Westwood resident appeals JoCo judge decision on park sale, city motions to dismiss

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Westwood’s main park remains the subject of a legal battle, now making its way through the appellate courts.

Beckie Brown is the named Westwood resident on a motion to appeal a decision made by a Johnson County judge in February related to the sale of Joe D. Dennis Park.

Brown is appealing the decision against allowing her to intervene in the city’s request for the court’s ruling on whether a protest petition against the sale of the park was invalid. The judge ruled the petition was invalid in late February, siding with the city.

Brown said that while she is the only one named on the appeal, there is a large group of supporting residents.

This appeal comes after months of back-and-forth between the city and the residents who oppose the Karbank project taking over the city’s largest park.

Karbank plans to build an office-retail development on Joe D. Dennis Park and the former Westwood Christian Church space. In return, Karbank is giving Westwood the funds to buy the original Westwood View Elementary building to develop a new 3.8-acre city park.

Now, the city of Westwood is trying to get the court system to dismiss what the city is calling a “meritless” appeal.

How did we get here?

The city approved Karbank’s office-retail project back in October, despite resident pushback on selling and building on top of Joe D. Dennis Park.

Back in November, a group of residents, who banned together calling to “Save the Park,” threatened to take legal action against the city if it failed to publish notice of the sale of the park.

In response, the city threatened to take legal action against the attorney who sent the letter and/or the attorney’s clients to protect the city’s contractual obligations. The city also published a notice of the sale of the park a day before sending the response letter, despite disagreeing with residents on the legal need to do so.

Residents sent the city a protest petition calling for a public vote on the sale of the park, which the city ultimately invalidated. In a declaratory judgement, a Johnson County court judge sided with the city’s decision to invalidate the petition.

Now, the issue is in the appellate courts.

A September sign directly across the street from Joe D. Dennis Park, included in the Karbank project proposal, says "Don't rezone the park." File photo.
A September sign directly across the street from Joe D. Dennis Park, included in the Karbank project proposal, says “Don’t rezone the park.” File photo.

Brown wants resident voices heard in the park sale decision

From Brown’s perspective, the process of involving the district court in making a declaratory judgment on the sale of the park in the first place has ultimately taken voices away from residents like her who want a say in the matter.

On Jan. 19, the city of Westwood filed a request for a declaratory judgment naming the state of Kansas, the attorney general and the Johnson County district attorney as defendants. However, no residents were named in that request, which Brown said had left residents without representation in the legal proceedings.

That’s why she, through attorneys, filed a motion to intervene — or be part of the proceedings — on Feb. 9.

Brown’s motion to intervene was denied by the Johnson County judge.

The motion to appeal, filed on Feb. 28, aims to overturn the judge’s dismissal of the motion to intervene, Brown added.

The city has maintained its stance that Joe D. Dennis Park is not legally a park — and Brown wants the opportunity to argue that it is. If the appeal is successful, then Brown hopes that she and her fellow residents who support the appeal will be able to request an evidentiary hearing. This would allow the residents to provide evidence that Joe D. Dennis Park is legally a park, she said.

Brown said she and fellow residents see nothing wrong with pushing back on the sale of the park and believe they have a case.

“I just want to do what the law allows us to do, nothing more, nothing less, and to give the residents a chance to speak out,” Brown said. “That’s why I don’t believe it is meritless. I do believe that there is a reason for this, and that we should have a chance to have our side heard.”

The city’s motion to dismiss is based on previous action, findings

In a March 26 email newsletter, the city stated its motion to appeal is based on the Johnson County District Court’s February ruling that found the protest petition invalid.

The motion is also based on the city and county legal counsels previously finding the protest petition invalid prior to taking it to court.

Westwood sees “the appeal as meritless” with the invention of delaying and tainting the sale of Joe D. Dennis Park, according to the newsletter.

“The city — and the majority of our residents — are eager to move forward with the plan to build a development that will enhance our quality of life by offering exciting retail and office options, generating revenue, paying down city debt, and establishing a nearly 4-acre new park,” Westwood Mayor David Waters said in the email newsletter. “We view this appeal as meritless.”

Keep reading: Westwood kicks off planning for new park after legal dispute over other green space nearby

About the author

Juliana Garcia
Juliana Garcia

👋 Hi! I’m Juliana Garcia, and I cover Prairie Village and northeast Johnson County for the Johnson County Post.

I grew up in Roeland Park and graduated from Shawnee Mission North before going on to the University of Kansas, where I wrote for the University Daily Kansan and earned my bachelor’s degree in  journalism. Prior to joining the Post in 2019, I worked as an intern at the Kansas City Business Journal.