July 3, 2002
Neighbors owning property within 1000 feet of the proposed rezoning near 159th & Metcalf just south of Overland Park, Kansas, turned in a legal protest petition to Johnson County today. The petition has signatures of neighbors who own 32.4% of the property within 1000 feet which, if validated by Johnson County, means it will take 4 out of 5, instead of 3 out of 5, of the County Commissioners to approve the proposed rezoning and preliminary plan. The petition had to be turned in within 2 weeks of the Township Zoning Board first hearing the proposal, which occured on June 20th.
This is how it was done.
The Protest Petition effort began long before the Oxford Township Zoning Board heard the proposal. [However, a petition on another matter was handled start to finish in 9 days through an intensive and dedicated effort, so it can be done.]
The day after neighbors first learned about the proposal (through a largely surreptitious delivery from the developer calling a "Neighborhood Meeting" in 2 days without identifying who was calling the meeting), they knew that a protest petition could be successful. Using the powerful Johnson County AIMS website it was clear that well over 20% of the land within 1000 feet was residential. AIMS showed how big the 1000 foot "buffer" would be, which properties were in the buffer, and which were residential.
This was important because commercial property owners almost never agree to sign legal protest petitions. They have been heard to comment that if they supported residents, they would suffer retribution at the hands of the City Council or the County Commissioners, which are perceived as largely pro-development governing bodies. Of course, commercial landowners also usually perceive their own lots as becoming more valuable with the arrival of more intense commercial development.
[Technical Pleas to AIMS Department: Please modify AIMS so several properties can be entered and buffered at one time, avoiding extra work for AIMS personnel, Planning Department, and neighbors. Also, please add a fourth field to the list of properties within the buffer: Land Use Code].
Once the first estimate showed probable success, the next step was to go door to door to every residential property owner within 1000 feet. Volunteers carried around a list of properties with addresses and knocked on virtually every door in Blue Valley Riding, Willowbend, and Steck Plantation that was within the 1000 feet. If the neighbor was home, the magnitude of the project was explained. Some volunteers even had a color aerial photo (which are a wonderful recent addition to AIMS) taken from AIMS to show exactly where the property was and to help in describing the project.
The names, phone numbers, and email addresses of those willing to sign were usually taken down. That way they could be more easily notified when it was time to sign. That time was still months in the future. Fliers were left for those who were not home, which was well more than half.
The second step was to phone all those who were not at home. For Blue Valley Riding and Steck Plantation, this was relatively simple. Steck had gone through two petitions against Wal-Mart and has few residents, while Blue Valley Riding maintains a directory with map, addresses, names, and phone numbers of residents.
Willowbend was a much different matter, since it did not maintain such a directory and had far more residents. The Internet was used to get phone numbers and names of people who lived in Willowbend. (See Get names, addresses, phone numbers along a street). Volunteers then called and gathered more support.
Writing The Petition
Because of the substantial experience gained by members of the Johnson County South Coalition in creating petitions in Olathe, Overland Park, and Johnson County, there was a good starting point for authoring the petition. Nevertheless, each petition is different and has to be checked in minute detail to ensure it is written properly and conforms to applicable State and local statutes and regulations. For this reason, once the petition was written, a Land Use Attorney, Doug Patterson, was hired as he had been before, to review it. The wording passed muster.
Preparing To Gather Signatures
A week or two prior to the Township Zoning Board meeting, the developer is required to notify all of the landowners within the 1000 foot buffer about the proposed rezoning. These are inevitably written to be as obscure and uninformative as possible, presumably so as not to alarm the residents by telling them their whole way of life is about to change. However, the developer is required to hire a Title Company to specify the exact legal name of each property owner. This becomes public record and is immediately obtained by neighbors. So even though the notification is nearly worthless, the list itself is very valuable.
The petition must be signed by the property owner(s) exactly as they are recorded on the Deed held by the County. The Title Company is supposed to get this correct, but in fact there are occasional errors which would invalidate a signature. For this reason, neighbors spent literally days at the Johnson County Clerk's office going over each deed, verifying the names, and noting discrepancies. The name as shown on the Deed is always used.
[Technical Plea To Land Records Office: Many Counties in the United States provide the legal name on the Deed for each property ID on-line, often tied to their Internet mapping page. Since the information is already in the public domain, this simply evens the playing field between the average citizen and the developers/title companies/real estate firms who can afford to hire people to look at the records manually].
Since Deeds and the developer's notification list are ordered by Property ID, while people use names and addresses, a cross-reference list is created. This substantially cuts down on the time needed to take and verify a signature.
There are three ways to get signatures: ask people to go to a notary public, sign, and return the petition form; arrange a common get together with a notary public present; visit property owners with a notary public along. All three ways get used. The first is generally used when someone is out of town, but does not seem to work very well otherwise. Having a get together such as at a neighborhood pool works up to a point, but you still have to urge people just before hand to come. For this petition, one person walked through a large part of Willowbend asking people to come down to the pool. It was very effective. Going home to home is very laborious, requires lots of phone calls and coordination, but ensures signatures.
Turning In The Petition
It turns out that Johnson County requires that 3 copies of a petition be turned in. Given the hundreds of sheets involved in a large petition, this is quite a hassle. It is also useful to include a cover page summarizing what per centage is being turned in and how the figures were calculated (see Cover Sheet).
The petition has to be turned in no later than 2 weeks after the Zoning Board meeting, unless that falls on a holiday, like it did on this petition - July 4 - in which case the deadline is extended to the next business day. Neighbors turned in this petition early.