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Enhancements to Overland Park Arboretum to go before planning commission Monday

arboretum, courtesy OP.jpg
Posted at 8:50 AM, Dec 09, 2019
and last updated 2019-12-09 23:41:46-05

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A new visitors center at the Overland Park Arboretum was unanimously approved by the city’s planning commission on Monday.

But other aspects of the proposal are drawing attention from people living nearby. A group protested the city’s plans to add an amphitheater and event space without expanding 179th Street near Antioch Road, where the entrance to the Arboretum is located.

Residents and arboretum volunteers spoke over the course of several hours at the meeting that began at 1:30 p.m.

“There's a point where you depart from an arboretum and a pastoral setting to having 6,000 people,” said Gail Radke, who owns a horse farm across the street.

Radke said when the Arboretum hosted a brewfest earlier in the year, she could hear the loudspeaker clearly in her home. She also said she knew Margaret Cundiff, who sold some land to the city as part of the Arboretum property.

“This is verbatim what she told myself and other friends, that they said they [the city] would keep it pristine and not have a whole mob of people, and here we are, teetering on that happening,” Radke pointed out.

What she would describe as a whole mob of people came to the Arboretum over the weekend for the annual Luminary Walk event. Radke’s neighbor flew a drone over 179th Street to show the traffic backed up on the road.

The city said it hosts less than 15 large-scale events at the Arboretum every year, and none are during peak, weekday, rush hour time frames.

Greg Ruether, the city’s park services director, said his department has collected feedback from the community over the course of several years while developing and revising a master plan for the Arboretum. Now, it’s time to implement the plan.

“It's been a vision for the city, we've had community input over the years from different stakeholders, different partners, all pointing toward being able to do some events and programming out here. With some of the improvements and enhancements we have planned, we'll be able to do that in a much better way,” Ruether said.

He promised the amphitheater wouldn’t have permanent lighting or sound systems.

“It will definitely not be a Starlight Theater or Providence Medical Center Amphitheater, no, that's not our intent at all, never has been,” he reiterated.

Building the visitors center will allow the city to turn the current visitors center into an environmental education facility, which Ruether said was its original intent.

J Hudnall visits the Arboretum nearly every afternoon with her dog, Tilly. She’s nervous the new plans for the Arboretum will prohibit dogs. So, she planned to attend Monday’s meeting to be proactive and present a compromise which holds dog owners accountable if their dog misbehaves, but still allows them to use the center.

She said if the city bans dogs, she will not use the Arboretum.

“It's actually my reward at the end of the day to be able to go out and just go into nature and get away,” Hudnall explained.

The commission's decision is final unless a protest petition is filed by Dec. 23. In that case, the city attorney said his office could determine the validity of the petition by Dec. 30 and would be heard at the Jan. 6 Overland Park City Council meeting.