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The athletic fields in Parkville’s Platte Landing Park have seen better days. Faded lines and dry grass mark the spaces meant to be used as venues for baseball, soccer and other sports for youths and their families. 

A lack of upkeep and their small size has resulted in the fields attracting few visitors. Instead of restoring them, the city of Parkville is pushing to approve construction of four new sports fields in the same area, including baseball diamonds. 

But that plan is drawing concerns from citizens. They have raised questions about increased traffic and note that the park has flooded twice in the last three years. And the estimated $3.5 million cost would wipe out the city’s park sales tax fund, which was approved in 2019, until 2026.

After backlash from community members, the Parkville Board of Aldermen has taken a step back to reevaluate community needs with an online survey. 

Lindsay French, a project designer with Vireo, a Kansas City-based landscape design firm under contract to develop the plan for the city, said nothing is set in stone. 

“We are starting fresh,” French told aldermen in a November meeting. “We are not coming here to talk just specifically about ball fields.”

2016 master plan paves way for current conflict

Parkville’s development is guided by a strategic plan. According to its vision statement:  “The City of Parkville will enjoy an accessible, safe and connected community park system, providing regionally significant destinations and preserving and enhancing Parkville’s unique natural resource base while maintaining and creating a variety of unique recreational activities.” 

Which projects meet that vision statement remains a point of contention between city officials and residents. In 2016, the city adopted a master plan for its parks intended to guide long-term development and operations. 

Vireo drafted the plan. The firm hosted several public outreach events and collected answers to online questionnaires before providing recommendations to the city.  

The resulting plan was presented to the Community Land and Recreation Board and the Board of Aldermen. Both entities approved it unanimously. In order to make the improvements outlined in the plan, the city had to find a funding source. In 2019, 70% of Parkville voters passed a new half-cent sales tax for that purpose. 

“With (the park tax) you guys are beautifying your parks and upgrading your parks,” French said in a city meeting. “That forwarded our discussion into active recreation.”

What does the data say about Parkville athletic fields?

Since the tax’s approval, some residents have become disenchanted by the city’s plans for the money. 

Despite claims by the city’s public works department and Vireo that athletic fields were a top priority in the 2016 questionnaire, improving and completing existing trails was the number one priority, followed by natural areas for passive recreation and wildlife. Multipurpose athletic fields were identified as a third priority. 

When residents were asked which design components were most important to include in park development, athletic fields didn’t crack the top five. The most popular suggestion was a riverfront boardwalk, followed by a farmer’s market plaza and creek enhancements. Athletics fields were eighth out of 18 options. 

Creek enhancements were among the most suggested features in a 2016 survey examining what residents wanted out of Platte Landing Park. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

Alderman Brian Whitley said in a board meeting that athletic fields were promised to voters if they passed the park tax. However, the ballot language did not mention the fields. Whitley said he is not committed to keeping the athletic fields in the currently proposed location if another option is available.

Alderman Marc Sportsman, one of the strongest proponents of the athletic fields, pushed back against the idea of throwing out the work that was put into the master plan. If the city backed out of the plan and started over with new priorities, he said, it would send a message to voters that they should not approve future tax increases.

“My constituents in Ward 4 are fully supportive of what we committed to the voters, and that is multiuse athletic fields, softball fields, baseball fields, for both boys and girls,” he said in a November meeting. 

Gathering more community input on Parkville’s future

Not all residents feel that the athletic fields are the first issue in the plan that should be tackled. 

“When the Parkville citizens voted for the parks tax, the community and land use board said, ‘Oh boy, we’ve got money now. We’re gonna push through these ball fields,’” said resident Sheryl Biermann. “Not anything else that was in the master plan that had anything to do with parks.”

Mayor Nan Johnston and several aldermen have expressed concern about investing so heavily in new fields when there are existing athletic fields in the park.

“We need to have better maintenance of our existing amenities,” Johnston said.

City officials placed signs along English and Platte Landing Park encouraging residents to respond to a new survey on how they’d like to see the area developed. (Zach Bauman/The Beacon)

In an effort to quell growing anger from Parkville citizens, the city released an additional survey asking residents what they’d like to see in the park.

Members of a local Facebook group Save Parkville’s Charm, which has heavily criticized the plan, have been outspoken about the need for residents to respond to the survey. However, multiple commenters on the page lamented the phrasing of the survey’s questions, which they said assumed residents were already in favor of athletic fields.

Alysen Abel, director of public works, told aldermen in a Jan. 18 meeting that the survey had received about 900 online responses and dozens of hard-copy submissions.

Potential athletic fields sit in a flood plain

In 2019, the site of the would-be athletic fields was underwater. Historic floods closed Platte Landing Park for several months, bringing all park activities to a sudden halt. Last June, the park was closed again due to flooding.

The city is not letting future flooding fears stop it from moving forward with development in the park. Instead, it is proposing creative solutions — including using dirt from a wetlands restoration site to build up the proposed field area.

Some residents are skeptical. 

“Well, a five- or 10-year flood like we had last time, it wouldn’t matter how high they build that up, it’s still going to flood,” Biermann said. 

Also at issue is the entrance to the park — a narrow, one-lane bridge that only allows a single car to pass at a time. An expansion of the athletic fields to the size proposed — with more than  200 parking spaces — would likely increase traffic into the area. 

The city has commissioned a traffic study to examine the impact of the proposed fields.  The results are expected to be revealed in a February meeting.

“Parkville didn’t get its name for nothing,” Alderman Dave Rittman said in a board meeting at which the proposal was discussed. “We’re trying to keep our green spaces and quality of life up.”

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Emily Wolf was a local government accountability reporter with a focus on telling meaningful stories through data at The Kansas City Beacon. She was a Report for America corps member.