news feature
November 9, 2007

 

 

 

Parks, not trafficway, occupy much of JoCo commissioners’ meeting
by Tom Bogdon

On World Town Planning Day, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners made it clear to their staff, the Mid-America Regional Council (MARC) and the HNTB Corp. consulting firm that they want a new, different and better plan for transportation and parks than the controversial South Metro Connector trafficway project.

In two hours of discussion, which took place under a sign noting that Thursday, Nov. 8, was World Town Planning Day, the seven county commissioners opted out of appropriating any part of the $800,000 cost of an environmental impact statement (EIS) that the Federal Highway Commission would require to proceed with the $90 million South Metro Connector.

That effectively killed the South Metro Connector, a five-and-a-half-mile, $90 million trafficway from Cass County, MO, through a semi-rural, environmentally sensitive area of southeast Johnson County that lies in the Blue River watershed and home to locally endangered species.

As for the truck route between Interstate 35 in Kansas and U.S. 71 in Missouri that MARC and others had advocated, BOCC Chair Annabeth Surbaugh, Commissioner Doug Wood, Commissioner Ed Eilert and other BOCC members said they will arrange meetings soon with Cass County and Miami County, KS, officials and KDOT (Kansas Dept. of Transportation) to discuss building a highway through northern Miami County, which lies south of Johnson County.

Miami County Presiding Commissioner Jim Wise has been quoted previously at eKC online (www.kcactive.com/news/newsfeat/newsfeat2007_09_21.htm) as saying that his county would like to discuss such a project, which would serve commuter traffic as well as heavy trucks from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad’s intermodal facility near Gardner, KS, and the Kansas City Southern Railroad’s intermodal facility at the former Richards-Gebaur Airport in Cass County.

As for what kind of road improvements, if any, that will actually be made in Johnson County in the area of 175th St., the basic route of the proposed South Metro Connector, remains to be determined. Members of the South Metro Opposition Coalition (SMOC), which organized widespread opposition to the connector highway, as well as the Sierra Club, said they will address this in a public hearing that will probably be held in the latter part of January 2008.

But there was more discussion of parks and the type of road development that would be compatible with the Blue River watershed and existing parks and streamways (as well as the avoidance or urban sprawl) than there was of the development of any type of roadway resembling the South Metro Connector.

More typical of the discussion was Commissioner Dave Lindstrom’s suggestion that the area be preserved as a major regional park and wildlife preserve — what Lindstrom, whose district encompasses south Johnson County, envisioned as a “magnificent” park that would be the pride of Johnson County.

Recognition of World Town Planning Day in Johnson County, proposed by County Planning Director Dean Palos, is also observed in 30 countries on four continents. Palos quoted Daniel Burnham, the architect of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair as saying, “Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood….”

Commissioner Wood picked up on the Burnham quote during the discussion of a successor plan to the South Metro Connector, saying whatever the county undertakes should not be a “little” undertaking. The Baum and Slegman families own considerable acreage in the area and have agreed to make the land available to the county on favorable terms if the land is preserved as a park and nature conservancy.

A common sentiment was expressed by Commissioner John Segale who said, “We don’t want to get our citizens mad at us because they think we’re going to run a road through their living room when there might be other options.”

The name of Patti Banks of Patti Banks Associates, a landscape architect and environmental planning firm, came up several times in the commissioners’ discussion. Banks, who has done consulting work for the Johnson County Parks and Recreation Department, is on retainer by MARC as a consultant on the South Metro Connector, but has not yet issued her report. Surbaugh said after the meeting that she plans to give Banks a call.

After the meeting, Bob Magness, South Metro Opposition Coalition president, told eKC online, “It sounds like some of the things we’ve been trying to get across, the commissioners have been hearing. We heard today things such as getting together with Miami County and Cass County on a southern highway. We were very pleased to hear them discuss the environment, and park development, as seriously as they did.”

Steve Baru, political director and former chairman of the Kansas Sierra Club, said: “I felt very good about it (the meeting). There are still a lot of ambiguities, but there were a lot of comments from the commissioners that they are willing to consider less environmentally harmful ideas then forcing a high traffic roadway on an environmentally sensitive area.

“I really got the feeling that every commissioner sees a high traffic roadway as incongruent with the surrounding parkland and environment,” Baru continued. “I specifically liked Commissioner Lindstrom’s comments.

“Most all the commissioners talked about the ‘string of pearls,’ referring to a series of parks in south Johnson County, but several of them wondered out loud if that style of connecting parks was enough,” Baru said. “They suggested that what we need is a truly regional park. I was extremely pleased to hear Commissioner Lindstrom propose that concept.”

Tom Bogdon can be contacted at tjbogdon@yahoo.com.


              
              
                 

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