Shawnee & Lenexa

Lenexa gathers input on Old Town area

Lenexa’s historic but struggling Old Town area could get a makeover with street and parking configuration changes, gateway markers and perhaps a small area for band concerts, according to plans presented at a recent public meeting.

Officials met with residents recently to present ideas formed by a planning advisory committee in December and January. The meeting was partly to present possibilities and partly to get input from residents on how the area near the intersection of Pflumm Road and Santa Fe Trail Drive could be improved.

The planning study was made possible by a $41,000 grant from the Mid-America Regional Council’s Planning Sustainable Places program awarded to the city almost a year ago. Lenexa provided a $20,500 match and has worked with consultants and the advisory committee to come up with the ideas presented last week. The grant only covers the plans. Additional money would be needed to do any building.

The Old Town area being studied is bounded by Noland Road and Park Street on the east and west and 91st and 94th Streets to the north and south.

The plan seeks to revitalize the area — which includes a small strip of shops and public buildings surrounded by older homes — and to make it a more noticeable destination. Many of the proposals dealt with making streets friendlier to pedestrian and bike traffic, reconfiguring parking and slowing traffic for the shops.

Officials presented three concepts for redoing the area, stressing that ideas from each could be mixed and matched.

Among the ideas was removal of protected parking spaces in front of the Old Town shops. The parking area was built by the city in the 1980s and gave the area a suburban strip mall flavor, said Chris Cline, a consultant who presented the ideas. But before that, the street was not separated from the shops. Modern city designs have favored “complete streets” that integrate car, bike and pedestrian traffic, rather than separate it. That design also slows traffic, he said.

Two of the proposals favored closing the railroad crossing at Noland Road and moving it southwest, a design that could also slow traffic in front of the shops.

The plans also put forth a mix of other ideas, including a landscaped buffer next to the railroad tracks, a new event space, expansion of the community center and new commercial space in various locations. Planners also asked the about 80 people attending to consider what types of architecture fit the area, where markers announcing Old Town should be placed, how to incorporate bike traffic and whether to pursue a quiet zone for the two crossings along the busy BNSF tracks.

The railroad, a catalyst for the city in the late 1800s, is one of the difficulties to getting a cohesive plan for the district now, planners said. The tracks bisect the area, separating private businesses on the north from the community center and other city buildings on the south.

“You have this great area with a lot of character that has trouble keeping all the retail viable because railroad tracks are running in-between,” said Vicki Noteis, one of the consultants.

Putting in a quiet zone could be expensive, she said, because it would require the city to meet the railroad’s exacting specifications on crossing arms and traffic barriers. Still, one commenter later wrote in marker on a corner of one map, “in favor of a quiet zone (biggest obstacle to economic development).”

Attendees were largely positive as they answered a questionnaire and placed red and green dots on the concept maps. Some said the attention to Lenexa’s original business district is long overdue, noting that the city has poured millions into the City Center development just west of Interstate 435 for years.

“At least they’re doing something with it after all these years,” said Mike Woods of Lenexa. Old Town used to host many more events, he said, but attention has been shifting to the west.

Craig Odle agreed. “It’s nice to see them taking a serious look at investing in Old town,” he said. “It seems like there’s been so much focus to the west. I’ve often wondered if all the cool stuff and festivals were headed that way.”

Odle said he particularly liked the idea of a concert area in Old Town.

Meleia Marshall said she had mixed emotions about the changes. The business district was active before a parking island was put in front of the shops but began to fail afterward, she said. Changing it back will be expensive and the area will need more retail space to provide a good draw, she said.

Susan Flaskerud asked planners to try to preserve historical buildings, some of which are more than 100 years old. “Can we stop tearing things down in Old Town? So much has been torn down in Old Town. I wish you would have come ten years ago. It was really quite lovely.”

The planning process is expected to go on through this spring with more meetings culminating in a city council decision on the final product in June. The next public input meeting is scheduled for April 26.