Olathe & Southwest Joco

Development plan near Ernie Miller Park clears another hurdle in Olathe

Summer camp is one of the many activities offered at Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center, “an oasis,” officials say, for the city of Olathe.
Summer camp is one of the many activities offered at Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center, “an oasis,” officials say, for the city of Olathe. The Kansas City Star

Businesses, a storage center and a senior living apartment would be built along the southern border of Ernie Miller Park and Nature Center under a plan the Olathe Planning Commission recommended on Monday.

The City Council will vote next month on whether to allow the 24-acre Stag’s Ridge multiuse development northwest of Kansas Highway 7 and Spruce Street.

Developers are proposing three commercial buildings with almost 45,000 square feet; a three-story, 104,000-square-foot climate-controlled storage building; and a four-story, 100-unit senior living apartment building.

Kevin Tubbesing, representing the developers, told the commission that he’s worked with city staff on the project for more than a year as they wrestled with the property’s steep and rolling terrain.

“It’s been quite an arduous process; this is an extremely difficult site,” he said.

At one point, Tubbesing’s group planned to build seven apartment buildings with 244 units on the site. After staff expressed concerns about the amount of new traffic the apartments would generate, the developers swapped the apartment buildings out for the storage building and the senior center, which are expected to create fewer trips.

While the project has not attracted concerns from neighbors living west of the site, it has gained the attention of the Johnson County Park & Recreation District, which operates the 113-acre Ernie Miller Park and which sent the city a long list of concerns of how the project could affect the park.

In the letter to the city, Jill Geller, the district’s executive director, requested wider buffers with the park, erosion control measures, the elimination of invasive plant species on the property and efforts to reduce stormwater runoff and noise and trash pollution. She also said the district wanted a fence built along the boundary to encourage visitors go in the park only through authorized trailheads, to prevent dogs and bicyclists from entering the park and to keep senior center tenants from getting lost in the wooded areas.

“Over the last 45 years (the district) has invested considerable planning, dollars and time to establish Ernie Miller Park as an oasis within the surrounding hardscape development, providing a very welcome and necessary amenity within the city, county and region,” Geller wrote.

Tubbesing said that the development’s plans, while still preliminary, address many of the district’s concerns — for example, the plan actually calls for a 30-foot buffer instead of the required 20 feet — and that he’s working with Geller’s staff on the others. However, he said he would be against a fence, as he views the park as a good complement to the senior center.

“It seems kind of silly to put a park bench next to a park for some seniors to sit on and have them stare at a fence instead of a beautiful nature park,” he said.

Although they voted unanimously for the project, several commissioners said they shared the district’s concerns and would be watching the project’s development, especially as Tubbesing acknowledged that the commercial parts of the project would likely be built first before the residential area.

“I think it is important to acknowledge how much of a gem and a jewel Ernie Miller is to our community and our city,” said Commissioner Jeremy Fry.

In other business, the commission voted to approve nominating Olathe Memorial Cemetery, 738 N. Chestnut St., to the Olathe Register of Historic Places. The 26-acre cemetery held its first burial in 1865, making it the oldest in the city, and now holds almost 10,600 graves.

The commissioners also voted to recommend rezoning 2.75 acres and approving a preliminary development plan to allow a 59,520-square-foot expansion of the Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church at 13145 S. Black Bob Road. Church leaders said they plan to expand the church’s fellowship hall and add classrooms, a gymnasium and parking.

David Twiddy: dtwiddy913@gmail.com