History of NeighborhoodNet
This website was originally created in the mid-1990's, then used through 2007, in support of residents and neighborhoods in Johnson County, Kansas. The site contributed to efforts to help ensure reasonable use of land near existing neighborhoods. With the help of the website and, far more importantly, with coalitions of neighbors and neighborhood leaders across Johnson County, development was often successfully and positively influenced.
In April, 2012, the website was modified to support residents and neighborhoods in the Santa Rosa, CA, metro area.
Here are a few of the more interesting issues, large and small, in Johnson County, KS from the past with which NeighborhoodNet was associated. They show the power - and the limits - of neighbor activism:
Wizards' Soccer Stadium
Investors and developers wanted to insert a massive complex of a Wizards' professional soccer stadium, additional public soccer fields and other commercial development next to suburban neighborhoods. The investors spent over a half million dollars on television and radio advertising in support of their idea. The ads focused on young boys and girls getting to play on the public soccer fields, as opposed to focusing on the Wizards' stadium and the commercial development next to neighborhoods.
Residents across Johnson County who felt this was an inappropriate use of this land were able to raise just under $20,000 to combat the $500,000+ the developers were able to raise. However, by doing research on such stadiums across the country, by showing where the development funding for the campaign was coming from, by getting on local radio talk shows, and by walking door to door, in a county-wide vote required to approve funding of the project, the project was defeated and the development stopped. (See coverage of issue)
Harley Davidson Motor Company
A Harley Davidson franchise decided it wanted to move into a small business park right next to residential neighborhoods. Interestingly, the people who first brought this to the attention of neighbors were Harley Davidson motorcyclists themselves who knew just how disruptive this would be.
Probably the key thing to know about a Harley Davidson dealership is not that it sells, repairs, and performance tests motorcycles (it does do all of that), but that by its franchise agreement it must sponsor one or two major events each month. These attract hundreds of motorcycles. It also would sponsor a customer appreciation event every Saturday that draws 50 to 150 motorcycles. The design of its facility reflected this: there is a space for tables, a trellis, and grills for its outdoor events. These include at a minimum music over loudspeakers and sometimes live bands.
By doing a massive amount of research (always the key to success) - including acoustical studies and talking with other dealerships - and working closely with County Planners, neighbors were able to get the Zoning Board to recommend against the application, which Harley Davidson then withdrew. Although Harley considered trying again at a nearby location, it did not. (See coverage of issue)
An investment group purchased 40 acres (eventually 80 acres), zoned residential and abutting an established neighborhood, with the intent of building a shopping mall anchored by a Lowe's store, along with apartments. Using a variety of techniques, including a "Legal Protest Petition" - which forces any re-zoning to be approved by a super majority of a Kansas city council - neighbors were able to defeat the effort several times.
Eventually, however, after the developer managed to get the City of Overland Park to annex the land from Johnson County, a re-zoning was approved by Overland Park (Johnson County Commissioners had consistently denied the re-zoning), but the delaying tactics worked - an economic downturn made the project unfeasible. In 2012, 11 years later, the development still had not taken place. However, this investor used the purchase of the 40 acres in October, 2001, to prevent a protest petition against a Wal-Mart across the street (see next example) (See coverage of issue)
Wal-Mart wanted to build a store on a lot next to neighborhoods. The lot was zoned for a small retail shopping center and had originally gotten the zoning based on that assurance. Neighbors claimed that building the Wal-Mart would result in the destruction of an established neighborhood across the street, because it too would then be re-zoned. The Overland Park City Council denied this would happen.
Using a legal protest petition which required a super-majority council vote, neighbors were able to defeat the re-zoning and stop the Wal-Mart. However, the petition included the signatures of owners of 40 undeveloped acres nearby (owned by the Catholic Church at the time) and of homeowners in the threatened neighborhood.
Over the course of the next 6 months, the 40 acre lot was purchased by another investor (see above) and one elderly resident of the threatened neighborhood was convinced by a Wal-Mart representatives that if Wal-Mart were allowed in, he would be able to sell his home at a huge profit for commercial development. He told neighbors this would be the one way he could leave something for his kids. Another resident fearfully told neighbors that she worked for Sam's Club (owned by Wal-Mart) and it would be impossible for her to sign the petition again. The second protest petition failed and Wal-Mart was able to build. Overland Park and Wal-Mart both claimed that because of all the restrictions put in place to meet neighbors' concerns, this was the most beautiful and well-designed Wal-Mart in the country.
Within a year, developers began purchasing homes in the threatened neighborhood (the elderly resident had to sell at a low price because the value of the property had so shrunk) and homes began getting torn down. The City Council agreed to a rezoning. One or two residents refused to sell, leaving them as sole residents in the destroyed neighborhood. [As of 2012, a few homes remained, and the rest of the leveled neighborhood was undeveloped.] (See coverage of issue)
Experience showed how important just one or two votes on a City Council could be. So neighbors and residents in two City Council Wards got to work at the next election. In each case the neighborhood-supported candidate was outspent by the developer supported candidate. One neighborhood candidate was outspent two to one, the other more than three to one. Supporters of the development candidates removed their opponents' signs by the hundreds upon hundreds. Over and over again. Often within hours of their placement. Even from neighbors' private lawns. In both the primary and the general elections.
However, publication of developer funding sources and removal of campaign signs served to energize the neighborhood campaigns and hence proved to be helpful to them both. After extensive door-to-door campaigning by the neighborhood candidates and their supporters, both candidates won their elections. One was considered a major upset. (See coverage of issue)
Local High School
Not all projects were huge win/loss situations. A high school decided it wanted to install new air conditioning units on its roof. The initial design was going to be very disruptive to neighbors because of noise. When two neighbors first met with the high school, they were basically blown off. They then worked with the neighborhood home owner's association and researched sound ordinances. Now that the school saw the homeowners' association was involved (the association president wrote a letter supporting the neighborhood view), the school became more receptive to discussion, but still decided to go ahead. At this point, using research on ordinances, neighbors got the zoning board to pressure the school. At that point, the school and the neighbors worked together, the school got its conditioning units with the support of the neighborhood, and that system was not disruptive to the neighbors.
During the research, it was found there was another nearby neighborhood in a similar situation. Rather than trying to work things out, they had brought a lawsuit against the school. The school hardened its stance and decided to fight the case, much money was spent on both sides, and the neighborhood lost. If at all possible, it is useful to look for compromise.
Autobody Paintshops and Pollution
The issue of pollution from autobody shops resulted in neighborhood activism that eventually led to one autobody shop proposal being withdrawn and that resulted in the disclosure by a German paint manufacturer that an unlisted ingredient in its paints was hexavalent chromium - banned in California, but not in Kansas. This was the chemical made famous by the movie "Erin Brokavich".
The website was originally created and is maintained by Bob Phillips. Shirley Phillips provides much of the content based on her own research and lots of input from neighbors. [If you would like to submit an opinion to be published, by all means feel free to email it to phillipsbob27 at yahoo dot com.] Bob and Shirley moved from Johnson County, KS to Sonoma County, CA in July, 2010. The issue of a proposed dog kennel, Meadows Kennel, near Oakmont led them to update the website in April, 2012.
Long Before NeighborhoodNet [as told by Bob about Shirley]
In the 1970's, Kenny Gray was an Illinois Congressman, a powerful member of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee. He supported the creation of Rend Lake, at 18,900 acres it is the second biggest man made lake in the state of Illinois. An additional 3 reservoirs were proposed, one to the west with nearly 3,000 acres. This would have put Shirley's family farm under water.
As a young woman, Shirley became a significant member of the opposition to the project and read through Corps of Engineers documents on the proposed project, finding flaw after flaw. She worked to help organize opposition to all three reservoirs and they managed to raise the level of opposition to the proposal to such heights that the project was abandoned. At the end of this, finally the Governor of Illinois, Dan Walker, was drawn into the project. In a final meeting, the Governor put his arm on Shirley's shoulder, gave her a hug, and said "So here's the little lady who stopped the big project."
The two key lessons here are: always fully understand what the developer has proposed; always work together with others.