The Olathe City Council on Tuesday approved rezoning 27 acres at the southwest corner of 119th Street and Pflumm Road for a 240-unit apartment complex.
The 6-1 vote came after almost a dozen neighbors spoke against the project and dozens more wrote letters and emails to the city voicing their own opposition.
But while the residents were unable to scuttle the project itself, they were able to persuade the council to ax plans to connect 123rd Street through the development to Pflumm Road as planned, a move they warned would have dumped fast-moving traffic on the doorstep of Heatherstone Elementary School.
“If we are going to make considerations and alterations to the infrastructure of our city based on residents that are not here in these apartments now, I plead with you to protect the citizens that are here and living in this neighborhood now,” said Tim Laughlin, who lives across the street from the school.
The thin strip of land has sat unused since being rezoned in 2001 and 2004 for mixed-use development, the most recent including a 14,000-square-foot pharmacy, a 5,000-square-foot bank, 151 residential units and a 5,000-square-foot daycare center.
Davis Development, an Atlanta-based firm, plans to build 23 two-story apartment buildings on the site. Nineteen of the buildings will have interior parking garages, and the rest will rely on surface parking.
The original plan included building a section of road across the development’s southern end to connect 123rd Street past South Summit Street to Pflumm Road, a feature that received lukewarm support from the developers but has been on the wish list of city transportation planners for some time. The planners said neighborhoods between 119th and 127th streets and between Pflumm and Black Bob roads currently have no access to the south or east. The intersection of 119th Street and Pflumm Road is currently graded as having a level of service of “F,” the worst possible.
Connecting 123rd Street to Pflumm Road, they said, would ease congestion at 119th Street and surrounding roads, as well as give residents greater flexibility.
But residents, particularly those living on South Summit Street, said opening that route would turn their quiet residential road into a major thoroughfare for drivers wanting to avoid traffic on 119th Street and find a quicker way to get to commercial development near Interstate 35.
Shannon Villasenor, who works as a crossing guard on 123rd Street west of Heatherstone Elementary, told council members she already has to deal with drivers regularly zooming through the crosswalk, a problem she said would get worse with more traffic. She warned that the developers didn’t have traffic studies that showed how much additional traffic would use 123rd Street once it was connected to Pflumm Road.
“This really scares me,” she said.
Other speakers focused on the development itself, which they said was out of character for the surrounding single-family neighborhoods and would affect their property values. In particular, they asked for additional landscaping to separate the apartments from surrounding houses and block light and noise leaking from the complex.
Fred Hazel, chief financial officer of Davis Development, said his company had met with the neighbors and attempted to address some of their concerns. For example, he said the company planned to preserve more than 100 large trees surrounding the property and made sure most of the complex parking pointed away from neighbors. He added that the company was known for building quality complexes with materials similar to those used in single-family construction.
Those promises did not persuade many of the residents attending the meeting, however.
“A transient resident population of this apartment complex does not match the character of the neighborhood no matter what types of nice building materials are used,” said resident Lori Hilton.
Council members told the residents that they understood their concerns and that removing the extension of 123rd Street should resolve many of those. But they also pointed out the property is already zoned for much more dense development and has sat vacant for a long time.
“I think this is the best that we’re going to get,” said Councilman Jim Randall. “I think it’s going to be less intense. I think it’s going to be very attractive and well-managed, and I think it is what belongs here.”
Councilwoman Marge Vogt voted against the rezoning after noting that residents surrounding the property had filed a valid protest petition, which required a supermajority of council members to approve the development.
In other business:
▪ The council unanimously approved the 2018 budget, which increases total city spending by 9 percent to $366.7 million while providing a quarter-mill reduction of the property tax rate to 24.458 mills. A mill equals $1 of tax for each $1,000 of taxable value.
The budget also includes a 4 percent increase in water rates, a 5.2 percent increase in sewer rates, a 2 percent increase for storm water management fees and a 1.5 percent increase for residential solid waste fees.
▪ Council members also voted to purchase almost $300,000 in equipment for a new fueling station the city is building for its growing fleet of vehicles that use compressed natural gas.
City officials last fall signed off on the $3 million station under construction at the city’s public works facility at 1385 S. Robinson Drive, part of its effort to convert its fleet of garbage trucks from diesel to the cleaner-burning fuel, sometimes called CNG. Johnson County, which will use the station to refuel its CNG-powered transit buses, will pay a third of the project cost.
Josh Wood, the city’s fleet manager, told the council that switching to CNG will reduce polluting emissions from city vehicles by up to 29 percent and make the city less vulnerable to future spikes in diesel fuels prices.
The CNG station is expected to open early next year.
David Twiddy: email@example.com