By Kathy Feist
In the window of one lonely house in the Newcastle subdivision in south Kansas City is a sign that reads “Keep 133rd Street Open.”
This sign posed a big problem for the Newcastle Homeowners Association that had to get 100 percent approval from its homeowners in order to keep 133rd St and Inverness Rd closed to traffic coming in and out of the adjoining SouthMarket shopping center. In the end, about 9 percent of its residents did not approve the closure.
On Thursday, June 10, Newcastle HOA informed its homeowners via eNeighbors that the barriers would be removed on Tuesday, June 15. The announcement came on the heels of a June 9th meeting between KCMO Public Works Director Michael Shaw and staff, Sixth District City Council members Andrea Bough and Kevin McManus and HOA President Britt Brown and other Newcastle representatives Kent Bevan and Kevin Flattery.
“Despite our presenting petition representing 91% of the residents supporting closing 133rd and Inverness, Mr. Shaw stated repeatedly that he is bound by the required 100% approval by all residents to close the street,” the email reads. “I am sorry to report that June 15 remains as the date for removal of the barriers, unless that date is pushed forward until such time as this package of solutions is presented and agreed upon by all.”
Public Works spokesperson Maggie Green KCMO has confirmed the decision. “Public Works closed 133rd Street at Inverness Drive as part of a demonstration project last fall for area residents in response to traffic safety concerns. A formal petition process was initiated and completed. The required stakeholder approvals needed per Public Works policy to close the road permanently were not reached through this petition process. As a result, the intersection will be reopened on June 15, 2021. Public Works will continue to work with residents in the area to come up with traffic calming alternatives.”
Moving forward, the Newcastle neighborhood, Sixth District City Councilmembers, and Public Works will meet to discuss alternative traffic calming solutions such as speed bumps, chicanes and bump outs.
The hold outs
Newcastle resident Gary Bennett, who placed the sign in his window, said he wanted to keep the intersection open for its convenience to the neighborhood.
“It’s quicker for me to walk to Walmart than to get in a car and drive,’ he said.
Bennett says one elderly resident who lives on the east end was told the easiest route for her to get to the shopping strip was to take Wornall to 135th St and then to State Line Rd. “That’s four or five stoplights she has to go through!” he says. The 133rd St intersection provided residents a quick connection to the strip, with Walmart practically in the neighborhood’s back yard.
“It’s not safe,” said Bennett. “Too many elderly people have to take the long route.”
In addition to safety, Bennett didn’t feel the closure was fair to the taxpayers who paid for the public street.
Bennett was not alone in his opinion. At least 22 Newcastle homeowners agreed.
A fight from the beginning
Plans for Newcastle along with the Southmarket Shopping Center were submitted to the City by Price Brothers Management at the beginning of 2000. Construction on both developments began that year and Walmart and Lowe’s were immediately secured as anchor tenants.
According to realtor Sheila Hampton, who was the primary realtor for Newcastle at the time, 133rd and Inverness was always included in the plans. But even then, it rattled homebuyers. “It was a 50/50 thing,” said Hampton. “Some buyers liked the access, some did not like the access.”
When completed, Newcastle consisted of 234 homes and townhouses. The expensive Mediterranean-style homes and lush landscaping made the development a crown jewel in south KC.
“It was the newest thing in south KC and very successful,” she said. ”It met a huge need. For older residents ready to downsize it provided the perfect opportunity to stay in the neighborhood.”
But it wasn’t long before the idyllic neighborhood rattled with controversy. As early as 2003 the HOA began complaining to the City about traffic and litter in the neighborhood. According to one Martin City resident, the intersection was closed in 2005 while the City and neighborhood determined what traffic calming measures to put in place. After the first roundabouts proved unsturdy, the current roundabouts were installed in 2006. The roundabouts deterred big truck deliveries to the shopping strip, but failed to slow traffic.
Former HOA president Tommie Lampe said in a previous interview with The Telegraph, that she had been writing city councilmen and state legislators for years to get the intersection closed.
In October 2020, the city finally paid attention, thanks to a QuikTrip attorney.
In late September, Newcastle residents were contacted by the south Kansas City neighborhood advocate group Center Planning and Development. The neighborhood needed to give feedback on a new QuikTrip planned for 132nd and State Line. The 14-station convenience store would replace a vacant Applebee’s at SouthMarket shopping center. Because the property was zoned B2-2, QuikTrip needed approval of a Special Use Permit from nearby neighbors before submitting plans to the city.
More traffic generated by a QT was a concern to Newcastle residents. After listening to the residents’ complaints, Jessica Jensen, the attorney working on behalf of QT, decided the traffic problem “was an existing issue unrelated to QuikTrip,” according to QT’s project manager Jessica Glavas. As a “courtesy gesture” Jensen set up an October 19th meeting between Newcastle residents, KC Public Works, Bough and Kevin McManus. From there, QT was out of the picture.
Lampe told the Telegraph that the neighborhood never did approve the plans for a new QT facility. Despite that, only one resident appeared before the City Plan Commission’s virtual public hearing to officially object. QT’s appeal for a Special Use Permit was approved by the Board of Zoning Adjustment in October and City Plan Commission in November.
On November 6, Public Works met with Sixth District Councilmembers for guidance and support. Four days later, barricades were installed at the intersection as a temporary closure and pilot test. Public Works announced they would remain until May, depending on public feedback. In a public meeting in the spring, the outcome of that feedback would be shared. In the meantime, the public was encouraged to contact Public Works Information Officer Green or their city councilman.
With no warning to the community, the closure to the retail area came as a surprise and frustration during the busy holiday shopping period. Detours and warning signs were finally erected in December.
A false start
Following the city’s traffic calming criteria, Newcastle HOA members began surveying homeowners and nearby retailers regarding the closure.
On February 25, Public Works held its virtual public meeting. The barricades would be removed March 10, they announced.
Green reported that she had received around 200 calls, most in favor of the closure. But the guidelines to close a street required 100 percent approval from those people impacted (homeowners and businesses) which Newcastle was not able to obtain with the survey.
There were other factors that contributed to the decision: the issue of where the money would come from during a budget shortfall; a 3,744 traffic count from December 2018 which was considered relatively low by the city; increased traffic on surrounding corridors and within the shopping center, and concerns with access for emergency vehicles.
Finally, it was concluded that street closures do not have a direct link in reducing speeds, which was the primary safety concern.
The decision came as a shock to Newcastle residents, including Lampe who had only the night before discussed with new City Manager Brian Platt in a virtual Center Planning and Development meeting that her HOA had obtained all the necessary signatures to close off traffic into their neighborhood. He was impressed and pledged his support. Lampe held him to it.
According to a March 9th interview with The Telegraph, Lampe reached out to Platt who returned her email with good news. “We will be leaving the closure in place until further notice. We will circle back to your community and city councilmembers….to find out exactly what you think the local group wants to see long term.”
On March 10, the barricades remained up, producing an outcry once again from the surrounding community.
When Public Works staff finally circled back to the Newcastle community in early May, they gave the homeowners a second chance to get 100 percent approval from homeowners. This time, in order to accurately follow city guidelines required to close a street, a petition, not a survey as was mistakenly submitted the first round, was conducted by Newcastle HOA members. (City guidelines require 75% approval for traffic calming measures, but 100% for a street closure.)
Additionally, Public Works redefined the area that required approval to only include Newcastle homeowners by not including nearby retailers. Green state the change was made because Public Works did not believe retailers were affected by the closure. “The area is defined by our traffic team as including all impacted property owners. The shopping center has direct access to Stateline Road, so there is an alternate route for the business traffic to utilize,” she reported.
Nevertheless, Newcastle’s second opportunity to find 100% support of the closure proved unsuccessful.