Wheatley Hills plan raises concern from neighbors

09/10/2013 5:03 PM

09/10/2013 5:05 PM

After more than three hours of listening to concerned residents, the Olathe City Planning Commission extended a public hearing Monday on a proposed development at 143rd Street and Pflumm Road.

More than 20 Olathe and Overland Park residents voiced opposition to the so-called Wheatley Hills development planned for the area, saying they disagreed with the project because of traffic concerns on 143rd Street, Pflumm Road and surrounding streets; stormwater drainage; and the proximity to the Johnson County Executive Airport.

Representatives of the landowner heard similar concerns at a meeting in August when they met with neighborhood residents.

The commission voted to extend the public hearing to Oct. 14 to allow rebuttal from representatives of landowner Menghini Holdings.

Developers originally sought a CP2 designation to make the land a planned business district but introduced a new plan earlier this year that asks to rezone the area to CP1, a planned neighborhood and commercial designation.

That plan calls for commercial development on the southeast corner of 143rd Street and Pflumm Road, with 234 single-family homes to the south and to the east that will be divided by an undeveloped strip of land.

Olathe senior planner Sean Pendley said the planning staff recommends the development even though the commercial zoning does not fit the city’s comprehensive plan. This development would be light commercial — meaning no drive-through restaurants or late-night bars or other uses that would cause a significant traffic increase — and is packaged with homes, Pendley said.

Rod Richardson, an attorney representing Menghini, said the property in question is unique because both the city of Olathe and the Johnson County government must come to consensus on how to use the land. Because the property is so close to the Johnson County Executive Airport, the Johnson County Commission has to approve any plan.

Olathe would prefer the land to be residential, but the county would like commercial zoning. He said this design is the best compromise between what the two governing bodies want.

“An application like this is the only way to bridge that gap,” Richardson said.

But homeowners in the area see the land as unique for another reason. The lack of traffic and semi-rural feel along 143rd Street is what attracted many residents, said Chris Riley, who led the opposition’s presentation.

“We have a very different sense of that uniqueness,” he said. “For many of us that uniqueness rests in the fact that the 143rd Street corridor, with the exception of one intersection, is undeveloped.”

Residents in the area also are concerned developing the intersection at Pflumm Road would increase traffic on already burdened streets, Olathe resident Joe McMillan said. He said the traffic study cited by the developer and the planning staff was inadequate because it did not include 143rd Street to the east of the proposed development or the streets in two Olathe subdivisions to the southeast of the property, which would be used for the southern outlet of the new Wheatley Hills.

“Any increase in traffic constitutes a danger to residents, including the five teen drivers in my neighborhood,” said Scott Spitler, who lives to the north of the proposed development.

Olathe Transportation Manager Thomas Dow said the commercial development at 143rd and Pflumm would coincide with improvements plans for 143rd Street, scheduled to begin by 2017. To better control traffic to that development, engineers propose extending the median on Pflumm north, he said, but doing so would block residents from making left-hand turns into an existing subdivision to the west.

“Historically as a body we would not want to restrict access to a residential area,” said Jon Campbell, chairman of the planning commission.

Resident Tom Kane, who lives to the south of the property, said stormwater drainage is a major concern to him and his neighbors because his home floods about three times a season and heavy runoff has created ruts in his neighbors’ yards. Since moving to his home in 2010 he has experienced a 100-year flood and multiple 50-year floods, he said.

“No disrespect to anyone,” Kane said, referring to engineers who assessed water drainage for Wheatley Hills. “But what if they’re wrong ?”

Residents near Amesbury Lake to the north and Tomahawk Creek shared this concern with a fear that piping stormwater from the commercial development north would create more problems in their neighborhoods.

The residential development close to the Johnson County Executive Airport also has people nervous. Jeff Levine lives north of the proposed development in Overland Park and reminded the commission that if the property is within the “airport area of interest” then so are the properties in Wheatley Hills. Levine believes having dense development close the airport’s main runway could be dangerous.

“It’s not a question of if another accident happens, but when and what will be in the way of that plane when it does,” he said.

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