Stilwell takes a proactive stance as growth rolls its way

11/05/2013 5:08 PM

11/05/2013 5:08 PM

Those living in the unincorporated community of Stilwell — one of the last undeveloped areas of Johnson County — prefer the area’s rural charm over the crowded suburbs. And they want to keep it that way.

The Aubry-Oxford Township zoning board and Johnson County Commissioner Steven Klika recently presented community members a draft of the Stilwell Community Plan, designed to establish a set of guidelines for how residents want Stilwell to look as development spreads south.

The plan calls for low residential density, potential park space and commercial development that is appropriately scaled to current buildings. The plan also wants to prevent light pollution and keep Stilwell’s night sky as dark as possible. The plan was driven by a fear that as cities like Overland Park continue to expand, Stilwell will lose its identity.

“We saw how Stanley lost its identity and we want to prevent that from happening,” said Vic Mosby, Aubry-Oxford zoning board member.

A recent meeting conducted to allow community members to voice their opinions on the plan — they were supportive — raised two other significant concerns that quickly became the topic of discussion: encroaching sewer and water drainage lines from Overland Park and the potential for expanding Metcalf Avenue further south.

Most residents around Stilwell use a septic system, which are useful in low-density areas, but not in high, said Marsha Lawrence. Recently sewer lines have been installed near her home at 183rd Road and Metcalf Avenue. Her fear is that with the sewers, more high density residential development will come to the neighborhood.

“What generally follows sewers is development,” she said.

Other residents were concerned about expansion along Metcalf Avenue because the county’s comprehensive plan calls for it to become a four-lane artery through Stilwell if traffic becomes more dense. They were not only concerned about the increase in traffic but also the potential loss of property if the street is widened.

Brian Pietig with Johnson County public works said that while the county has planned to widen Metcalf, that plan is distant in the future and only if traffic concerns warrant it.

“The next improvements might just be two lanes with a turn lane,” Pietig said.

Mosby said the point of the Stilwell community plan is to address concerns like these before they happen.

“We’re trying to develop criteria for our community,” he said. “We want to be able to tell developers what we want.”

Otto Westerfeld, a commercial developer, told fellow Stilwell residents that once strong development comes to area, the community should have an equally strong idea of what they want the community to become.

“I’m the guy that comes in and puts a Price Chopper in your backyard,” he said. “And I’m telling you, if it means a lot to you, you better come together and have a voice.”

When it came to the actual community plan, few residents had negative comments. The strongest criticism was that area the plan encompassed was not large enough. Currently the plan is bounded by 183rd Street on the north, Nall Avenue on the east, 215th Street on the south, and U.S. 69 on the west. Some residents wanted to see the area expanded east to the state line.

“It’s encouraging that people actually wanted to make the area bigger,” Mosby said.

The Aubry-Oxford Township Zoning Board will continue to gather community input and hone a plan to present to the Johnson County planning commission in late November. If approved the plan will go to the county commissioners for final approval. Klika and Mosby both said community involvement would be key to making the final plan successful.

“One thing I know about this community is that it takes a lot of pride in itself,” Klika said. “There’s not a lot of other areas that come together as strongly.”

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