Published January 27th, 2021 at 6:00 AM
EDGERTON, Kan. — Connie Mayberry lives in the middle of a row of three houses that her family calls home. To the north is her parents, who bought the ground they live on in the 1940s. To the south is her sister, who lives in the home they grew up in.
Behind all three of these homes is a sprawling hay field, with a pond frozen over by a bitter stretch of winter weather. The landscape is worthy of a Dave Barnhouse painting. On this day, pickup trucks come in and out of Mayberry’s back yard, stopping to speak with Mayberry, and doing work in the barn out back.
Those pickup trucks could soon become semis, and that beautiful farmland behind the Mayberry property could soon become a field of warehouses similar to the ones found west of Interstate 35.
On Jan. 12, the city of Edgerton held a meeting for public comment regarding the rezoning of seven parcels of land along Gardner Road from 199th Street to 215th Street for the expansion of the burgeoning Logistics Park Kansas City by NorthPoint Development.
“This would be right in my back yard where I raised horses and cattle,” Mayberry said. “It’s hard to fight big business.”
That doesn’t mean the citizens living in the area aren’t going to try.
On Dec. 17, 2020, the Edgerton City Council met to discuss the annexation of seven parcels of land, controlled by NorthPoint Development, into the city of Edgerton.
According to the minutes from that meeting, there was no mention of rezoning plans for the property subject to annexation, which passed unanimously, 4-0. In the Gardner News, Edgerton Public Information Officer Kara Banks said there were no development plans at this point.
However, according to the staff report for the January rezoning hearing, an application fee for the rezoning of the seven parcels of land from “rural residential” to “Logistics Park” was paid by Nathaniel Hagedorn, CEO of NorthPoint, on Dec. 11, 2020, nearly a week before the meeting to discuss annexation.
This is one of the lapses in transparency that the concerned citizens, calling themselves “Warehouse Warriors” in a Facebook group that has amassed over 400 followers in a few weeks, point to as a sign of shady dealings. Many of these people aren’t Edgerton citizens, and feel that people who they did not elect are dictating how they will live their lives.
“Everything about it stinks,” said Gillian Power, a resident who finished building a home in the area last year. “There is so much here that doesn’t meet the standards of proper development.”
According to the city, the policy is that the city engineer must verify that the applicant has completed the legal descriptions before sending notifications to the public. The NorthPoint application was verified on Dec. 22, and notifications of rezoning were sent out on Dec. 23.
According to Kansas state Sen. Molly Baumgardner, everything about the process was legal, but she thinks that the residents have a reason to be upset.
“The coordination of the timing; it has just been lockstep,” Baumgardner said. “It’s troubling that in the dark, the city hammered in the notice for rezoning the evening before Christmas Eve. They (the citizens) felt that there could have been a better way to inform those people that would be so dramatically impacted.”
Power and her family moved to the area from Overland Park to start growing organic produce without the hustle and bustle of the city. She did not expect the move would lead her to join a group of 100 citizens who are organizing to fight what they think is an unfair annexation and rezoning of land that will diminish their property values, and destroy their way of life.
“Our way of life is being literally bulldozed and steamrolled,” Power said.
While Power just moved to the area, some have been there for all of their lives, and don’t want southwest expansion of industry to ruin their rural way of life.
Jenni Koch and her husband grew up in Spring Hill. Her husband’s family has lived in the area for 40 years. They built their house here seven years ago.
On their 80 acres they have space for their daughter to play outside, and to raise rescue animals such as donkeys, pigs, dogs and horses. This was supposed to be life for the Kochs forever, until the idea of warehouses being constructed less than a mile away from their home was proposed.
“It’s our forever home,” Koch said. “It’s a helpless feeling.”
The land, controlled by NorthPoint, was bought under the names of Wellsville Farms LLC, Hillsdale Land & Cattle LLC, East Kansas Land & Cattle LLC and South JOCO Farms LLC, a common tactic used by developers when assembling property for a project.
Mayberry’s parents sold the land behind their home to a NorthPoint affiliate in 2017, but said they would happily take the money back now, if they knew it would have come to this. Mayberry doesn’t see herself moving, and says that her father would refuse to leave the farm.
“My husband, my father and I built this house. This is home.” Mayberry said. “If you don’t live in the area, and it doesn’t affect you, it’s hard to feel it in your heart.”
Koch says that if the development happens, she would more than likely sell her home, because as she and many of her fellow warriors say: “No one wants to live next to a warehouse.”
But the problem with selling is that no one wants to live next to a warehouse. As a result, they believe that property values next to the warehouses will fall. Koch has a friend who lives next to the new Kubota and Hostess plants to the west of them, who can’t get a good offer for her home, which is exactly what the people near the proposed rezoning area are worried about.
“If a big warehouse is built across the street, their home has no value,” Baumgardner said. “Because they feel it is tainted, being across the street from a warehouse.”
Supporters of the project disagree. On NorthPoint’s website, the company displays data from the Johnson County Appraiser’s Office that shows home values in the area have been rising steadily since the Logistics Park’s development in 2012.
Another concern for residents is truck traffic. In January of 2020, a truck driver was struck and killed by a car heading north on Gardner Road. It was unknown as to why the driver left the cab of his vehicle.
The roads in the area are narrow and do not have shoulders for trucks. Residents like Koch are worried about the increase in truck traffic, particularly for families with children.
NorthPoint is aware of the issues with truck traffic.
“Truck routing, I’d say, is probably, I think, consistently one of the issues everyone in the community wants to see addressed, including us,” said Patrick Robinson, NorthPoint vice president of acquisitions.
But those warehouses that some citizens are fighting against have proven to be an economic engine for the metropolitan area economy. The Logistics Park Kansas City project has created more than 12,000 jobs since 2012, according to the Economic Policy Institute. It also has generated more than $4.4 million in tax revenues for Johnson County and Edgerton.
According to the U.S. Census data, Edgerton’s average per capita income is just north of $27,000 a year. The average pay for workers in the Logistics Park is $21 an hour, a $40,000+ salary for a 40-hour work week.
“I would suggest that for everybody that goes to work at the Logistics Park, those are important jobs for families as well,” said Robinson. “We want to find a balance of meeting the needs of our neighbors while providing economic development and jobs for people who want to provide for their families as well.”
The NorthPoint rezoning proposal contemplates construction of 11 warehouses totaling nearly 9.7 million square feet on nearly 640 acres of land.
This is the tension at the heart of every economic development debate: What is the price of progress? And who pays?
“I’m not against growth, big business and capitalism. But it’s impeding on our way of life,” said Jennifer Williams, one of the concerned residents who lives 2,000 feet away from where a proposed warehouse would be. “It literally makes you want to cry because it’s your home, it’s your memories, it’s everything.”
There is a sense among the residents that it may be tough to fight the rezoning.
The residents had 30 days to contest the annexation, but couldn’t get an attorney to file for them. According to Williams, they could not find an attorney due to a lack of standing on the residents’ part. Since then, the group has secured legal assistance, but could not reveal details of their case.
They packed the house at the public meeting Jan. 12, and plan to continue to do so as the fight to protect their land rages on. The next public meeting will take place on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. at Edgerton City Hall to discuss rezoning.
“It’s an ongoing process that still involves upcoming public meetings with both the Planning Commission and City Council,” City Administrator Beth Linn said. “So it is really important that those folks keep the government process transparent and full.”
Koch concurred: “If our voices aren’t strong we won’t get anything done.”
Jacob Douglas covers rural affairs for Kansas City PBS in cooperation with Report for America.