Overland Park officials say they are prudently planning for growth and public safety as they set out to acquire homeowners' property for Quivira Road improvements near Blue Valley Southwest High School.
But some neighbors who stand to lose huge trees and parts of their yards contend it’s unjustified and a waste of taxpayer dollars to take their land now for traffic congestion that may not materialize until 2040.
“It’s a bad deal for the taxpayer and for the residents,” said Scott Hamblin, who lives with his wife and four children just east of 177th Street and Quivira Road.
He fears he will lose nearly a dozen 60- to 80-foot trees, including a giant willow that his children love to climb on, as well as a hefty chunk of the side yard that buffers his house from Quivira Road.
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He is among about eight homeowners whose yards would be directly affected.
The neighborhood angst stems from the city’s plans for a $27 million project on Quivira Road from 159th to 179th streets. Current plans call for adding a raised median, shoulder and drainage improvements to the two-lane road but also preparing eventually for a divided four-lane thoroughfare.
The city has told Hamblin and some of his neighbors that it plans to place a 5-foot sidewalk on land that is currently in their yards so that amenity will be in the right place when the expansion from two lanes to four lanes occurs in the future.
If the city had to move the sidewalk and utilities again when the road widens, that would really be a waste of taxpayer dollars, says Zach Matteo, senior civil engineer for Overland Park and the Quivira Road project manager.
“The city believes it has sufficient right to acquire land to plan for future improvements,” Matteo said, emphasizing the city will pay fair market value for the private property it needs for the project.
But the ultimate improvement could occur 22 years from now, according to the city’s description of the project and the South Overland Park Transportation Plan.
“The plan recommends Quivira Road from 159th to 179th streets be improved to a 2-lane roadway in the interim and a 4-lane roadway in the ultimate condition,” a city newsletter said. “The ultimate condition is not anticipated to be necessary until after the year 2040. Daily traffic volumes that warrant a 4-lane section are typically at least 12,000 to 15,000 vehicles.”
A recent traffic count at 175th and Quivira showed 4,500 vehicles per day, Matteo said.
About 20 property owners are affected on the whole roadway stretch, although much of the land is vacant and undeveloped.
Matteo said the city hopes to negotiate a voluntary purchase price with all the property owners. If it can’t, it could then proceed to eminent domain if it receives city council approval. A legal proceeding would determine whether the private property condemnation is necessary and, if so, the fair market price.
Matteo says the Quivira Road upgrades are justified because of growth in south Overland Park. The high school has about 1,100 students now but is projected to grow. The Quivira Road corridor also has a nearby middle school, plus two new subdivisions planned near 167th and Quivira.
Hamblin bought his house on 1.5 acres three years ago. He and his family had lived on a standard-sized lot at 156th and Antioch Road but fell in love with the Quivira Road home and large lot, including a bass-stocked pond for which the giant willow tree provides shade.
He points out that Quivira Road west of his home already has left-turn lanes and a painted median and has minimal traffic, including during a brief morning and afternoon rush of cars from the high school at 17600 Quivira Road. He says there have been no accidents since they moved in.
“They’re calling it an improved two-lane with turning lanes, which if you look out there is exactly what we have,” he said. “It’s perfectly sufficient.”
He believes the city really wants to acquire his side yard now for long-range planning.
"So in 22 years they project the traffic may be enough to justify the four-lane road, but they’re going to go ahead and take our property and trees now.”
Hamblin has hired a lawyer and says case law indicates “a condemning body has no authority to appropriate private property for only a contemplated or speculative use in the future.”
His neighbor John Cahow also questions the need. Cahow and his wife live across from the school, which opened in 2010.
He fears losing about a dozen mature red maple trees, plus part of his side yard and a Glad Acres Estates neighborhood entryway sign and landscaping that his family put in at their own expense.
“It is just going to kill the resale on our home. I don’t feel like they have to do what they’re doing,” said Cahow, who has owned his home for 21 years.
He also questioned why the city can’t put the 5-foot sidewalk on the other side of the road, on empty ground owned by the school district.
But Matteo said that side of the road will have a 10-foot-wide trail. The sidewalk and trail are enhancements for pedestrians and bicyclists, and it wouldn’t make sense to put both of them on the school side of the road, he said.
“We are building the sidewalk and trail in their ultimate condition location,” he said, adding that it’s prudent to place them where they will still work for the four-lane road, rather than having to move the sidewalk, trail and utilities again.
“If we were to construct the structure differently, that would all be wasted,” he said. “We would have to relocate the utilities twice. Those costs would really add up.”
Matteo noted the South Overland Park Transportation Plan, which estimated the four-lane road might be needed after 2040, was completed in 2015. He said 2040 is an “approximate date” and the plan will be updated periodically to see whether expansion is needed sooner.
The city is having appraisals done for the private property and expects to make purchase offers in June. Matteo said property owners will be fairly compensated for their trees, lawns and other amenities like the neighborhood entryway sign, and for temporary construction easements.
The city hopes to complete property acquisition this fall and then relocate utilities. Road construction is slated to start in spring 2019 and be completed toward the end of 2020. The property acquisition costs from 175th to 179th streets are not yet known, but the construction cost for that stretch is estimated at $3 million.
Hamblin plans to fight the property acquisition as unjustified, even before he sees what price the city is offering for his land.
“Goal Number 1 is to stop it,” he said. “Goal Number 2 is to challenge the amount.”
His attorney, Christopher Pickering, declined to discuss legal strategy. But he said the city must show the project’s public use or benefit and the need for it.
Cahow hopes for some kind of compromise with city officials to minimize the land the city needs. He acknowledges the city is growing near the neighborhood but doesn’t believe the city needs to acquire land now for a 2040 roadway.
“We’re not saying that we’re holding up progress,” he said. “But let’s be fair.”