Independence city officials soon are expected to listen to a regional planning agency’s description of a metro area at a crossroads, trying to decide if now is the time for Kansas City to address suburban sprawl.

Independence city officials soon are expected to listen to a regional planning agency’s description of a metro area at a crossroads, trying to decide if now is the time for Kansas City to address suburban sprawl.

“We want economic growth, and we want sustainability. ... It’s hard to get all at the same time,” said Frank Lenk, director of research services at the Mid-America Regional Council.

Lenk was speaking at a MARC board meeting earlier this month, and MARC officials are expected to make presentation on the issue to the Independence City Council in the coming weeks.

MARC has been looking at development trends for the area, essentially adding up each city’s hopes for growth over the next 30 years and trying to decide if that is sustainable.

“I don’t think we need to tell anyone here that this has been a challenging conversation,” said David Warm, MARC’s executive director. He added that growth will still be a matter of local decision-making.

Still, the MARC board’s discussion reflected two main viewpoints:

 “I can’t support anything that’s going to restrain growth in Liberty,” said Mayor Greg Canuteson.


 Ed Ford, a member of the Kansas City Council, said the metro area cannot afford to ignore the urban core “because we all recognize that the doughnut hole in the middle doesn’t do any of us any good.”

A look at the math

MARC stresses that it’s not looking at regional control of land use or such measures as caps on building permits.

“Nine-tenths of what we do as a community is going to be at the local level,” Warm said.

What the agency has done is lay out some of the facts and figures and state flatly that current growth patterns are not sustainable.

MARC looked at seven counties: Jackson, Cass, Clay and Platte on the Missouri side of the state line and Leavenworth, Wyandotte and Johnson on the Kansas side. That area’s population is right about 2 million now and is projected to reach 2.5 million by 2040.

MARC lays out two scenarios for the next 30 years. One is an extension of current trends, and it means more sprawl, more farmland turned over to development and more decline in the urban core. The second – MARC calls it an “adaptive scenario” – shifts 40 percent of that growth to areas that would be redeveloped. That compares with a current redevelopment rate of essentially zero now.

Under the first scenario, 47,000 people leave the urban core. Specifically, that would mean fewer people in the core of Kansas City, Mo., in Kansas City, Kan., and even a sliver of Sugar Creek and northern Independence. An area running from western Independence south into Raytown and parts of Kansas City would show little growth. Eastern Independence, Blue Springs and much of the rest of Eastern Jackson County would grow – but less so than Liberty and southern and western Johnson County.

The adaptive scenario shows those high-growth areas with growth but also shows redevelopment in the western Independence, central Blue Springs, the urban core of Kansas City and the older, closer-in suburbs of northeast Johnson County – but also less growth in Grain Valley, Oak Grove and south Blue Springs.

Considering the costs

Growth costs money, and Lenk points out that money expected to be available for roads and bridges will only cover half of the projects that area cities are counting on. By contrast, the “adaptive scenario” would save $1 billion in roads, sewers, water lines, stormwater by 2040.

Area residents already feel the pinch of high gas prices more than the average America, and more sprawl would compound that problem, making rush-hour traffic more congested, MARC says.

“Our transportation costs are high here compared to the rest of the country because we are more spread out,” Lenk said

Growth affects bus ridership, too: If service levels stay as they are, MARC says, the number of daily passengers, which stood at 63,778 in 2005, will decline to 56,424 by 2040. Under the “adaptive scenario,” however, that would rise to 88,432. A major upgrade in mass transit could help.

“Most people are in favor of better transit in our region,” Lenk said, “but we haven’t figured out how to fund it.”

The MARC board didn’t make a decision on the “adaptive scenario” when it met earlier this month, but several cities, economic development organizations and others have weighed in. The First Suburbs Coalition – whose 19 members include Independence, Sugar Creek, Raytown, Prairie Village and Overland Park – came out in favor of the “adaptive scenario” last month.