Johnson County residents are forming opposing groups to battle over zoning changes

Photography by Zach Bauman.

A familiar dispute continues to rage in Johnson County. The conflict? The building of apartments and other multi-family housing options. This year, the battle’s intensity grew following a new push to diversify housing options. Residents are forming groups with opposing positions on proposed residential rezoning.

Arguments about apartments and so-called affordable housing are not new anywhere, especially Johnson County, but they have seemingly reached a boiling point in JoCo in recent months. In Prairie Village, an ad hoc council committee started discussing amendments to zoning regulations. When city council meetings opened this topic to public comment, opposing groups packed the floor to push for their favored plans. It’s not uncommon to see signs for opposing groups on the same street in the normally tranquil suburb.

Lauren Martin is one of the leaders of a group called Prairie Village for All. Martin is a renter in Prairie Village, having moved there in 2018. The group wants to “recognize that single-family home ownership is not a thing everyone can afford, nor is it a thing that everyone wants,” Martin says. “We can be smart about it. We can put reasonable restrictions in place, but we should ultimately always be on the side of giving people places to live.”

On the other side of the argument is a group of Prairie Village residents called Stop Rezoning PV. The group’s leaders say they’re concerned that the process of rezoning isn’t transparent and that new recommendations could decrease their rights as homeowners. A Facebook group for the organization has comments about “keeping the Village feel.” The rival groups do not neatly align with party politics. The Stop Rezoning group, which is public, is rife with posts accusing rivals of sign theft and spreading “lies and viterol” [sic]. 

Photography by Zach Bauman

In Overland Park, a similar issue arose earlier this year with a plan to put apartments on land that had been the Deer Creek golf course. We asked residents about the plan on the NextDoor app. Michelle Reinig was one resident who shared her opinion: “Most of the frustration has been with zoning changes. Often, zoning changes are against the municipal codes. I don’t have a problem at all with apartments. It is about building the right development in the right spaces.”

Nickie Lee, a staffer for the Prairie Village city council, says the city wants to create various options for the community. She says the “overarching goal with housing is to diversify the size, type and price point of the housing portfolio and to maintain the integrity.”

Apartments not only are helpful to younger people who can’t afford a single-family home but also allow older residents to stay in their neighborhood as they age, supporters say.

The plans for building further affordable and diverse options look as far out as 2030, according to the 2021 Johnson County Municipalities Community Housing Study. The study looks primarily at the overall statistics to address what is needed in the county and to implement them over the coming years.

Photography by Zach Bauman

Yet many wonder what these apartments will be like in twenty or thirty years—whether they will remain well-maintained or become a blemish. Longtime residents like Stuart Storrs, who has lived in Johnson County for over fifty years, spoke on the changing landscape of Johnson County as a whole.

“When I see new apartments being built, I describe them as the ‘slums of the future,’” he says. “The owners are so focused on the ‘bottom line’ that they fail to maintain the property to the point the properties become eyesores and cease to be an asset for the community.” 

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