Plans for a multi-purpose hockey arena, hotels and a branch of the Cosmosphere space museum at the southeast corner of 159th Street and Antioch Road got a boost from the Overland Park Planning Commission Monday night, but not before commissioners got an earful from neighbors opposed to the development.
The commission approved rezoning and special-use permits for the northern part of the BluHawk development — sending the matters on to the full city council meeting June 6.
The BluHawk project is proposed to be one of the largest mixed-use developments in the area, covering more than 300 acres in the area bounded by U.S. Highway 69, Antioch Road, 159th and 167th streets. If fully approved, the development would include Shawnee Mission Health-Blue Valley, a 6,000-seat sports arena anchored by a U.S. Hockey League amateur team, Cosmosphere Innovation Space, commercial and entertainment and residential units.
The planning commission on Monday only dealt with the northern part of the development — 117.5 acres north of 163rd Street. Commissioners voted unanimously to approve rezoning and a special-use permit for the hotels. They approved another special-use permit for the sports arena on a 7-2 vote, with Commissioners Michael Flanagan and Robert Gadd voting no. Commissioners Dave Hill and Kim Sorensen recused themselves from the vote.
Part of the development has been approved; construction has begun on the Shawnee Mission Health-Blue Valley facility and the BluHawk Marketplace. Sixty homes in the development have been completed and a second phase of residential construction has started.
Development at the site has a history of neighborhood opposition dating back to the mid-2000s, when developers explored the idea of moving the then-Kansas City Wizards to the area and building some youth fields. That idea eventually fell through, and the Wizards, rebranded as Sporting KC, are now located in Kansas City, Kan.
Some neighbors hearkened back to the soccer debates of a decade ago as they took the podium. “I was part of the groundswell several years ago when there were discussions about having a soccer complex at the same site,” Bob Roennigke said. “It sounds to me like the arena and complex are one and the same.”
Other speakers were suspicious that the sports arena, which is billed as a spot for elite youth teams, is eventually intended to be the new home of the Missouri Mavericks. The Mavericks now play in Independence.
Jan Jones said the Mavericks’ current arena has fewer seats than the 6,000 proposed for BluHawk. “If this is a lesser, more junior league, why would we need such a sizeable arena?” she said. She asked if a Mavericks move was part of a “hidden agenda” of the permit.
Gary Roberts agreed. “As much as I like youth sports I have a difficult time thinking we’re building a 6,000-seat arena for 12-year-old hockey teams,” he said.
Sara Roberts was concerned about people who have been drinking leaving the events. “It’s a good thing there’s a police station there because they’re going to need it,” she said.
Laurie Roberts, a spokeswoman for the development who is unrelated to Gary and Sara Roberts, wrote in an email after the meeting that elite high school athletes would be recruited to move to Overland Park to play for the BluHawks amateur team. Neighbors who are worried about drunken fans are confused about the league, she said, emphasizing its “family-friendly atmosphere.”
Residents worried about the traffic the development would generate.
Sara Roberts told commissioners that the traffic surges during events would mean drivers taking shortcuts through neighborhoods. “The arena would be a whole different ball game,” she said. “I don’t care what they say and how much they gloss it over, that kind of traffic is going to be ugly.”
Jan Jones said that other aspects of the development were troubling, including the density and the nearness to three Blue Valley schools, churches and bikeways. She and others noted that traffic in the area has become heavy, especially during rush hours, and that this would add to congestion.
Neighbors of the development also wrote numerous emails to commissioners questioning the process for giving notice of the hearing. The planning staff said it had provided notices to homes associations farther than the legally-required area, but some at the meeting said they didn’t get them.
John Petersen, representing the Price Brothers development company, said the road system should be able to handle the slight increase in traffic predicted by the studies. The focus on youth and family amenities such as the hockey arena and Cosmosphere will set the development apart from the typical retail and apartment district and make it an area people want to come to, he said.
Even commissioners who voted for approval said the decision was difficult given the spirited testimony of the neighbors.
“This is a difficult call,” said Commissioner Ned Reitzes.
He said he was skeptical that a sports arena would ever come to fruition at the site. “On the other hand, it is a key component of this project. It’s an attraction, it’s a center, it’s something to draw people from a widely dispersed area,” he said.
Commissioner Rob Krewson also supported it, but said the decision was tough.
“Your comments are important to us but what I have to remind myself is that this is not a popularity contest and sometimes you have to make very difficult decisions,” Krewson said.
Commissioner Michael Flanagan rejected the idea of the arena, saying, “I feel it’s too big for the area.”
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