A Prairie Village church has been unsuccessful in persuading city officials to take responsibility for erosion that caused part of the church’s parking lot to collapse four years ago.
The City Council on Monday voted 11-2 to accept the results of a study by the city’s public works department that determined the 2013 collapse at Prairie Baptist Church, 7416 Roe Ave., was because of poor maintenance of the hillside behind the church’s property and not the city’s fault.
The decision disappointed many of the several dozen church congregation members who attended the meeting.
“We ask that the city and all other responsible parties who contributed to the hillside and parking lot failure to take full responsibility to stabilize, replace and fully restore the deteriorating hillside in a manner agreeable to the membership of Prairie Baptist Church,” Rev. Kathy Pickett, the church’s senior pastor, told the council before the vote.
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Melissa Prenger, senior project manager for the city, said her research found that the hillside, which leads down to Brush Creek was reshaped significantly when the church added the parking lot in the 1960s and left too steep. Over time and without necessary reinforcement, the hillside became unstable and eventually collapsed.
She acknowledged that the city performed several projects during the intervening decades to improve water flow and reduce flooding in the Brush Creek channel below the church property. But she said the evidence shows that the work did not involve the hillside and, in fact, moved the channel for the creek away from the church property.
The city also recently completed curb improvements on 75th Street designed to reduce the amount of water pouring off the road and through the church parking lot during storms. Both sides estimate the water coming off of 75th Street contributes only a quarter of the total runoff running down the hill.
“There is no reason we can find for the city to be responsible for the slide that occurred in 2013,” Prenger told the council.
The church’s own data disagrees. Pickett said the city allowed the construction of the parking lot and construction of the steep grade in the 1960s.
She also said that while the city’s many projects to improve the Brush Creek channel moved the streambed away from the bottom of the hill, workers likely damaged the base of the hill and nevertheless didn’t properly replace vegetation and disturbed soil, making the hill more unstable and contributing to its eventual collapse. She added that the runoff from 75th Street hastened the damage.
Under questioning from council members, Pickett acknowledged the church has not asked an independent engineer to study the situation or Prenger’s findings, which she blamed on cost and local engineers not wanting to upset a potential client in Prairie Village.
Without an alternate view, or evidence that the Brush Creek improvements actually contributed to the collapse, many councilmembers said they couldn’t agree to fund work that could cost an estimated $150,000 or more.
“I do find it difficult for us to weigh correlation and causation here,” Councilman Chad Herring said.
Councilman Eric Mikkelson added that didn’t see accepting the public works report as the end of the discussion and would reconsider if the church brought back more evidence.
Councilmembers Dan Runion and Serena Schermoly, who represents the area surrounding the church, voted against accepting the public works study.
In other business, the council asked City Attorney David Waters to research whether and how the city could regulate the use of aerial drones within the city.
The Federal Aviation Administration already controls many aspects of flying drones and has prevented cities from banning them or adopting conflicting regulations. However, Waters said it is possible that the city could regulate drones in terms of unsafe use or when they are used to interfere with a resident’s reasonable expectation of privacy on their own property.
Some council members said existing city ordinances could accomplish the same thing and that a new set of regulations may not be necessary.
Public Works Director Keith Bredehoeft said the city will hold two meetings at City Hall on Dec. 9 to get public input on two new projects. The city will gather comments on a plan to make 69th Street one-way between Delmar Street and Tomahawk Road from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. then city leaders will gather comments on potential traffic calming efforts on 67th Street between Roe Avenue and Nall Avenue from 11 a.m. to noon.
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