Johnson County buys homes to turn into parking spaces

OLATHE, Kan. -- Johnson County is spending more than $4-million to buy out homes to create parking spaces for the new county courthouse.

Some are concerned the county may resort to condemnations to get all of the land it says it needs.

Most of the homes on the northwest block of Poplar and Cherry streets are rentals. This is the land that would become a parking lot under Johnson County's plans.

When voters approved a sales tax for a new Johnson County courthouse, administrators believed there was enough available parking in downtown Olathe to accommodate it.

But the city has since talked about redeveloping downtown and eliminating some parking. That's why Johnson County commissioners approved a plan to dip into savings and general funds to buy 14 homes on one block.

"There is enough parking capacity here within the downtown parking system in the city of Olathe," said Brad Reinhardt, facilities management director for Johnson County. "Looking at crossing a busy Sante Fe Street and looking at potential loss of a couple of redevelopment lots, we decided to pursue this."

County commissioners have authorized the use of eminent domain to acquire the properties. Some are concerned that may mean landowners won't be compensated fairly. But already Reinhardt says the county has reached agreements to purchase more than half of the sites.

Olathe already has spent millions upgrading its downtown and is asking developers for ideas to redevelop six acres across from the new courthouse where there are currently 220 parking spaces.