Overland Park may turn to the nuclear option — eminent domain — to acquire property for future expansion of a roadway in the south part of the city.
Count us skeptical.
The city is eying the private property as part of its plan to improve a 20-block stretch of Quivira Road, from 159th to 179th streets. Planners think Quivira should be four lanes wide with sidewalks and a raised median.
But the full build-out may not happen until 2040. That means a baby born this year will graduate from college before the project is finished.
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“The city believes it has sufficient right to acquire land to plan for future improvements,” said city engineer Zach Mateo, defending the potential acquisitions.
Some homeowners disagree. They’re worried about losing mature trees and landscape for a project still a generation away.
Overland Park residents should watch this plan carefully. The city’s continued sprawl into the southern half of Johnson County runs counter to the need, even in the suburbs, to develop densely and sustainably closer in.
And buying land along Quivira virtually ensures the wider road will be built eventually. While that may sound like a good choice today, it could be a huge mistake two decades from now.
We’re also worried the city may try to use eminent domain to acquire the property along the roadway. If the city adopts that strategy, landowners will likely go to court.
The power to condemn private property for public use is extraordinary and should always be used as a last resort — and only for projects with a clear public benefit.
Last year, the Johnson County commission used the threat of eminent domain to obtain dozens of homes north of the new courthouse. For a parking lot.
In December, Olathe launched a condemnation battle to obtain land for improving Kansas Highway 7. Among those improvements: a “landscaped median.”
Kansas City used eminent domain to acquire land downtown, and for a police station on the East Side. Both actions displaced homeowners and businesses.
The threat of condemnation helped build Kansas Speedway. Homeowners had to move.
Property owners who lose to condemnation are compensated, but many will tell you they struggled to find similar homes elsewhere. Renters are also hurt. Condemnation is difficult and disruptive even under the best of circumstances.
That’s why Overland Park should proceed carefully. Taking private property must benefit the entire community — not just those worried about traffic jams in 2040.