Overland Park & Leawood

Little Free Libraries continue to draw discussion in Leawood

The Leawood City Council on Monday night unanimously approved extending until May 4 its moratorium that exempts “Little Free Libraries” from a city ordinance that prohibits front-yard structures.

The council on July 7 had unanimously approved a moratorium exempting the structures until Monday, which enabled 9-year-old Spencer Collins to put his library back in his front yard.

Spencer received national attention in June after city officials asked his family to take down their little lending library, which prompted criticism from his family and other supporters of the libraries.

During the citizen comments period of Monday’s council meeting, Spencer’s father, Brian Collins, spoke in favor of the libraries.

“I think little free libraries should be expressly permitted by the city, subject to no regulations (except) one: (that) they not be allowed in the right of way,” Collins said. “They are works of art, they are unique, and they exist to disseminate books. They are an unmitigated good, they are desirable, and there are 18,000 of them in the world.”

Little free libraries are “a form of protected free speech,” Collins said.

“Regulating it in any way is a regulation of free speech, which to me goes against the very principles this country was founded on.”

In a work session Monday night before the council meeting, Ward 2 Councilman Louis Rasmussen said he opposed allowing the structures.

“Radio talk show hosts, TV channels, media, TV personalities out of Rockefeller Center all deciding what a streetscape in a city of 30,000-plus in Kansas should have is sort of amazing to me,” Rasmussen said. “My homeowners association has a contract with every person in this area. …

“What we are doing even considering this is shifting the onerous job of controlling the streetscape from the city to the homes associations. So we’re saying to the homes associations essentially (that) you should increase your reserves for enforcing your covenants to accommodate legal costs. … If they say no and the city says yes, then the whole burden changes.”

City ordinances control the streetscape, Rasmussen said, “because we want a community with fundamentally open spaces.”

Ward 1 Councilman Andrew Osman disagreed.

“You could you build the most gaudy, God-awful fountain (or) flagpole because your HOA allows it, and because I deem it not acceptable — it’s America” so you’re free to do so, he said, “and I have to live with my consequences right there, for being in the city.”

Mayor Peggy Dunn said that she was “really talking only about these little structures that hold books.

“I am not talking about the possibility of an ordinance that would allow anything in front yards. … And what we have historically always kept is (that) our front yards are uncluttered green space.”

Another point of contention during the work session was whether to have residents first gain approval from a homeowners association and then go to the city and seek a permit for a front-yard structure. City Attorney Patty Bennett advised against that approach.

“Then you get in the middle of (a homeowners association’s) contract interpretation,” she said.

But Ward 4 Councilwoman Julie Cain said she supported having residents get homeowners association approval first and stressed that the associations should have a say in the process.

City Administrator Scott Lambers said that courts have ruled that private property deed restrictions supersede city ordinances when the private property requirements are more restrictive than the city ordinances.

Ward 4 Councilman James Azeltine said he preferred bringing requests before the council on its consent agenda.

Lambers said in the council meeting that he would bring a proposal to the council on May 4 for an approval process that would apply only in the absence of any controversy.

Also Monday the council unanimously adopted a pedestrian and bicycle master plan. The plan, titled “Self-Propelled Leawood,” written by Marty Shukert, a principal with RDG Planning and Design, an Omaha consultant group.

“We, in the process of developing the plan, have ridden every mile of every street, more or less — probably 98 percent of them,” Shukert said at the council meeting.

The plan is designed to tie together the city’s neighborhoods and major destinations with a network of walking and biking routes.

The council continued to Nov. 3 a discussion of street fees for developers. The council’s Public Works Committee is recommending that a developer would be assessed a street fee when undeveloped land is adjacent to an unimproved street. A developer would not pay a street fee for undeveloped land adjacent to a street that had already been improved.

Lambers opposes the recommendation.

“If you’re charging someone for a public improvement that is benefiting from it, then they should pay along with everyone else, regardless of the timing of the development,” Lambers told the council.