Rejecting car wash plan sparks debate on downtown Overland Park’s future

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A new Tommy’s Express Car Wash location proposed in downtown Overland Park won’t be able to move forward due to concerns about whether it would fit in with the city’s long-term plans to reinvest in the corridor.

The Overland Park City Council on Monday voted 8-4 to reject both a requested special use permit and certificate of conformity required for the tunnel car wash Frontier Investments wanted to build near 76th Street and Metcalf Avenue.

Councilmembers who voted to deny the plans for the Tommy’s Express worried that the car wash fails to support the community’s goal of remaking its downtown into a more pedestrian-friendly urban core.

Councilmembers Scott Mosher, Jeff Cox, Inas Younis and Drew Mitrisin cast the no votes, preferring to support the carwash.

Tommy's Car Wash proposed in downtown Overland Park
Image via Overland Park planning documents.

Tommy’s Express Car Wash plan valued at $8M

  • The property at the southeast corner of the intersection at 76th and Metcalf is primarily used for businesses with auto focuses.
  • During a lengthy presentation to the city council for the applicant, attorney Curt Petersen said Frontier Investments planned to spend $8 million on the 5,300-square-foot Tommy’s Express car wash.
  • Petersen said, overall, the project would be “positive for the corridor,” citing plans to add new sidewalks and greenery to the area.
  • However, previously both the Overland Park Planning Commission and city planning staff disagreed forcefully, with the commission voting unanimously to recommend denial.
Strang Hall in the Edison District in downtown Overland Park, one of the crown jewels of the reinvestment effort in that area of the city so far.
Strang Hall in the Edison District in downtown Overland Park, one of the crown jewels of the reinvestment effort in that area of the city so far. File photo.

Overland Park has long-strived to change downtown

Though on the periphery, the corner of 76th and Metcalf does sit in the city’s special zoning overlay for downtown, which focuses on walkability for the entire corridor and development that is broadly mixed-use.

This area of downtown — just a few blocks north of some redevelopment efforts that have been successful so far — has seen little forward momentum over the years, and past plans to move any new development forward at this site have yet to materialize.

Council President Logan Heley, in explaining his rationale for voting to reject the car wash, said it is “absolutely the wrong project” because he believes it is counterproductive in efforts “to advance our community’s goals” tied to Vision Metcalf and downtown reinvestment pushes that go back decades.

“If you go down the street to 80th Street, I mean that is the type of place that we want throughout the Metcalf corridor,” he said. “We are right on the precipice I think of a renewed renaissance of reinvestment in the downtown district, and this would set us back.”

Councilmember Holly Grummert opposed a Tommy's Express Car Wash in downtown Overland Park.
Councilmember Holly Grummert opposed a Tommy’s Express Car Wash in downtown Overland Park, worried it didn’t fit with the city’s plans for the area. File photo.

Councilmember Holly Grummert was also skeptical the car wash would enhance the “unique” downtown district in Overland Park.

“It’s our job to stay the course when our residents tell us what they want to see in their community,” she said. “It is our job to look toward the future to see what we want to be and where we want to go.”

Some councilmembers see the car wash as an improvement

Councilmember Drew Mitrisin worried that rejecting the car wash proposal would allow what he called “blight” in the corridor to remain.

In his eyes, an opportunity to rid the area of over-paved services with buildings that aren’t in great shape could be an “incremental step” toward realizing goals Overland Park has been “sitting on” for the Metcalf corridor and the downtown area.

“I think this project is a good way of kind of balancing our theory of zoning against the reality of the market and what projects are coming to us,” Mitrisin said.

Mitrisin has publicly stated he is a brother-in-law of Curt Petersen.

The clocktower in downtown Overland Park
The clocktower in downtown Overland Park, iconic to the area . File photo.

Councilmember Jeff Cox was harsher, saying he sees a rejection of the Tommy’s car wash plan as an effort to apply a Soviet-era and Chinese-inspired “central planning” mindset to downtown Overland Park redevelopment.

“Some people probably on this council would like us to buy all of that land and build all of the things so that we will get exactly what we want,” he said. “To get what we want is going to require subsidies. Well, I’m not going to support subsidies when we could have had the private sector do something with their nickel that was completely acceptable.”

“Unless we want to buy all the property and run the city as if we’re Soviets, we’re going to have to allow what the market will do,” Cox continued.

Looking back: Overland Park commission deals blow to downtown car wash plans

About the author

Kaylie McLaughlin
Kaylie McLaughlin

👋 Hi! I’m Kaylie McLaughlin, and I cover Overland Park and Olathe for the Johnson County Post.

I grew up in Shawnee and graduated from Mill Valley in 2017. I attended Kansas State University, graduating with a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2021. While there, I worked for the K-State Collegian, serving as the editor-in-chief. As a student, I interned for the Wichita Eagle, the Shawnee Mission Post and KSNT in Topeka. I also contributed to the KLC Journal and the Kansas Reflector. Before joining the Post in 2023 as a full-time reporter, I worked for the Olathe Reporter.