So, the issue at hand is the annexation of 9,600 acres of Southern Johnson County land by the city of Overland Park. This amount of annexed land would amount to the largest expansion in the city's history. This amount of land, if farmed in its entirety, would grow more than one million bushels of corn each year. This amount of land, if managed properly, could grow enough vegetables, fruit and meat to feed more than 3,000 families every year. Kept in its current state, this land is a natural buffer for pollution from population, rainwater runoff, and also serves as a tremendous carbon sink, thus serving as a check valve on global warming. This land is beautiful land to drive through, to bike along, and to visit. This land, in essence, is your land.
However, due to current projections of growth, and obvious constraints that can only force any NEW DEVELOPMENT south, the city of Overland Park has advised that they, not Johnson County, are better suited to control the inevitable growth of the region. Their idea is to develop the land correctly, allowing only high density housing in some regions, and green space in others. Infrastructure needs would be controlled, and as such, tax dollars more wisely spent. Makes sense to me. Maybe this land should be their land.
Growing up, I remember wanting a new baseball glove because I had left my old one out in the rain overnight. Well, truth be told, it wasn't that old before I had left it in the rain, but now I really wanted a new one. My father taught me the hard lesson that you don't get something new just because you didn't take care of the old one. Man, I could just imagine the feel of the new glove, nicely oiled, with dimples in the palm, just like the big leaguers used! But, my dad was right, I hadn't taken care of my old one, so, no new glove.
I guess my point about the glove, in relation to land annexation is why doesn't the city of Overland Park take better care of its old land? I drive down 119th street now, once THE area of O.P.. I see abandoned stores and 'upper end' stores that have been replaced by less 'upper end' stores. Where did they go? 135th street. I'm sure the story is a repeat of what happened in the 95th and Metcalf area when 119th was developed, and to 87th and 75th before that. To me, the city is just buying into our disposable society. Tired and bored with your current development? Annex some farmland!
I know there are those that will say, "don't want annexation? move further away from the city! Johnson County has been one of the fastest growing metroplexes in the country for decades! Get over it!" The problem with that logic is one of the reasons that Overland Park and Johnson County have been so appealing for so long is its wonderful mix of urban amenities and beautiful rural surroundings. If the annexation occurs, and continues, this mix goes away, and the city loses.
The other reason that O.P. has been so appealing for so long for so many different citizens and businesses is the mix of people living and working there. They bring a certain vibrancy to the area that doesn't exist elsewhere. When you live in an urban subdivision and work with not only neighbors of that subdivision, but also people who live on 40 acres and commute 20 minutes to the office, you get a very unique office environment. You build a community that is much stronger than a homogeneous population of cookie cutter houses. Take that diversity away, and all of the sudden Corporate Woods becomes a lot duller place to work.
As a farmer and landowner south of the proposed annexation area, I suppose I should be thinking about my financial future. After all, in the short term, annexation equals more customers closer to my farm. In the long term, the value of my land should increase as the city comes closer. The reality, however, is that my farm is what I want to do. I don't want to position myself in the path of urban sprawl, as a speculative land investment group would. I want to be able to enjoy MY LAND as I want to, and I want my children to do the same. I want to share the experience with those from Overland Park that want to enjoy it with me. I want to continue to be able to look out my living room window at night and see only a smattering of lights, and know that each of those lights marks the home of a unique individual. No homogeneity here.
If annexation is allowed to continue, I know it will reach my land some day. I wonder how many empty Lazy Boy Furniture Gallery Showrooms will dot the landscape between my street (343rd street) and 119th street by then! In a world where your food travels an average of 1,500 miles to reach your table, we fight wars over oil, and our inner cities are in disrepair, how much longer can we truly afford to keep pushing farms further away in order to "manage growth?" I think it is time that city planners start thinking about how to take care of the old land before they go out and annex new land.