Remember Voting On Kansas City Parkland? Here's Why That Happens

Dec 16, 2017

Pergola in parkway of The Paseo.
Credit Charvex / Google Images -- CC

If you voted in Kansas City, Missouri, in November, you may remember being asked whether the city should remove two pieces of land from the park system.

Those two parcels of land were “no longer necessary or appropriate for park, parkway or boulevard use.”

What does that mean? And who determines what park properties should be removed?

“Once parkland is parkland, it’s parkland forever,” Mark McHenry told host Gina Kaufmann on KCUR’s Central Standard.

McHenry, the director of KCMO Parks and Recreation, said that the only way that parkland can be relinquished was to go to a vote of the entire population of Kansas City.

The park system has about 12,000 acres throughout the entire metro area in all four counties, he said. The park board takes a look at whether to decommission or acquire land.

The plots of land on the November ballot were relatively small, he said.

The property near 21st and Tracy was just under three acres. While there is other parkland that size throughout the city used as playgrounds or by the community, that wasn’t the case here.

“This is a very industrial part of the city,” he said. “It’s kind of a little bit of an isolated piece of land … Tracy Street dead-ends at that location; (it’s) kind of off the main road and not really good open space use.”

The other piece of land that was on the chopping block, near 23rd and Locust, is about a half-acre by Children’s Mercy Hospital. The surrounding area is more vibrant, since it’s by Hospital Hill Park. But getting rid of it, he said, would have no negative impact on the park or the adjacent boulevard.

“These are not treated lightly,” he said about removing parkland from the system. “It does take a lot of review and discussion before going forward.”

It starts with a resolution by the park board, then it has to go to the city council for their approval before going to voters, he added. Once approved, the land goes up for bid.

The requests to relinquish land can come about in two ways: either as an initiative from the park board or from an adjacent property owner.

One example of this happened in 1999, when the city went to the voters to remove six acres off Barry Road in the Northland, said McHenry.

“We actually traded that six acres for 125 acres: a 50-acre tract of land and a 75-acre tract of land,” he said. “So the net benefit to the community was lose six, gain 125. And I think you can see the value in that.

“And today, that 125 acres is providing good community services and benefits for recreation purposes in that part of the city.”

Another way that the parks department acquires land is through a subdivision regulation in Kansas City, he said. If someone wants to develop property — for example, put up 100 homes — they’re required by ordinance to dedicate parkland as part of that subdivision, McHenry said.

McHenry acknowledges that it’s hard to get the green space back after it’s been developed, but there have only been about 12 pieces of land removed from the system in the past 24 years.

“Parks are for everybody; that’s what they should be used for,” he said. “That’s what we continue to strive to do: build a quality park system throughout our city.”

According to McHenry, the board will most likely add parkland north of the river, as that area develops, or maybe to the southeast quadrant of the city.

As for whether there are any other parcels to be relinquished in the future, he said they’d look at everything on a case-by-case basis.

“As we look forward, we’ll give a close eye to anything that might come up,” he said.

Jen Chen is associate producer for KCUR's Central Standard. Reach out to her at jen@kcur.org and follow her on Twitter @JenChenKC.