Prairie Village city leaders are dedicated to the concept of “walkability,” a policy of installing sidewalks and bike paths wherever they can to encourage pedestrian activity and connect neighborhoods.
On Monday, the City Council heard from a group of neighbors who aren’t interested.
Residents along Howe Drive told council members at their regular meeting that a majority of them were opposed to adding a sidewalk when their road is resurfaced and curbs replaced — a project that originally was scheduled to begin Friday.
The city in recent years has included new sidewalks whenever it renovates a road unless 75 percent of residents express opposition through a mail-in ballot sent by certified mail to all property owners.
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As part of the voting, residents who received a ballot but didn’t return it are counted as supporting the sidewalk.
Residents on Monday complained that the letters they received were confusing and lacked essential details of what obligations the sidewalks would create — such as having to clear them of snow and avoid blocking them with a car in the driveway. They also said the process of using certified letters and counting non-responses as approvals was inconvenient, especially to elderly residents who may have missed the certified letter being delivered but had no way of traveling to the post office to pick it up.
“I think government should be straightforward and should be honest,” said Cres Elsener, who said she has lived on the street for more than 40 years. “I felt the letter came across as a back way of getting a ‘yes’ vote from the neighbors.”
Michael O’Rourke and his mother, Cindy O’Rourke, presented a petition of the neighborhood with 80 percent of signatures against the sidewalk. Cindy O’Rourke said there isn’t enough traffic to warrant a sidewalk on the cul-de-sac and that she would lose 10 percent of her front yard.
“We don't need this sidewalk,” she said. “It’s really a waste of our tax dollars and our resources.”
Some members of the council favored immediately canceling the sidewalk construction while others supported the city’s current policy and felt it would be a bad precedent to reject it based on an unofficial petition.
“We need to treat everybody fairly, otherwise this is going to blow up in our faces and the next person that doesn’t want a sidewalk on their street is going to come up here and we may as well not have a sidewalk policy at that point,” Councilwoman Ashley Weaver said.
The council ultimately voted to delay the project and resend the letters to residents by regular mail this week.
In other business, the council voted unanimously to accept the bid from Citigroup Global Capital Markets Inc. of Dallas to buy $11.3 million in city bonds for the purchase and development of the Meadowbrook Park off Nall Avenue. The developers of the rest of the Meadowbrook project, which includes a senior living center, residential neighborhoods, luxury apartments and a boutique inn, will buy $8 million more in bonds for the park. The city plans to pay off the bonds with tax increment financing, which diverts future property tax growth on the developed areas.
The bond sale closes May 17.
Also, Johnson County Manager Hannes Zacharias updated the council on November’s voter referendum to increase the county sales tax rate by a quarter-cent for 10 years to pay for a new county courthouse and coroner facility. If approved, the tax would pay for building a nine-story, $182 million courthouse across Santa Fe Street from the existing one in downtown Olathe and a $19 million county coroner’s office, replacing the rented space in Kansas City, Kan. Proponents say the new courthouse would alleviate infrastructure and accessibility problems with the current building, built in 1952 and expanded several times since then.
Zacharias said state statute requires that city governments in the county would receive 37 percent of the added revenue under the sales tax, which would go into effect next January. For Prairie Village, that would equal an added $5.4 million over 10 years.
In addition, the city council voted unanimously to hire an additional building inspector to handle a rising number of home rebuilds and other construction in the city, which is currently handled by a single inspector and a single building official. For example, the construction of Briarwood Elementary, the Meadowbrook development off Nall Avenue and the Mission Chateau development off Mission Road is expected to require thousands of inspections, permit evaluations and other reviews. A second inspector is expected to cost around $80,000 in salary, equipment and other costs.
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