‘I loved how it was:’ Johnson County neighbors fight apartment plans on tree-covered land

Bootsie Martin moved to Olathe’s Cedar Creek neighborhood for the nature.

“I have deer that come in my backyard. In the spring they bring their babies. There are foxes running through my backyard. It’s the wildlife, the trees, the lake. I loved how it was,” said Martin, who has now lived in Cedar Creek, near the confluence of K-10 and K-7 highways, for about five years.

But a fight is brewing in her quiet neighborhood over a proposed development, with many homeowners worried that the doorstep to their slice of paradise could forever change.

The sprawling neighborhood is home to rolling hills and dense woods. Modern subdivisions — with homes ranging from $500,000 to $2 million — are tucked between winding roads marked by waterfalls and limestone bluffs.

“I have to drive a ways for a grocery store, but I don’t care,” Martin said. “I wanted to live out here where it is quiet, remote. It is just something to see when you live out here.”

Lenexa-based Oddo Development is proposing a mixed-use project at the southeast corner of Cedar Creek and Valley parkways, including four- and five-story luxury apartment buildings with 300 units and a parking garage below. Plans also include two buildings with 11 “brownstone” town homes, priced at $500,000 and up, as well as retail and sit-down restaurants.

Oddo Development is asking city officials to approve rezoning 14 acres, which is almost entirely covered by trees, to allow the project. The site was previously zoned for a hotel development.

“The property is for sale. Something is going to go there,” developer Rick Oddo, CEO of the business started by his father, told The Star. “Olathe is growing, and something is going to be developed there. And we feel like this will be a great product for the neighbors there who want to downsize and still stay in the neighborhood.”

Oddo argues his project would be a better neighbor than a bustling, 11-story hotel that could have been. He expects the development to attract retirees, seniors with family nearby and more affluent apartment renters who can afford the expected $2,000-$2,500 monthly rate. The complex would have a clubhouse, pool, fitness center, dog park, walking trails and other amenities.

The Olathe Planning Commission is expected to discuss the rezoning request as early as Feb. 26, although city spokesman Cody Kennedy said a date had not yet been finalized.

‘Watering down the resort’

Word of the proposed development, which would sit near the entrance to Cedar Creek, has sent panic through the neighborhood, with residents banding together to protest it, raise money and hire an attorney.

The development team held a meeting with residents earlier this month to discuss the project, where dozens packed the basement of Cedar Creek’s clubhouse. The gathering quickly turned chaotic with neighbors speaking over each other as Oddo’s microphone repeatedly cut out.

“I’m not a snob. I’m all for people having apartments. But why right at our entrance? This is not what this is meant to be out here,” Martin said. “You will look over and see the towering apartment complex. It’ll displace all of those animals. It’ll destroy the whole look, the whole feel of coming into this neighborhood. It’s really upsetting.”

Outside of the meeting, residents collected signatures on a petition to oppose the project.

“We’re worried,” homeowner Nick Payne told The Star. “We bought into this community. It’s supposed to be an exclusive, resort-style community. But when you start throwing apartments into a resort-style community, you start watering down the resort.”

Olathe’s Cedar Creek neighborhood
Olathe’s Cedar Creek neighborhood

Neighbors in Cedar Creek, with more than 1,600 homes, say they’re upset with a lack of communication about the newly proposed project, pushing board members overseeing their homeowners association for answers.

Larry Louk, a board president, said the HOA is worried about the size of the proposed buildings, as well as “the impact the proposed development will have on the use of our amenities,” such as the pool, trails, lake and golf course.

“Cedar Creek is a large and pretty much enclosed subdivision although the streets are public,” he said. “It will be very difficult and costly for us to control access from those not within our HOA but within the confines or at the boundary of the subdivision itself.”

Oddo said the property owners would inform apartment complex residents that the homeowner amenities are private property, and possibly write language in the lease to address it.

“We picked this site because it’s so beautiful and scenic. I’m sure others will as well. We just have to respect the rules of the neighborhood and remind our residents to do so,” Oddo said.

Concerns around trees and traffic

Payne also worries about the environmental effects, such as potential runoff flowing into the lake and acres of trees being knocked down.

He said some neighbors are part of a Facebook group, called Cedar Creek Nature Club, to share photos of owls and other critters they see in their neighborhood.

Kennedy, with the city, said about half of the trees would be cleared, and 50% would be preserved under the project plans. He said that exceeds the 20% minimum under the city code.

Oddo said he’s made efforts to preserve as many trees as possible.

The development team, Kennedy said, has submitted preliminary traffic and stormwater studies to the city.

Payne is worried about safety and added traffic if hundreds of new residents move into the area, concerned cars could regularly cut through the neighborhood and clog surrounding streets.

“Traffic is going to be a huge issue, we all know it. K-10 is already overloaded,” he said.

The Kansas Department of Transportation is studying how to address traffic and safety issues by widening K-10 highway on the 17-mile stretch from the interchange with Interstates 435 and 35 in Lenexa, west through Olathe and De Soto to the Douglas County line.

Johnson County’s K-10 corridor is poised to transform with the likely highway expansion, and as Panasonic invests $4 billion in a new De Soto battery plant. Residents worry about growing pains as they see more housing and commercial developments sprouting up in the area.

“We realize there is a lot of development activity going on around us as a result of the Panasonic plant,” Louk said. “Some people call it progress, others call it encroachment.”

Last week, several residents showed up to nearby Lenexa’s planning commission meeting to protest Oddo’s plans for 28 apartment buildings, a nursing home and gas station at the northwest corner of K-10 Highway and Canyon Creek Boulevard. Oddo this past spring also gained preliminary approval, with a split council vote, for a 344-unit apartment complex on 34 acres, near Woodland Road and K-10 in Olathe.

And this past fall, the Lenexa City Council advanced plans for a 212-unit apartment complex on 17 acres near the northeast corner of K-10 and Canyon Creek Boulevard, developed by Leawood-based Eskie and Associates.

Payne said residents are hoping to gather more signatures on their petition and continue raising money for their legal fees ahead of the upcoming planning commission meeting.

For now, he said, the goal is to “slow this freight train down.”