Barbara Cailler loved her wooded property in western Lenexa.
She loved it so much that she asked the Arbor Day Foundation to take ownership of it and shepherd its eventual development after she died, said Matt Harris, chief executive of the tree-planting conservation group who knew her from her longstanding relationship with the organization.
Now that a development is in the works, the Arbor Day Foundation finds itself in the unusual position of having to defend itself from neighbors worried about the potential loss of trees and wildlife.
At issue is the Timber Rock subdivision of large lots and a planned senior living facility on 106 acres near 95th Street and Woodland Road. Several neighbors turned out at a recent planning commission meeting, mainly to ask for more time to consider whether to grant the rezoning for the development.
They got just that because of a technicality in the posting of notice about the land use. Although the planning commission approved it at a Feb. 6 meeting, that decision is now void and developers will have to start the process all over again. It won’t be back at the planning commission until April.
Cailler was well known to the Arbor Day Foundation since the 1990s, and had often spoken of her hopes for the land she would bequeath to the Nebraska City, Nebr.-based nonprofit, Harris said.
She wanted the acreage, which is about a quarter mile north of Prairie Star Parkway and a quarter-mile east of Monticello Road, to be developed with a place for senior housing, walking trails, a common space and a thoughtful philosophy in the necessary removal of some trees, he said. She told Harris she didn’t want high-value trees to be scoured indiscriminately, as she thought had been done in other developments.
No development happened for about five years after Cailler died. During that time the foundation went about interviewing developers. They eventually settled on B.L. Rieke Custom Homes.
The plan Rieke proposed is for 93 acres of single family homes and 12 acres of senior housing. The overall density is 2.6 living units per acre, though some of the lots are larger with only one home per acre.
But residents in Falcon Ridge and Brampton neighborhoods took notice and wanted more of a say in how it is developed. They asked for a chance to collaborate with the foundation on a possible green buffer zone. Some also expressed concern that removal of trees would increase the noise coming from a nearby shooting range.
A few neighbors also mourned the possible loss of trees. Gene Senesac told the commission it would be a shame to lose the trees and wildlife, and Elizabeth Aberle, 11, read aloud a letter she’d written about the proposal. She said she enjoys seeing the wildlife out her window and finds the development plans “outrageous.”
“I understand that new homes bring new growth and new businesses and new schools, all of which are good for our community,” she said. “But, at what cost to our neighborhood and our environment. Many of our neighbors intend to move now and I can’t see where that is a good thing.”
But Bruce Rieke said he’s doing everything he can to meet Barbara Cailler’s wishes. The low-density development gives him more choices about keeping trees, he said. And there will be a common area that won’t be touched. In fact, a valley on the property prevents about 25 percent of the land from being developed because it is inaccessible, he said.
Rieke said that as a developer, it’s in his best interest to leave a lot of trees. “Any developer will try to save as many as you can because that’s what makes the lots more desirable,” he said. “Why would I take any more trees than I have to?”
The Arbor Day Foundation still owns the land and will keep it so the group can be involved in the development up until its eventual sale, Harris said. During that time, the nonprofit will do its best to fulfill Cailler’s wishes about how it should be developed.
It’s not unusual for Arbor Day supporters to will land to the foundation, but usually it’s farm land, he said. This is the first time a donation has been made of land to be developed.
Keeping the land was never an option, because Cailler wanted it developed, he said. And since it is priced at about $25,000 an acre, it will be a “transformational” gift, he said.
“By selling it we will meet the wishes of the donor and do things that will impact a tremendous number of people in the U.S. and around the world,” Harris said.