Engineering firm hired to design project
ome Parkville residents continue to object to plans to develop a portion of a park near a protected wetlands into youth ball fields, even as the board of aldermen initiated the first steps in hiring a firm to lead the project.
The opponents voiced their objections during a four-hour meeting, which included extensive testimony by residents and ended with board members voting five to three to hire McClure Engineering to design the estimated $3.5 million project at Platte Landing Park.
Funds for the project will come from a 2016 voter approved half-cent parks sales tax and a $1 million Platte County grant, for which city leaders recently applied and were awarded.
About 30 people attended the board meeting last Tuesday evening in which several residents took to the podium to oppose the project based on its effects on wildlife who use the federal wetlands area. Such sites are rare across the country and the Platte Landing Park wetlands may be the only such respite for migrating birds in the Kansas City area, according to wildlife experts.
Residents who spoke also were concerned about the overall environmental impacts of the project, traffic congestion and safety. In addition, many voiced concerns about having input into the development plan, despite repeated assurances from several aldermen, City Administrator Joe Parente and Public Works Director Alysen Abel.
Aldermen Marc Sportsman, Brian Whitley, Robert Lock, Dave Rittman, and Greg Plumb voted in favor of hiring McClure Engineering to oversee the project while aldermen Philip Wassmer, Tina Welch, and Doug Wylie voted against the proposal.
Welch said her constituents are not in favor of the project and, therefore, said she could not “move forward with a vote on this tonight.” Wassmer said, “We’re taking the first big step in the wrong direction.”
After listening to several residents who objected to the plan, Plumb said, “My constituents are telling me something very different.” He added that his constituents have told him youth ball fields would be welcomed and well-utilized.
Welch asked Abel how the public will be given input into the project, and Abel said the city is contracting with a company that will be charged with keeping the public informed. “We definitely want to give everybody the opportunity” for input,” she said. Parente added, “We anticipate this is going to evolve based on work sessions and public input.”
Welch replied, “Well, I just hope it’s done correctly.”
Whitley said for residents to have “buy-in” to the project, he believes city officials should offer several options, including livestreamed work sessions and online surveys, for those who can’t attend night meetings.
Earlier this year, public outcry erupted after residents learned of a tentative plan to place lighting on the fields, which conservationists said would confuse migratory birds and could even lead to their death. The board voted to proceed with the plan while leaving out lights and a public announcement system, which also would be disruptive to wildlife and nearby residents. But Welch said the removal of the items had not deterred some residents from voicing disapproval. “I still receive emails on it,” she said.
Some who spoke at the meeting stated they moved to Parkville because of the city’s nature trails and the ability to be out in nature, enjoying the serene surroundings. Barbara Loveless said she enjoys Parkville’s untouched sites and said, during a telephone interview, that she and others voted for the parks sales tax not knowing that the money generated could be used to build ball fields at Platte Landing Park. She said she believes Parkville officials are not trustworthy and this leads citizens to doubt their words and motivations. Loveless added she is concerned about additional traffic driving into and out of Parkville, which already is slow and full of bottlenecks
Loveless said she doesn’t think her objections and those of others were taken seriously at last week’s meeting. “I feel like we’re not being heard at all.” She said while she and others prefer no ball fields at all at the site, most city officials seem determined to create fields. But she’s suspicious that the fields will be bigger than publicized and used for tournament play, which will lead to more traffic on already-congested roads. “I don’t believe them, and we feel like we’re going to have to fight to the bitter end.”
Harvey Greer told those at the meeting that now is not the time to hire a firm to lead the project.
“This is just as backward as it can be,” he said. “Surely we can do better than this.”
During an interview after the meeting, Greer said his background in high school and college athletics has taught him there needs to be a plan before taking steps like hiring a company to oversee the project. He said city officials first should have a basic idea about the parameters of the project. Otherwise, he said there can be miscommunication in which contractors either don’t listen or aren’t told specific expectations. In an interview after the meeting, Greer said he thinks city officials “expect you (residents) to get worn down until you quit” (objecting). He said, “I have no intention of quitting.”
Penny Sharp, who also spoke at the meeting in opposition to the fields, said during a telephone interview that when she and other residents voted in favor of the half-cent parks sales tax, the area had just flooded, and voters were thinking the money could be used to repair parks damaged by the flood. In addition, Sharp said she believes city officials intend to have larger, tournament play at the fields.
She had an online conversation with Alderman Brian Whitley on the Facebook page, “Save Parkville’s Charm, Save Our Parks.”
“I have no doubt that McClure Engineering is a highly capable firm,” she wrote. However, she wrote she does not believe the park’s fields are being designed for “youth practice and recreational fields. If they were, the fields would be much smaller and in line with Little League standards,” she wrote.
Emery Henderson, who told those at the meeting that he has lived in Parkville more than 40 years, brought a book to the podium. The author, Sinclair Lewis, is a Nobel Prize winner and the first edition paperback version features a nature- filled view of Parkville on its cover. “Main Streets are the same all over the world,” he said. But the artist, Gale Stockwell, chose a “beautiful site that will never, ever be again.”