Residents fight big development north of Wichita State’s Innovation Campus

Sedgwick County has joined City Hall in a plan that discourages, but still allows, commercial development across the street from Wichita State University’s Innovation Campus.

The commission took that action after hearing passionate pleas from residents who want to preserve the residential character of their neighborhood – and from a man who has tried twice to build businesses at the site of his late father’s home.

At issue were proposed changes to the Northeast Heights Neighborhood Plan that guides development in the one-square-mile area bounded by 21st on the south, 29th on the north, Hillside on the west and Oliver on the east.

Five new provisions were added to the plan by the county action Wednesday.

Two of them discourage strip commercial development at 21st and Oliver.

The other three identify that corner as the best site in the area for development and recommend ways to shield homeowners from noise, lights, odors and drainage woes.

The Wichita City Council approved the changes to the plan a week ago, but without taking any public comments.

At the county, about half a dozen neighbors told the commission that if development does come – and it looks like it will – they at least want something that will benefit their neighborhood, not detract from it.

“We want something nice,” said neighborhood activist James Roseboro. “I don’t care if it’s a restaurant or whatever, doctor’s offices.

“I know some things we don’t need up there. We do not need any more payday loans, we do not need any more Dollar General stores, we got them all around us.”

For decades, little development was proposed in the quiet neighborhoods north of WSU.

But the corner of 21st and Oliver has become a prime target for development with the arrival of WSU’s Innovation Campus, a major public-private project mixing industrial, commercial, residential and educational land uses.

Michael Marks, who’s tried to develop a Kwik Shop or a CVS pharmacy at the site of his former family home across the street at the northwest corner, said it isn’t really suitable for low-traffic development, such as an office for a dentist, doctor or insurance agency.

“No one wants low impact better than I would,” Marks said. “I would like to see low impact if it was someplace where there wasn’t 50- or 60,000 cars going by.”

He said his hope is that in the next 10 to 15 years, the corner will become an impressive gateway to the university, with destination restaurants and service businesses.

“The university has made a little treasure out there for us to all get together and make this happen,” he said.

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Senior Journalist Dion Lefler has been providing award-winning coverage of local government, politics and business in Wichita for 20 years. Dion hails from Los Angeles, where he worked for the LA Daily News, the Pasadena Star-News and other papers. He’s a father of twins, director of lay servant ministries in the United Methodist Church and plays second base for the Old Cowtown vintage baseball team.