Former Fairway official warns that Wal-Mart customers will drive down property values

Former Fairway City Councilman John Ridenour said he didn’t mean to offend anybody by warning his neighbors that a new Wal-Mart down the road will draw people “of a different class” to trash up their beautiful city with junk cars.

But several of his neighbors did take offense, and they told Ridenour so on Tuesday at what is usually a fairly uneventful meeting for Ward 4 residents at City Hall.

“You basically said anybody who shops at Wal-Mart does not deserve to live in Fairway,” said resident Bart Ewing, who was irritated that Ridenour’s warning had drawn unfavorable attention to his city.

“Unfortunately, this is what speaks for Fairway tonight,” Ewing added.

Fairway Mayor Jerry Wiley showed up to place as much distance as possible between his city and Ridenour’s point of view.

“This is not a subject matter fit for a ward council meeting,” Wiley said to an audience of about 25 residents. “It’s not a city issue.”

But Ridenour created the fuss when he distributed a letter to porches and doorways in his ward on the southwest side of this small “City of Trees” with about 4,000 residents.

Ridenour warned about the negative effect on property values of allowing bigger houses on small lots. And he pointed to Wal-Mart’s plan to close its store in Roeland Park and open a new one in Mission, just down Shawnee Mission Parkway from Fairway.

“When that happens all of their customers of the old store will shop at the new one,” Ridenour wrote. “Our neighborhood will get noticed and some will want to move into it. BE HONEST with yourself. Most of them are of a different class in that they do not feel the desire of a beautiful neighborhood and maintaining property values. When they move in we will start to see junk cars in disrepair in front yards along with other trash, and down will go the property values. BIG TIME!!!”

Monica Rios, whose family has lived in Fairway for 22 years, said she was offended by Ridenour’s singling out a class of people for disapproval. Rios said she felt Ridenour’s comments on a radio program Tuesday focused on the Mexican-American community.

Ridenour denied any racial or ethnic intent.

“I thoroughly apologize to anybody who took exception to any of the verbiage in that letter,” he told Rios and the rest of the audience. “I never ever intended to insult anybody.”

Fairway resident Elizabeth Olmo-Lee, who said she is seeking city approval to enlarge the size of her family’s house, warned that older urban cities cannot shut themselves off but must be open to redevelopment.

The first portion of Tuesday’s meeting centered on code violations and the city’s response to them. There are 169 rental properties in Fairway and 113 of them are in Ward 4.

Ridenour, who was a councilman in the 1990s, asked how notices of code violations are handled.

City officials explained there is a license fee for rental properties and they are inspected annually for violations. But the city, with one building inspector, cannot be proactive in looking for violations, they said.

The officials said trash is one of the biggest complaints City Hall receives. But Wiley said the city’s police officers have more important things to do than write citations for trash-can violations, as some citizens have requested.

“Knock on your neighbor’s door,” Wiley said, encouraging people to take a friendly approach to problems. “We’re trying our best (as a city) to stay out of personal lives. We have too many regulations.

“We’re trying to make Fairway a reasonable, friendly and safe place to live.”