Government & Politics

Huge Islamic center planned for south Overland Park. Neighbors aren’t happy

New Islamic Center proposed for south Overland Park

The Islamic Center of Kansas Inc. is proposing to build a new religious center at West 163rd Terrace and Roe Avenue in Overland Park.
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The Islamic Center of Kansas Inc. is proposing to build a new religious center at West 163rd Terrace and Roe Avenue in Overland Park.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated which government body would approve a final development agreement for the center. That decision is expected to come from the Overland Park Planning Commission.

A plan for the Islamic Center of Kansas to construct a multi-faceted religious facility for Muslims from both sides of the state line gained preliminary approval from Overland Park planning commissioners Monday.

But its location near West 163rd Terrace and Roe Avenue — between Blue Valley Middle School and the Cottages at the Wilderness subdivision — has galvanized neighbors who say the size and scope of the proposed 110,876-square-foot facility make it a bad fit for the area.

“It was understood to be the kind of religious facility that could find a home within a neighborhood,” said attorney Doug Patterson, who spoke on behalf of roughly 50 residents of the adjacent subdivisions who attended Monday’s meeting.

Though planning commissioners were presented with a petition of 477 people asking for the proposal to be delayed or dismissed, they ultimately unanimously approved the application. Residents have two weeks to file a formal protest petition if they wish.

The center would include a mosque, a school for 270 students in kindergarten to eighth grade and a day care for 110 children. A second building closer to 163rd Terrace would be used as a private banquet hall.

The proposed center is a joint project of the Islamic Center of Kansas and the Muslim American Society-Kansas City to create a centralized location for Muslims in both Missouri and Kansas.

In 2007, the city had approved the site for the proposed 82,000-square-foot Cambridge Church, which was never built. The Islamic Center’s plans are similar to preliminary plans for the church, which included three buildings with a gym, chapel, offices and dining area.

That the land had already been approved for use by a religious organization was appealing to the Islamic Center, said its attorney, John Petersen.

“This is the textbook location for a faith-based community operation,” said Petersen, who pointed out that the center’s proposal follows code requirements of the previously approved facility and would be subject to noise ordinances.

But the neighbors’ attorney questioned whether the center, with a school, banquet hall and mosque, is a “true place of worship” or a commercial endeavor.

“This is a school. This is a banquet hall. This is a multi-purpose room,” he said. “And a small part of it is actually a place of worship.”

He and several residents said neighbors would have no issue if the space “was just a mosque.”

At least a dozen neighbors raised concerns about noise, traffic and the impact of the center on local wildlife and the area’s green space.

They said traffic from Blue Valley Elementary and Middle schools already congests roads during pickup and drop-off times, and adding a third school to the mix would exacerbate the problem. And they questioned the accuracy of traffic analysis from city staff, who said they used 2007 Roe Avenue traffic data, current site visits and crash data to determine that the road can handle additional traffic to and from the center.

They worried that increased traffic would divert drivers to side streets and wear out roadways that homeowners associations are already on the hook for. Some pointed out that comparable churches are typically located on busier roads.

Others brought up concerns about noise on weekends and weeknights from the Islamic Center’s proposed banquet hall, a 15,939-square-foot space that would be used only by the center’s members.

“It’s the banquet hall that I don’t welcome to my neighborhood at all,” said Judy Danz, whose home on Linden Street is roughly 100 feet from the proposed hall.

“I wouldn’t mind the mosque,” said Wilderness resident Amy Korf. “I just believe as homeowners we deserve a good night’s sleep.”

Petersen, who spoke on behalf of more than two dozen members of the Islamic Center who attended Monday’s meeting, said that while neighbors are entitled to their objections, they provided “no evidence besides anecdotal opinions” that the planned facility does not meet land-use requirements.

The planning commission agreed with him.

“Something will go there,” planning commissioner Michael Flanagan said before voicing his approval for the plans. “And that something will generate traffic.

Katy Bergen covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. She is a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.