City debates construction of amphitheater on park property

Jordan Huesers, Co-Editor

The plan for the new amphitheater includes a 200-space paved parking lot, a 50-space grass overflow lot, a truck road, concessions, bathrooms, offices, VIP seating and a balcony.
The building will have dressing rooms, bathrooms, a trap door, a basement and storage.
Where would it be located? Ironwoods Park. A group of neighbors in Leawood formed the Save Ironwoods
Park group to keep the park as natural as possible. “We are trying to protect the natural setting of the park,” member Darren Woods said. “I think having green space and places for families and children to go and enjoy the park is important. We are trying to make sure the City of Leawood carefully considers any plans to develop the park.”
In 1998, the Leawood City Council passed a bond issue, including plans for an amphitheater in Ironwoods Park.
However, the bond gave no description of the amphitheater’s size and layout.
Carrie Rezac, City Council member for Ward 3, said the mayor of Leawood formed a steering committee to determine, based on the Leawood Stage Company’s desires, how to move forward with the project.
“The plan for the amphitheater in the park has been there from the beginning,” steering committee chair Bill Ellwood said. “It is just that we didn’t really have the funding at that time to build a building. All we had the funding for was to put in the power and built what you see there today. Now we are, in essence, just trying to get approval to finish the project that we really wanted in the first place. That was part of the original design for the park.”
Kerry Phillips, coordinator of the Save Ironwoods Park group, said the differing opinions between her group and the steering committee lie in the interpretation of the 1998 bond.
“That is the contention point,” Phillips said. “They will say that the 1998 bond allowed them to do this, and we don’t agree with that. We say the building is a lot bigger, it is more involved, it takes up a lot larger space.”
Following passage of the bond, the steering committee created a master plan for the amphitheater. However, an application for this master plan has yet to be submitted to the city council for approval.
The new amphitheater building will face the Steeplechase and Camden Woods neighborhoods, with a 5-foot berm and a line of evergreens for a sound barrier.
“We were really concerned about the impact on the families that live next door and on the park itself because it really does take up a very large piece of property,” Phillips said.
Ellwood said if the amphitheater building existed prior to residents moving into the neighborhoods surrounding the park, this project would not have been an issue.
“I am sure they like it the way that it is right now — very tranquil, very quiet,” he said. “So I feel bad. We really did try and do some things to make it less intrusive for them with additional shrubs and plantings. We really did try and do things to mitigate the impact on the neighborhood, but I really think their prefer- ence would be to not have an amphitheater there at all.”
In February 2011, the Planning Commission approved an application for a restroom facility — Phase I of the amphitheater project.
“[The application] came before City Council, and at the time we were in negotiations to purchase adjacent park land to Iron- woods,” Rezac said. “So, we continued that case. We continued it two or three times, waiting to see when the purchase of the land was finalized, because if that land was finalized we had talked about re-evaluating the master plan of the park, which would have impacted everything.”
The adjacent land was purchased. The restroom facility application was presented to the council again, and it, again, was continued.
“The thought was among some of the council that they wanted to continue it until we got through the revaluation of the master plan,” Rezac said. “If the proposed amphitheater plan remains, if it gets moved, if it gets completely relocated off the land, obviously that would affect the bathrooms.”
The Save Ironwoods Park group wants to preserve Ironwoods as park space and not as an entertainment venue.
“Particularly in Leawood we have very limited park area,” member Chris White said. “Leawood is a closed city, in other words, it is bounded by other cities all around. If we overdevelop this one into commercial property, there really is no other space for Leawood to develop into park.”
Phillips said the Leawood Stage Company deserves a proper place to perform, but should build the theater on private, commercially-zoned land.
“We don’t like it,” she said. “I mean, it’s hard to balance that, be- cause you love the arts. We support the Stage Company. We think what they are doing is really great. We love the fact that there are people who want to volunteer to participate in that, but there are also people who want our park to be natural: walking trails, camp- ing, outdoor activity that doesn’t involve something that is this much pavement.”
Phillips said the nine houses adjacent to the building would lose at least a 15 percent in home value, according to an appraiser. “It’s given us a really clear picture of just how much this building could impact our neighborhood financially,” Phillips said. Rezac said she tries to keep the Save Ironwoods Park group and several other organizations aware when the issue is on the city council’s agenda.
“I think they had some valid concerns,” she said. “I think it is very beneficial that they are bringing those to everyone at the city’s attention. I understand their concerns because I know that it will directly impact many of the people that are involved in that group.”
Ellwood said the steering committee hopes the Amphitheater could serve for graduation ceremonies, private weddings, private parties, bar mitzvahs or for anything that someone would enjoy using an outside venue.
“I feel like we, the citizens of Leawood, would benefit from this additional facility, and that this would be better for the rest of the citizens of Leawood,” Ellwood said. “In general, I think these people would just rather not have anybody in their back yard. I understand that. But I think I wouldn’t have bought next to a park if I didn’t want to have people in my backyard, because I think the city park should have people in it.”
Phillips said those near the park won’t be the only ones affected by this decision.
“If we develop it, it is gone for good,” Phillips said. “There is no going back from that. So, do we really want to do that? Do we really want to take away such a large piece of park? I just think we need to be really careful before we do this kind of thing in a park.”
Rezac said, from the Leawood Stage Company’s perspective, the expanded amphitheater would allow them the space they want for performances.
“There are not many stage companies in many surrounding cities, and so Leawood Stage Company, I think, would like to be able to become one of the premier,” Rezac said. “They would like to offer their talents and productions to not only Leawood residents but to surrounding areas. I think they see the amphitheater as a great amenity to Leawood itself.”
Rezac said concerns may be addressed at City Council Meet- ings within the limitations of the protocol.
“Obviously, if we ever receive any email correspondence or phone calls, we discuss whatever questions or concerns they have over the phone or through email,” she said. “We try and give information, as much information as we can, when they have questions on the process. I try and let them know that those things will be coming up.”