Blue Summit only takes up approximately one square mile of unincorporated territory between Independence and Kansas City, but illegal dumping and condemned buildings are taking up valuable space in such a small area.
Community members have begun organizing, calling on Jackson County legislators to pay attention to what’s happening, trying to take their community back. However, while some cleanup has happened on roads skirting Kansas City territory, the illegal dumping continually covers whatever space is cleared.
Inter City Fire District Chief Jeff Jewell said there has been a lot of community service, spending time to clean up the trash that can be found along nearly every road, but it keeps coming back. He said it’s a tragedy because Blue Summit – the area bounded by Truman Road and 23rd Street, and Interstate 435 and Blue Ridge Boulevard – should boast “some of the prettiest properties” in the area.
“They come through here and try to clean it up, but they just keep dumping,” he said. Jewell said he’s purchased property and removed more than 90 tires, putting up a fence so others would stop rolling more tires down the hill.
Alongside the trash, which collects along the side of the road or in yards, Jewell explained an enormous amount of stolen vehicles wind up in Blue Summit.
“Any car that looks like it’s been abandoned is probably stolen,” he said, adding that those who leave them have no hesitation about setting them on fire, especially in the winter.
Wooden pallets, mattresses, and countless other pieces of garbage are piling up, and they’re often found outside buildings that have been condemned. Blue Summit has several houses that have been severely damaged by fire and slated for removal; however these houses are still standing long past their scheduled demolition dates. Houses are tagged for demolition by the county, with a small budget often being the cause for the demolition not happening.
These places are common dumping spots, according to Jewell, with fresh garbage offering a stark contrast on top of the charred remains in the houses.
Some individuals even take residence in abandoned buildings, or take advantage of a recent death of an owner, according to Jewell. Squatters who don’t take up residence in an empty home or shelter make do in the woods. Jewell said in the summer there are 25 to 30 homeless people living in the rooms, often in tents. The number fluctuates in the winter, Jewell said.
While some community members are fighting for a revitalization of the community, holding monthly meetings, Jewell said the solution should come from the county.
“It’s an easy fix in my mind,” he said. “Put some cameras up – they don’t cost you that much – and start prosecuting people.”
Modern cameras are so cheap, according to Jewell, that residents of some houses have installed them – not for public security, but to protect drug sales out of the home, alerting them to officials or trespassers.
“I’ve been a cop for 30 years almost, and these guys have got this down to an art,” Jewell said. “There’s no movement down here that they (dealers) don’t know about.” Jewell is a Blue Springs police officer as well as being the Inter City Fire chief.
Knowing that crime can often pass ignored in Blue Summit, some individuals are capitalizing on the opportunity, according to Jewell. This includes illegal shops being run out of houses, with stolen cars filling the driveway, to drugs being passed off at a gas station without any thought to discretion.
Because of this, one of the common pleas for help at the community meetings is for increased Sheriff’s Office patrols.
“I get it. Everybody’s short handed. But if the county wants to attract businesses in these areas, we need somebody to go out and work on that stuff,” Jewell said.
While annexation into one of the nearby cities might provide funding and manpower, Jewell said no one in Blue Summit wants to see that happen, and everyone who chooses to live in unincorporated territory does so for a reason.
“We don’t want Independence or Kansas City to annex us because then everybody’s taxes are going to go up,” Jewell said.
Additionally, Jewell said certain elements in the Blue Summit area under Kansas City jurisdiction don’t meet reliable standards, with Kansas City fire hydrants covered in overgrown plants, nearly impossible to find in an emergency.
“If we go on a house fire, we don’t even bother hooking up to Kansas City Fire because you don’t know if it’s going to work or not,” he said.
Some improvement is being seen however. Blue Summit community member Tracie Rice, one of those trying to take back the community, said the county has made room in its budget to install street lamps. Rice said several county legislators toured the community to see the issues up close.
The first of these meetings took place in April, with residents gathering at the fire district, and residents shared their grievances about trash and emergency call response. The second meeting, in May, was largely the same, but included some county legislators. According to Rice, it was the first time legislators visited Blue Summit in 30 to 40 years.
Tony Miller, an at-large county legislator, attended not only the meeting but met with several residents in the weeks afterward. While the county has some influence in what occurs in Blue Summit, Miller said the residents will have to make some large choices on their own in order for the work to continue. Miller said he didn’t feel the situation is “top-down,” meaning it isn’t his place to tell residents what to do, and his priority is to listen and offer ideas.
“A lot of services can be provided under the umbrella of being part of a municipality, but that doesn’t sound like the remedy they’re looking for,” he said. As part of his meetings with residents, Miller raised the idea of a community improvement district, where local businesses impose a small tax on themselves to create certain services. Miller gave the example of the River Market area, which uses a CID to generate revenue for patrols and small maintenance. The patrol members are not police officers, but they can be of assistance to residents.
“They have a presence,” he said.
While all residents have their own priorities, it all comes down to trash and crime, and some residents believe the crime needs to be addressed in order for the trash to be taken away once and for all. The phrase, “You can’t clean up a neighborhood if the neighborhood is running wild,” was proclaimed at the May meeting.
Slow or non-existent responses on behalf of the county law enforcement was the common complaint, with Capt. David Epperson of the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department telling residents to call back when a response does not arrive at their location.
Miller said county legislators don’t control the Sheriff’s Office and where deputies patrol, but they can advocate for Blue Summit residents.
“If we can have those discussions, and through the budget process provide those resources … then I’m all for it,” he said.
While the trash continues to pile up, and crime continues at its own pace, residents are excited that county legislators are beginning to pay attention, their voices finally being heard. The next community meeting is scheduled for July 13.