For 17 years, the baseball diamond and batting cages have been a neighborhood fixture on the southwest side of the intersection at 191st Street and Nall Avenue in Stilwell. A generation of kids whose parents know landowner Michael Miller have come there to practice, sometimes in exchange for mowing the lawn.
But views have changed since the Miller family started trying to sell the land to baseball coach Luke Town, who has plans to add another diamond and an indoor training facility.
Although Town has agreed to provisions that limit him to the same number of athletes as now use the field, neighbors have come out in force against it. They say it is a business that will disturb their peace and quiet, pose a traffic danger and raise too much dust on the gravel road.
A protest petition has been filed and both sides have lawyered up.
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The Johnson County Commission heard arguments last Thursday and sent it all back to the Aubry-Oxford Consolidated Zoning board’s next meeting March 1. They asked the board for notes on whether the expansion violates the county land use plan, whether it is an allowed use for its zoning and whether existing roads are adequate.
At issue is 20 acres located near a Kansas City Power & Light substation and railroad tracks. Homes abut the property on the west and south. The area is zoned rural, but Miller and Town hope to get a 10-year conditional use permit to allow Town to add the building and field and relocate his coaching business from elsewhere in Stilwell. Town has been coaching players at the field for the past year.
The zoning board’s staff had recommended approval, saying the proposal meets the land use plan for the area and would not cause major impairments to the rural quality of life. But several zoning board members said they were impressed with the turnout of 21 neighbors who spoke against the idea at the Jan. 4 meeting. They unanimously denied the permit.
The Millers have owned the property since 2000 and have allowed team coaching during that time largely without complaint. Now that the Miller family’s children are about grown – the youngest is 17 – the family decided it was time to sell the place, with hopes that it could remain a baseball destination.
“We just wanted to sell the field to someone who would do a good job with it, put it to use for baseball. I love baseball,” Dan Miller, who is Michael Miller’s brother, told the Aubry-Oxford board last month.
They hope to sell it to Town, but the sale depends on the permit. Town currently coaches at 7380 W. 162th St. at a warehouse building in Stilwell. He is known as a “transformational coach” focusing on not only baseball skills but life skills as well, said his lawyer, Pete Heaven.
Town, who has coached for 27 years, has a record of consistently getting his players college scholarships, Heaven said. In 2014, he was named Kansas Coach of the Year by the Community for Coaches.
The property already has one ballfield, an infield practice field, two batting tunnels and two pitching lanes, plus a small storage building. Town wants to add a 24,000-square-foot building to be soundproofed for indoor training, offices and classrooms, parking, a new drive, and an additional ball diamond closer to the intersection.
There are a number of limitations on how he could use the property. No lighting, scoreboards, grandstands or amplified sound systems would be allowed, and there could be no games, only practices. The hours would be 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. and no more than 25 athletes could be on the property at a time, about the same as now, he contends.
The business only operates during good weather and outdoor practice is seasonal, from March through October.
The neighbors had several issues with the plan. They worried that traffic on the hilly roads and over one gravel road would cause dust and endanger the people who walk, run and ride horses on the rural roads.
Lack of sewer service also was a concern. Since there are no sewers for that area, the facility would have to offer portable toilets, which would be unsightly and smelly, some said. The county estimated sewers would not be available in the area until 2035. Water would also have to be brought in for people at the outdoor area, and that brought complaints for neighbors of potential trash on the site.
But the larger issue for many was the possibility of more visitors to the area ruining the peace and quiet. Tom Scanlon, a neighbor to the immediate west, said even without a public address system the property will still be noisy with teenagers and the noise of balls hitting metal bats.
“It’s going to be a constant tink, tink, tink, tink with the coaching going on and it’s not conducive to what we have been living out there for,” Scanlon told the county commission.
Scanlon’s lawyer, Aaron March, argued that Town’s Advanced Baseball Academy plans is a business that doesn’t fit the area and should have to go through rezoning, rather than the permit process.
Some neighbors agreed. “It’s not any more recreational than a pool hall or a bowling alley would be, said neighbor Greg Dean. “It is completely commercial and there’s no way around it. They market to the entire metropolitan area, not just Johnson County. It is simply an inappropriate invasion into our bucolic neighborhood.”