Mission Woods residents are in an uproar about their city’s approval of a plan to reconfigure the soccer fields at Pembroke Hill School.
The Mission Woods City Council last week approved a zoning change to allow for a new regulation-sized field and a building for storage and restrooms.
Pembroke’s next stop will be before the city’s three-member architectural review board Tuesday for discussion of the details on landscaping and building materials. If the board rejects the plan, it could wind up back before the council.
The plan has nearby homeowners upset about whether crowd-drawing tournaments and night games with lights will be in their future.
But some are even more incensed with how the city has handled the matter.
“The thing I’m most upset about the project is how the City Council rejected all of our concerns,” said John Baenisch of Mission Woods, who lives near the property. “They just railroaded us without taking into account any of our concerns. I’m more upset with the City Council and how they’ve treated the residents around the property than the school itself.”
About 25 residents from Mission Woods and Westwood Hills turned out for the Mission Woods City Council meeting last week to consider a zoning change.
The meeting was a lively and sometimes heated session among residents, the council and architects. Neighbors voiced concerns over everything from landscaping to crime to the council’s notification process. Many complained that the city had not notified residents in Westwood Hills and Kansas City who lived close enough to be affected.
Opponents of the changes gathered 11 signatures representing eight homes on a protest petition, Baenisch said. If petitioners get at least 20 percent of homeowners within 200 feet of the construction to sign, the zoning change would require a 75 percent majority for approval. Baenisch said the petition met that standard.
But the petition was not discussed and in the end the five-member council approved the zoning amendment unanimously by a show of hands.
Some came away from the meeting upset that the council gave short shrift to their claim that City Attorney Ron Reuter, who also represents Westwood Hills, had a conflict of interest in the matter. Mission Woods, a city of about 180, shares building space and some city staff with Westwood Hills, population 365. Reuter has since retired from his job as city attorney for Westwood Hills and is in the process of retiring from Mission Woods.
Residents also felt the council ignored their petition.
“It was a great disappointment,” said Becky Mickelberg of Westwood Hills. “It was not how democracy should be. It was like a banana republic.”
The council rejected Westwood Hills Mayor John Heeney’s request to delay a decision until October to answer questions from constituents.
“I believe there is real confusion over the role of Westwood Hills residents in this process,” Heeney said. “By allowing this reasonable delay, we can ensure that everyone is clear on their rights and abilities to address any concerns.”
The council thought the city and Pembroke had done enough in the way of meetings and assurances, said Mission Woods Mayor Robert Tietze.
“I think the council felt they’ve done all we’ve asked them to do. It was just time to give it a vote,” Tietze said.
Pembroke Hill wants to take two of its existing smaller fields and combine them into one field that stretches 360 feet by 195 feet. The plan involves mostly earth moving between the fields, which are on a hill, and does not require the purchase of any more land. The new field would give more players a chance to practice on a field the same size that games are played on, said Steve Bellis, Pembroke’s head of school. In addition, the school would build restrooms near the middle of the property.
Bellis said the school has given seven presentations to the city, including two summer meetings with residents on-site. He assured the neighbors that the school would not hold night games, allow air horns or rent out the facility and that the school would listen to concerns about the landscaping and materials.
But Baenisch said the school has made promises in the past but has not kept them. Pembroke has not kept up its property abutting the neighborhood and has allowed some trees that were promised as a sound barrier to the fields to die, he said.
Bellis was asked repeatedly if he would sign an agreement formalizing promises not to have night use or rental use of the complex in the future. He demurred, saying he would have to ask his superiors if they wanted to make a long-term commitment.
Some at the meeting said an agreement would only be fair, since their neighborhood would be changed forever by the plan.
“This bathroom will be in my backyard forever,” said Kathy Henley, a Mission Woods resident whose back door is 248 feet from Pembroke’s fence line.
Henley said she is cautious about trusting Pembroke. The school had promised its tennis courts would not disturb the neighborhood, she said.
“It’s very noisy,” Henley said. “If you want to sit on your patio and grill burgers, what you hear is whistling and yelling. And it’s all the time.”
Some homeowners also objected to having the restrooms in the middle of the property.
Joni Cobb, Mission Woods, said crime is her biggest worry about the restrooms. Cobb’s home is on the perimeter of Pembroke property at 50th Terrace, and she said she often comes home to find her gate open and backyard furniture rearranged. The restrooms should be near a well-lighted busy street instead of deep in the interior of the grounds, where people can “hover and hang out,” she said.
Bellis said the school wants to keep the restrooms where they are because it’s safer for children who use them during a game and it will keep vandalism at a minimum.