The 19 rodeo bulls that had neighbors in rural west Olathe stirred up a couple of months ago are gone now, county officials say. But that doesn’t mean the cattle controversy is over for the neighborhood of narrow lots just south of Kill Creek Park.
Now some neighbors are fighting another bovine issue — this one from a property owner adjacent to the former home of the rodeo bulls.
Arturo Martinez has seven head of cattle on his 4.2 acres at 33875 W. 135th St. He is seeking a conditional-use permit to keep up to five head of cattle.
But neighbors say his 160-foot-wide piano-key lot is too small, putting them too close to the cattle. They say they have to deal with the smell, flies and water runoff.
Martinez’s property is next door to the land owned by Teodoro Rivera that was the subject of vocal neighborhood opposition in February when Rivera asked to keep up to 25 bulls on his narrow lot. Although the bulls were mentioned at a recent zoning board hearing, there is no connection between the Rivera business and Martinez’s request to keep cattle. Martinez raises beef to sell or for his family to consume, he said.
The Northwest Consolidated Zoning Board sent the request to the County Commission with a recommendation that it be denied. Its reasoning was that the cattle would not be compatible with the neighborhood, which consists of homes on narrowly shaped parcels. According to county zoning restrictions, no ruminant animals such as cattle are allowed on less than 10 acres without a permit.
But Martinez’s representative, Tucker Stewart, associate counsel for the Kansas Livestock Association, argued that the county doesn’t have the right to deny Martinez. The county cannot make rules on agricultural use that are more restrictive than state law, he said, adding that he can back that up with a state attorney general’s opinion.
The county’s zoning rules are “void and unenforceable,” Stewart said, because the state says all agricultural uses, including keeping of livestock, are allowed on rural land. Having the owner’s residence on the land does not negate its agricultural designation, he said.
“It’s a breath of fresh air to see what Mr. Martinez is doing,” he said. “The average citizen today is three generations away from the family farm.” He said Martinez should be allowed to feed his family and earn income from the cattle.
Many neighbors disagreed. About 30 of them showed up at the zoning board meeting March 20 to object, and some also wrote and spoke at the commission meeting.
Neighbor Deborah Hasenbank sent a written description of “agonizing bellows of poorly slaughtered cows as their throats are cut and left to bleed out.” Those animals are then hung in a barn door, where she sees them being gutted and skinned, she wrote. She and other neighbors also complained about problems with water runoff from the cattle.
Martinez had a supporter in Kirk Berggren, owner of the KC Pumpkin Patch and KC Wine Co. in rural Olathe. Berggren spoke in support of Martinez’s operation to commissioners, saying the right to agricultural uses is not dependent on lot size, according to state law. “For people moving out in the country, unfortunately it’s buyer beware,” he said. “There’s not a homes association.”
The Berggren farm, which hosts events and field trips, was the subject of neighborhood opposition when it moved from Gardner in 2014.
Commissioners voted 4-3 to send the application back to the zoning board for review of the legal issues mentioned by Stewart. Chairman Ed Eilert was one of those voting against, saying he disagrees about the county’s legal right to restrict the use.
“It is a reasonable decision to make in an urban county where development continues to occur,” he said. Animals on small parcels are a “legitimate concern” for planners, he said.
The zoning board will hear the item on May 15.
In other action Thursday:
▪ The commission joined 10 Johnson County jurisdictions in approving the Tobacco 21 initiative, which limits the sale of nicotine products to people 21 and over.
Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of the new rule, which has been promoted by Healthy KC, a partnership of the Greater Kansas City Chamber of Commerce and Blue Cross and Blue Shield. The new rule aims to prevent teenage addiction to tobacco and other nicotine delivery systems, and to improve health in the workplace.
Commissioner Mike Brown voted against the restriction, saying 18-year-olds who risk their lives in the military shouldn’t be told they aren’t capable of making a decision on nicotine. “I’m not a proponent of smoking but I am a proponent of maintaining as many rights as possible,” he said.
Commissioner Steve Klika said he voted for the item despite frustration about the difficulty of enforcing it. “But in the spirit of community effort in trying to promote reduction in smoking, I will support it,” he said.
Eilert noted that people younger than 21 can’t buy beer and alcohol. “Smoking is a public health issue,” he said. “This board sits as the board of public health for Johnson County. I think that places additional responsibility on us.”
Eilert said he started smoking before turning 21, “and it took me about three decades to break that habit.”
▪ Patrons who want a sip of wine or beer while they watch a show at Theater in the Park will find it a little easier.
Commissioners gave the county Park & Recreation District approval to allow alcohol at the Arts and Heritage Center when it opens in June. Audience members at the outdoor theater in Shawnee Mission Park also will be able to drink while watching the show.
Normally alcohol is prohibited on county land. The commission granted the exception because the Arts and Heritage Center will host private events, and allowing alcohol will make it attractive to people wanting to rent space, officials said.
The park district will not sell alcohol but will contract with a vendor.
Drinking is already allowed at the outdoor Theater in the Park, but it has been restricted to sale and consumption at a pavilion, said Jill Geller, executive director of the park district. But patrons there have complained that the pavilion is too far away to see the performance. The rule change means alcohol can be sold at a space closer to the stage and carried back to the lawn seating, she said.
The exact parameters for sale at the Arts and Heritage Center haven’t yet been settled, but Geller envisions sales during the indoor Theater in the Park performances and consumption within the rooms rented for private events. Most of that activity will be taking place at night and should not overlap with school field trips to the museum, she said.
As always, the sale of alcoholic drinks ends at the end of intermission, she said.