Conservation battle continues between Park Hill schools, concerned neighbors

Posted at 7:55 PM, Oct 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-16 20:57:31-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — An ongoing battle between conservation and the need for growth continued in city hall.

The Park Hill School District needs the city's approval for a special use permit to build a high school on a swath of unprotected, untouched forest in the Northland. 

The proposal came before the City Plan Commission on Tuesday. 

The group fiercely protecting the woodlands are concerned the district has no real conservation plan.

The district said they are growing fast and are already building Hopeland Elementary in one section of the land. There are also plans to extend Line Creek Parkway to accommodate the high school, which would cut through the woodlands. 

The roughly 800-acres sits just east of Lake Waukomis between Barry Road and 68th Street.  

The Mid America Regional Council named the site as high on the list for forest conservancy. The Missouri Department of Conservation also designated it as an important piece for conservation. 

The district owns 272 acres. They want to build a LEAD Innovation Studio, a separate curriculum in which students would test in. The district could not say if they'd need to expand even more and cut down more trees. 

Paul Kelly with the district said Park Hill has 2,000 students and Park Hill South has around 1,600. The current enrollment from kindergarten through 12th grade is around 12,000 students. 

"We did a long-range facility several years back, and the feedback we got was overwhelmingly that those were too big, that we had too many high schoolers and that adding on to our existing facilities isn't what they wanted," Kelly said. 

Julie Stutterheim is leading the fight for keeping the forest.  A petition she started has gathered 13,000 signatures so far. 

"Nothing in their plan indicates one tree or one acre will be protected in the 272 acres they have purchased. All of the project property is slated for development or sale," Stutterheim told the commission. 

Stutterheim and other forest supporters said the district did a poor job of alerting people who live nearby about public meetings and say they sidestepped questions about conservation. 

Some parents voiced their approval for the plan, saying their kids would benefit from a high school in that section of the district. 

"I would much rather have a school district developing this land than a commercial owner who may have no vested interest in our local citizens," said Ann Howell.  She also owns duplexes next to the site and says her tenants are excited about the development. 

Commission Chairwoman Babette Macy said she's in favor of the plan, but wants to see a tree conservation plan in place. Other commissioners said they couldn't make a decision because of the public opposition. 

The commission will take the issue up again on Nov. 6.