Overland Park planning commission unanimously approves controversial arboretum expansion

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- The Overland Park city planning commission unanimously approved a controversial plan to significantly expand the city's arboretum.

The commission welcomed a packed house to Monday's meeting. Those supporting the arboretum's expansion plans see the proposal as critical to growing what's considered a jewel of Johnson County.

"Think about the future to think about all the people that come to the arboretum and what they take away about the city of Overland Park because of it," one woman supporting the plan said.

Although it's a popular attraction, many who live near the arboretum do have frustrations, especially with its large-scale events.

One neighbor even showed drone footage of the traffic back-ups on 179th Street during the holiday luminary walk, which draws up to 6,000 visitors per night.

"This is not what I wanted to see every single weekend with these events," a neighbor said.

Other neighbors shared concerns about lighting and noise levels that have broken city code.

"They had lasers. The inside of my home was a rave. There were lasers going all over the place," another neighbor said.

And they fear expanding the arboretum could only magnify those concerns, especially with the planned addition of an open-air amphitheater and hundreds more parking spaces.

"It's not our intent to hold events every weekend or many times a month," Parks Director Greg Ruether said.

The arboretum insists the project, for which $7 million in private funds has been raised, will add great community value, including a new visitors center with educational opportunities.

"We need to do our due diligence and do things we can do to co-exist out there because we do want to be part of the neighborhood," Ruether said.

The arboretum has no firm timeline of when the expansion will happen, only saying as its foundation raises money, it hopes to turn a treasured asset into a valuable attraction for everyone.

The arboretum plans will only go to the city council if a protest petition is filed. The deadline for anyone with objections to file a petition is Dec. 23.

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