January 25, 2002
Developers have approached Overland Park, KS, neighborhoods abutting annexed land in the vicinity of 143rd/148th Street and Metcalf. The developers are showing tentative plans and want to discuss how the neighborhoods would react to rezoning and how they would react to the tentatively planned development. No application for rezoning or development has yet been submitted to Overland Park Planning.
This development has it all: water leading to Negro Creek; potential pollution from an autobody paint shop; enough acreage for one of Overland Park's beloved big box stores; significant re-zoning; abutting neighborhoods.
The neighborhoods have already done major organizational work. The most immediately affected neighborhoods include Regency by the Lake, Lion's Gate, Green Meadows, Shadow Brooke, Heatherwood, and Blue Valley Hills. However, because of water and drainage issues, communities along Negro Creek downstream also will be affected. Already over 160 signatures in opposition to this re-zoning attempt have been collected in an informal petition. Attorneys and an environmental engineer have become involved in support of the neighborhoods.
The neighborhoods also contacted the Johnson County South Coalition (JCSC). The purpose of the JCSC is to assist in managing development, primarily by providing neighborhoods faced with development the information and expertise gained by other residents and neighborhoods who have already participated fully in the development process.
There are two lots being discussed, the larger one to the north is zoned CP2-J. That zoning means, first, that it is subject to Johnson County zoning restrictions, not Overland Park zoning restrictions. That is what the J stands for. This is because the property was annexed by Overland Park. Johnson County restrictions are more favorable to neighborhoods. As soon as any re-zoning takes place what-so-ever on a piece of property in these circumstances, that piece becomes subject to Overland Park's looser, more detrimental restrictions.
Second, the CP2-J zoning means this is for general business, as opposed to CP3-J, which is more commercial and worse for neighborhoods. The smaller lot to the south is zoned CP3-J. [Note: the aerial photograph is over a year old and does not show all the homes which are now built].
The developer has talked about an odd little switch of zoning that is supposed to trade the zoning on a portion of one lot with the zoning on a portion of the other lot. This was presented as leaving the total amount of CP2 and CP3 the same, although moving more commercially intensive CP3 directly against the neighborhoods and more retail against Metcalf. Why a neighborhood is supposed to think this is a good thing was not at all clear. Of course, an immediate effect of this zoning swap would probably be to switch all of the property from Johnson County rules to OP rules. From a developer's point of view, that makes a lot of sense.
The parcels are abutted on three sides by residential zoning, much of it in place already. As Overland Park demonstrated in its recent Wal-Mart decision, it is perfectly satisfied to drop massive, intensive development directly into the middle of R1, R1A residential neighborhoods.
Bait and Switch
For those who may be unfamiliar with the way zoning and development occurs, this application appears to provide a pretty good case study of what to look for. The remainder of this article focuses on what the JCSC has learned about dealing with developers and how a well organized neighborhood group is applying this experience. It highlights the concerns this development is already raising.
It is not uncommon for a developer to ask for re-zoning to accomodate a planned development. The development is of course characterized in the best light possible and the plans treated as if they were real. At the same time the developer will attempt to convince neighbors that it is hopeless to fight anyway, so the best they should hope for are "berms and bushes".
If the developer is successful at getting the re-zoning, the bait and switch may then occur. The zoning attaches to the land, the pretty plans used for marketing the project disappear. So neighborhoods have learned to look at what could happen to a piece of property if it were re-zoned and the developer tried to take maximum economic benefit from the land. Every property owner, after all, deserves to get maximum economic benefit. The more intense the use, the more the economic benefit both for the developer and for the tax coffers, if not the residents.
Possible Uses: A big box store? A motorcycle dealership? An autobody paint shop?
One thing to consider is the size of the lot and the total square footage being asked for. In this case the two lots add up to 20 acres. What can go on a lot this size? One of the largest box stores in Overland Park, for one thing. And, as it turns out, the JCSC has learned that Target is currently searching for a site in the Stanley area. Once the proper rezoning were in place, the residents would have no say in the matter. There might even be no public hearings at all. This bait and switch happened recently with the K-Mart Supercenter at 135th and Metcalf.
Even if the lots are not combined, JCSC also has learned that Worth Harley Davidson motorcycles has been considering sites in this area. Harley Davidson recently withdrew its application from a 4 acre site that had been rezoned so a "bank" could go there. In this bait and switch, the landowner asked for more intensive development in an office park, but only for a bank. The bank never got built and the rezoning later gave Harley a chance.
Would there be greater economic benefit to the land owner from a Target Supercenter or a Harley Davidson motorcycle?
The total square footage being shown in these initial drawings is just under 120,000 sq ft.
The Wal-Mart at 7701 East Frontage Rd (75th and I-35) is 119,151 square feet and sits on 14.1 acres.
The Target SuperCenter at 12200 Blue Valley Parkway is 188,543 square feet and sits on 19.3 acres. Actually, every big box store in Overland Park except for the one at 159th and Metcalf sits on less than 20 acres.
These stores are all placed on lots zoned CP-2 by Overland Park.
See the Study Of Big Box Stores produced by the Johnson County South Coalition for more detail on Overland Park's siting of big box stores near neighborhoods.
OP vs JC Zoning
The developer wishes to move from Johnson County zoning to Overland Park zoning on some or all of the property. Even if the CP designations remained the same, replacing zoning with Overland Park rules greatly intensifies the development that can be put in place. Neighborhoods are now going over line by line the Johnson County codes that apply and comparing them to the Overland Park regs. The first reason to do this is to fully understand what price will be paid to go to the Overland Park codes. Second, the Johnson County codes are more restrictive and might be sufficient to prevent an obnoxious development. There is, after all, some reason the developer does not want to be restricted by the current codes, or else he would not be asking for a re-zoning.
Is The Drawing Even Realistic?
The developer says Extreme Ford needs an autobody repair shop. Actually, not just Extreme Ford, but a total of 3 dealerships want to use this. The developers show a 15,000 square foot service center to serve 3 dealerships. Assuming that this stated purpose were held to, is that square footage reasonable? No study has been done yet, but the members of the JCSC have dealt with autobody shops before (see article). Metcalf Autobody Shop at 162nd and Metcalf is an independent autobody shop. It is a 21,362 sq ft building. It does not serve 3 dealerships. Does it seem reasonable that an autobody repair shop serving 3 dealerships requires only 2/3 the area of an independent autobody shop?
Potential Environmental Concerns
There is drainage from the lot which flows into and through ponds to the east and south, then joins with Negro Creek near the Woods Of Ironhorse. Substantial silting damage has already occured in the ponds, similar to the silting damage caused to Willowbend ponds by the drainage from across Metcalf Avenue. Homes next to the property suffer from flooding and erosion. There has been considerable documentation collected by the JCSC recently on the severe water problems along Negro Creek, including silting, flooding, erosion, danger to children, etc. See the summary article.
Another consideration in this case will be pollution of all sorts - air, water, and ground. Walking near the Metcalf Autobody Shop near 162nd and Metcalf on a bad day can make you gag from air pollution. Furthermore, after 2 years of dogged pursuit, it was proven that the paints being used, and hence the exhaust from the operation, included lead chromate. Note that this is a modern autobody shop, but these chemicals are not filtered out - they are released to the air. This is one of the most toxic chemicals known - it is not the lead it contains, but the hexavalent chromium, that is the problem. Many of you may have seen the movie "Erin Brokavich", which centered around this chemical. It is a carcinogen, a developmental toxicant (poisons children), a reproductive toxicant (harms the unborn), and a suspected immunotoxin (attacks the immune system).
The good news is that although some scientists believe there is no safe level for this toxin, the atmospheric concentration from one autobody shop is tiny compared to various safety standards which have been set, at least in the air. There was not data on accumulations over time in water and soil. The Johnson County Environmental Department determined that the concentrations being emitted were harmless (see complete discussion). All Kansas and County regulations were met.
However, no one knew this chemical even was present at the time the autobody shop was approved - ultimately it was publicity from NeighborhoodNet that motivated the Johnson County Environmental Department to turn to the Federal EPA, which finally forced the German paint manufacturer to disclose the previously hidden toxic ingredient. This shows just how carefully any such source of pollution should be considered and how little is known by the very people who use these products.
It is a measure of the competence of the involved neighborhoods that they have been able to pull together so many people so fast to respond to this attempt to re-zone. Even if the plans are being provided in good faith by the developer, they involve putting an autobody repair shop which is a center of pollutants right next to home owners. If this does move forward, one of the first issues to be addressed under Overland Parks new water rules will be the water issues that so clearly affect this property.