New sidewalk to make ease the way to Erfurt Park in Shawnee

Visitors to Erfurt Park in Shawnee will find an easier way to get there after the City Council on Tuesday agreed to build a new sidewalk along 71st Street.

Council members voted unanimously to add the project to the city’s five-year list of major construction projects.

The plan, recommended by the city’s Planning Commission earlier this month, is to build the sidewalk along the north side of 71st Street from Clare Road to Hedge Lane Terrace, add a crosswalk across 71st to the entrance of Erfurt Park and regrade the existing drainage ditch along the road.

City staff estimate the project will cost $421,500 and could begin construction next year.

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Caitlin Gard, assistant public works director, cautioned that if the council decides in the future to upgrade 71st Street, that would likely require demolishing the sidewalk and then rebuilding it once the roadwork was completed. For this reason, Gard said staff typically opposes adding sidewalks to unimproved roads.

However, she said 71st Street is currently not on the city’s list of projects. The council had considered improving the road in addition to adding the sidewalk, but that project would cost an estimated $7.75 million.

“The sidewalk on 71st Street I know we’ve been talking about for a couple of years,” said council member Stephanie Meyer.

“We built Erfurt Park a few years ago and didn’t build any access on foot. I think it should be a good policy going forward that if we are building new parks to build some accessibility so folks in the neighborhood can walk over to them.”

The council also signed off on providing an additional $300,000 a year from its repaving budget beginning in 2020 for sidewalk improvements elsewhere in the city.

Staff has identified more than nine miles of missing sections of sidewalk along developed streets in Shawnee costing an estimated $4.75 million.

In other business, the council voted unanimously to allow council members to attend council meetings remotely if attending the meeting in person would be extremely difficult or physically impossible.

Each council member will be able to attend a maximum of two regularly called meetings a year through an internet program like Google Hangouts, which allows the council member to hear the other attendees, speak with them and see the mayor or council member overseeing the meeting.

The two-meeting limit does not apply to specially called meetings, of which council members can attend an unlimited number annually. Remote attendees would also be allowed to participate in executive session, which are meetings the council holds behind closed doors with attorneys to discuss employee issues, real estate deals or litigation.

A number of cities in Johnson County allow council members to participate remotely, including Prairie Village, Mission and Roeland Park. Overland Park and Lenexa do not allow remote participation and Leawood has suspended its policy allowing remote participation as it works on phone and Internet connection issues, city staff said.

Resident Ray Erlichman told council members that he didn’t think allowing remote attendance was necessary as the council has very rarely had to cancel a meeting because not enough council members could attend.

He also questioned whether the person attending remotely would truly understand what was going on during the meeting.

“I think you’d be making a mistake,” Erlichman said.

The council also approved waiving the excise tax on 4.5 acres at 47th Street and Lakecrest Drive being developed for a proposed 18-lot subdivision.

The developers, Complete Investments LLC, will save a little more than $36,000 through waiving the excise tax, which is generally charged when property is platted. Last November, the council created the excise tax abatement for the next three years as a way to encourage development.

David Twiddy:

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