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Small but mighty: Three tiny JoCo neighborhoods rich in history

A group of men that call themselves “The Coffee Boys” gathered for coffee and conversation at Hi Hat Coffee in Westwood Hills.
A group of men that call themselves “The Coffee Boys” gathered for coffee and conversation at Hi Hat Coffee in Westwood Hills. Special to The Star

Nestled in a northern corner of Johnson County, Westwood, Westwood Hills and Mission Woods pack a lot of history in a small space.

While they make up only around 1 square mile total land area and hold fewer than 2,500 people, each city is staunchly proud of its piece of the pie. In fact, when a merger of Westwood and Westwood Hills was proposed in 1973, it failed soundly at the ballot box and has not been attempted since.

While today it’s located in Fairway, part of the Shawnee Indian Mission, established early in the 1830s, touched on the area around the three towns. Later, part became the property of the descendants of the missionary Rev. Thomas Johnson, and another part was sold to enhance the Mission Hills Country Club. The Great Depression stopped that project and some of the land was resold for financial reasons.

J.C. Nichols Company bought land to develop Westwood Hills in 1923 and Mission Woods in 1938. Westwood was independently platted. Size was not a criteria when the three communities joined neighbors Fairway and Mission Hills in incorporating in 1949.

Mission Woods has the distinction of being the smallest community in Johnson County in population and area. It encompasses four streets: two north of Shawnee Mission Parkway and two south with a population estimated at around 200 in 83 homes in 2016. Nichols advertised this development “as a choice bit of tree-studded ridged fairways,” hence the name Mission Woods.

It is governed by a mayor and five councilmen who meet at the Westwood City Hall once a month.

Mayor Robert Tietze has lived in Mission Woods 41 years. He moved from Prairie Village looking for a small community and found it.

“We have a strong sense of community,” he said, “yet we are not on top of each other.”

He admitted that the close proximity to other cities does require some strategizing such as street repaving when one side of the street is in Mission Woods and the other side in Westwood Hills. It will be a joint project.

And sharing is the solution for a problem many small communities face: funding. Revenue comes from property tax, sales tax and cost sharing. Mission Woods employs a Westwood employee as city clerk part time and contracts with that city’s public works and law enforcement departments, as does Westwood Hills. Westwood Hills, which also has a mayor and five councilmen, has its own part-time city clerk, Beth O’Bryan.

“Westwood Hills depends on Westwood for some services and leases meeting space at Westwood City Hall,” said O’Bryan, who works from her home.

Several businesses on State Line Road — Annedore’s Fine Chocolate, Hi Hat Coffee and The Little Flower Shop — generate tax money to augment the property taxes from the 175 homes.

“Westwood Hills is built out,” O’Bryan said. “We are six blocks in size.”

The entire city is designated a National Historic District recognized for Community Planning and Development and Architecture, for which J.C. Nichols is credited. It is the first of his developments platted with retail.

All three communities use a Johnson County consolidated district for sanitary sewer and for fire protection. The Shawnee Mission School District serves the area.

Those who travel through the area may find it difficult to determine city boundaries in the small geographic area. Many people travel daily to Westwood to reach the University of Kansas Cancer Center, recognized nationally as a National Cancer Institute. Westwood is also home to the Midwest Transplant Center.

A study done in 2016 by the Census Bureau shows the Westwood population estimated at 1,658, a 10 percent percent increase in six years. Of those, 17 are estimated to live and work in the city while 938 travel into the city. Around 680 residents work elsewhere. The new Woodside Village on Rainbow Boulevard could change that ratio, with 335 luxury apartments and 36,500 square feet of retail.

Westwood deserves a place in the history books for turning down $37,000 in Federal Revenue Sharing money in 1972. The mayor explained to NBC News the city did not need it, as it then collected several hundred thousand from the former United Telecom company headquartered there.

That money is for the “needy not the greedy” he said. The funds, however, did stay in the Johnson County area.

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