Residents living near Thomas S. Stoll Park in Overland Park are continuing to voice their opposition to Johnson County Community College’s proposal to build an emergency road south of campus through the park.
Following a “listening session” held Tuesday at the college, a small group on Wednesday took their arguments directly to the Johnson County Park & Recreation Board of Commissioners, which would have to sign off on any roadwork in Stoll Park.
“That park is precious to everyone who lies there,” said Mary Ellen Banks, who lives in the Oak Tree Meadows subdivision just west of the park. “I’m here to make sure you don’t let JCCC do that. We don’t trust them.”
In August, park officials disclosed that JCCC had approached the park district about building a 12-foot-wide paved road from South Campus Road down an existing walking trail to a parking lot in the northern portion of the park. That parking lot uses an access road to connect to 119th Street.
The college has said the road, which is mentioned in its 2016 master plan, would be used only during emergencies.
But neighbors said they doubted the rapidly growing college would not try to make the route permanent and larger once it was in place and used a few times.
The residents’ opposition also has its roots in the college’s attempt in 2004 to acquire the park land, which fell through only after residents staged protests.
“There’s a strong feeling of mistrust, that this is a first step of a slippery slope of accessing the park, making it a safety issue over the park users, and the eventual creep of JCCC into the park,” Paul Satterfield said. “We feel that the mission of JCCC is to eventually move in and encroach upon our park. I would like some kind of, not a guarantee, but some kind of statement saying that that’s not the plan.”
Chris Huckabee, who lives in the nearby Park Crossing subdivision, said the college has argued it wanted to use the road as an escape route in case of a natural gas explosion or an active shooter incident. But he noted that natural gas lines run through Stoll Park, meaning they could present a fire hazard to fleeing students, and the college’s guidelines encourage students and faculty to shelter in place during a shooting incident, not try to get in their cars and drive off.
“Johnson County Community College’s policies don’t make sense for why they’re asking for this,” Huckabee said, adding that college officials have said building the road would not cost much. “That’s the real reason, it’s cheap. They want to save some money, and they don’t really care about the park.”
Jerry Banks said it would be more important during an incident to get emergency vehicles and equipment onto campus, which would be difficult if student cars were clogging the access road.
“Honestly, in an emergency situation, I don’t imagine anybody would throw too much of a fit if a couple of police cars came through the park to get in and help people,” Banks said. “What we’re worried about is that this is getting a foot in the door. If we allow this for students to get out through there, then the next thing you know you’re going to want a more permanent road.”
Commission Chairwoman Nancy Wallerstein said the board may discuss the road issue further during its Oct. 17 meeting. In the meantime, she said the board is collecting public comments through email and phone calls, as well as holding a second listening session scheduled at JCCC on Oct. 3.
Commissioner Steve Baru said he already was leaning against the idea following Tuesday’s listening session, which he noted was held on Yom Kippur, preventing some Jewish neighbors from participating.
“I think that public hearing already demonstrates a lack of respect for the neighbors,” Baru said.
He added that the city of Overland Park would need to be involved in the discussions. If a road was installed to connect the college and 119th Street, the city would need to install a traffic light and crosswalk at the park entrance to deal with the potential increase in traffic.
Commissioner Paul Snider is an elected member of the JCCC Board of Trustees and said he will recuse himself from any further discussions on the park board regarding the Stoll Park road issue.
David Twiddy: email@example.com