meeting for another round of edits.
“We haven’t quite got there with this...we’re close,” said Commissioner Trent Robinett.
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Westwood hasn’t significantly updated its comprehensive plan since 1997. In July 2015, officials started developing a new master plan by hiring consultants who released a draft last fall. That draft continued to evolve through a series of open houses, steering committee meetings and public workshops.
But many of the more than 30 public speakers Monday night complained that the plan still contains dramatic flaws, with a major area of concern being mapping out areas in the city that could be developed for town homes, row houses and other “medium-density” housing.
The city had been zoned almost exclusively for single-family houses up until the approval in 2011 of the Woodside Village development, which has more than 300 apartment units. Residents said allowing additional multi-family units, especially in the so-called Westwood Annex between Rainbow and State Line Road, would diminish the city’s character and hurt property values.
“I came to Westwood for what it is now, which is a hidden gem,” said resident Sära Keehn, who said she has lived in the city for 17 years. “I plan to stay in Westwood forever. If Westwood is changed into something it’s not, then that’s a deal-breaker for me, and I’ll be forced to move. I’m going to do everything in my power to keep Westwood from changing.”
Other areas on concern were plans to convert 47th Terrace and 48th Street to one-way streets, which critics said would be overly dangerous to use during winter storms, and language that would give the city the option to purchase property and assemble the lots for redevelopment.
“This plan rests on a complete misunderstanding of the role of government and the use of public resources,” said resident Jim Orr. “The primary function of local government is public safety and infrastructure. Nowhere will you hear it said the first and foremost role of cities is real estate development.”
Several speakers also complained that they didn’t believe the city has done a good enough job communicating the comprehensive plan development process to residents or taking their concerns seriously. They pointed to a pie chart on one side of the room displaying survey results compiled throughout the comprehensive plan process indicating only seven percent of respondents supported setting aside space for multifamily development in Westwood.
“It seems like people want one thing and the governing body is doing something else,” said resident David Gomoletz.
Planning commissioners said they shared some of the residents concerns with several saying they wanted to remove the language about one-way streets and giving the city authority to buy and amass property for future development. They also said the plan needed more specific guidance on such things as how to best ensure Westwood View Elementary School remains open.
But some also asked residents for their patience as city officials attempt to develop a plan they said would not only protect what the city has now but also make it flexible enough to accommodate changes in the future.
“I’m not in favor of one-way streets or the city coming in and buying your homes and creating multi-family,” said Commissioner Cami Savage. “I am certainly in favor of being open-minded and realizing that sometimes opportunities present themselves when you least expect it.”
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