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Overland Park Arboretum neighbors push back against proposed expansion

Group hires lawyer, asking city to revise plans
arboretum entrance.jpg
Posted at 8:14 AM, Jan 06, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-06 09:14:03-05

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Neighbors who live across from the Overland Park Arboretum and Botanical Gardens have hired a law firm to represent them at Monday night's City Council meeting, where city leaders will review a proposal to enhance the facility.

The group wants the council to send plans for enhancements to the Arboretum back to city staff with instructions that staff work with neighbors to scale back the plans.

As it is, the $12 million project proposes building a new visitors center with a 256-stall parking lot, a sculpture park, chapel, gardens, tropical conservatory and amphitheater at the facility located near West 179th Street and Antioch Road.

"I actually support the visitors center, but what I am opposed to here is the proposal to commercialize (the Arboretum)," said Chengny Thao, who lives across 179th Street from the Arboretum.

Thao and her neighbors feel like the amphitheater and other gathering areas in the proposal set the Arboretum up to host more events, which they fear will lead to more noise, traffic, lighting and impacts on wildlife.

"It goes against what an arboretum is, and secondly, are we able to handle that type of traffic? Plus the public safety concerns," Thao said.

Supporters of the plan argue the Arboretum is more than a park and a certain amount of commercialization is necessary. Vicki Lilly compared the Arboretum to a museum or aquarium, where visitors would expect exhibits, events and some revenue-generating form of commercialization.

Lilly is the executive director of the Arts and Recreation Foundation of Overland Park, which is collecting private donations to help pay for the project. She said there has been plenty of chances for the public to give input on the evolution of the Arboretum, adding there were master plan revisions in 2006, 2013 and 2016, which led to the proposal on Monday's City Council agenda.

Plans for the project show the amphitheater will hold 850 people and will include a restroom and kiosk, as well as a concrete slab performance area. It will not have any permanent seating, nor any permanent lighting or speakers.

The city reports this project does not require any expansions on 179th Street. Data from the police department show officers reported three crashes at the Arboretum entrance from Jan. 1, 2014, to June 30, 2019.

The city said it will host more events at the Arboretum with these additions. It would limit the number of attendees to 6,000 per event. According to the city, most events would be held on weekends or outside of normal rush-hour times.

In terms of noise, city code requires noise to be 60 decibels or less by the time it reaches the property line between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. Noise levels need to be 55 decibels or less during the overnight hours. Research from Yale University shows the noise of a household refrigerator is about 55 decibels. Normal conversations can range up to 75 decibels.

A noise analysis estimates a 100-decibel rock concert at the amphitheater would meet decibel requirements by the time noise traveled to the property line. But the analysis showed other gathering areas within the proposal that could also host concerts are more likely to violate noise regulations.

"When I read this report it is so conflicting and it just doesn't make sense," Thao said. "From a perspective of a taxpayer, how can you approve something that the studies don't even support?"

The city also has the option to issue a special event permit to the Arboretum, giving it a temporary exemption to the noise ordinance.

Thao and the Van Osdol Law Firm sent a letter to the city asking it to delay the proposal until three new City Council members, who won elections in November, officially take their seats on the council next week. One of those new members, Scott Hamblin, represents the district where the Arboretum is located. The city did not respond to the request.

The city's planning commission approved the plan in December. The neighbors who oppose the project successfully filed a protest petition to get the proposal in front of City Council for final approval.

Monday's meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 8500 Santa Fe Drive.