Shawnee & Lenexa

Lawsuit filed to halt sewer project near Bell Road in Shawnee

Residents along Bell Road in Shawnee have asked the district court to stop planned sewer line construction that they fear will tear out hundreds of mature trees and ruin habitat for wildlife as well as their own privacy and property values.

Two Bell Road property owners, Richard and Phyllis Travers, filed suit in Johnson County District Court asking a judge to nullify the county commission’s recent decision to approve a contract sewer district. The city and developers say they need the sewer line to develop an area at the corner of Maurer Road and Shawnee Mission Parkway.

The Traverses filed their suit on behalf of the neighborhood, which has so far lost in its efforts to get the county to approve another type of sewer line that would be less destructive to their area.

“What was done here was mistaken and should not have been done or should have had more review,” said attorney Don Lysaught, a Bell Road resident who has often made the neighborhood’s case at city and county public hearings but is not representing the couple in the lawsuit.

At issue is how to carry wastewater away from 26 acres the city of Shawnee sorely wants to see developed. The site, on the southwest corner of the intersection just east of Interstate 435, is surrounded by other successful retail areas. But development on the site has been stalled for years for lack of a sewer, city officials say.

During that time the city has tried to get property owners — who are on septic systems — interested in a consolidated sewer district that would serve the development corner, Bell Road and others in the immediate area. However not enough people wanted it to get the ball rolling.

The latest effort is a contract district, meaning that developers pay a portion of the line’s cost. The city of Shawnee wanted development badly enough in this case to pay that cost for the developers. That amount is around $115,000.

With a contract district, homeowners cannot hook into the system without paying. Residents say they are happy enough with their septic lines that that doesn’t bother them.

But they are disturbed by the fact that the gravity line runs downhill along a rill that has been a source of beauty and privacy from nearby roads. One resident, artist Joni Johnson-Godsy, has made a study of local wildlife and has developed a Facebook following for some of the many birds, deer and waterfowl that visit the area.

Residents asked the county commission and wastewater department to consider other, less-destructive types of sewer lines. For example, they asked for a pump system to carry water through a line eastward or directly under Bell Road. They also disputed the county’s estimates of the cost of those lines, saying the county overestimated the neighborhood’s proposals and underestimated the gravity line commissioners eventually went with.

All those points were outlined in the suit, along with some legal points about whether the county followed correct procedures.

Meanwhile, Shawnee officials had been hopeful of getting the development’s public financing package settled before the end of this year. The public hearing was set for Dec. 22 before the city council.

The proposed development includes a 50,000-square-foot anchor store that has yet to be announced, 100,000 square feet of retail space and seven pad sites and would be built over a three-year period ending in 2017. Public financing includes tax increment financing and a special sales tax district which, if approved, would increase the sales tax by a half cent to 9.5 percent.