The Battle in Prairie Village

By Will Hoerl

On Monday night Aug 7, 2023, the Prairie Village city council held its regularly scheduled council meeting. The room was crowded with citizens, there to observe and to speak on the ongoing debate about proposed ‘zoning’ changes, and to hear the current status on citizen petitions.   

Prairie Village has three active citizen petitions, that if allowed to move forward could have a significant impact on the city of Prairie Village.   

These petitions ask for…

  • An ordinance regarding Limiting Rezoning that would allow Accessory Dwelling Units or Other Dwellings for more than One Family to Reside on a Lot in a Single Family Residential Zoning District 

….see>>  rezoning petition 

  • Petition for an Election of the City of Prairie Village, Kansas to Vote on the Abandonment of the Mayor-Council Form of Government ( the “Mayor-Council Abandonment Petition”)

….see>> abandon Mayor/Council petition  

  • Petition for an Election of the City of Prairie Village, Kansas to Vote on the Adoption of the Mayor-Council Manager form of Government ( the “Mayor-Council-Manager Adoption Petition”).  

….see>>  Adopt Mayer/Council/Manager petition 

The Meeting

(see PV live stream here >>  Prairie Village City Council mtg 08/07  ) 

The meeting opened with a slide presentation of the Citizen Petitions and was followed by a short ‘question/answer’ period from the city council. Questioning from the PV city council was primarily about the history of the petitions, questions on whether or not it met statute requirements, and what the next steps were. The city attorney expressed doubts that the petitions would meet legal muster but said that the JoCo Election office would have to make the final decision.   

….see >>   Legal Letter to JoCo Election Office  )

The podium was then opened for public comments. A few citizens spoke in support of the proposed zoning changes, but most of Monday night’s speakers spoke against the PV direction on multi-family zoning, and in support of the Citizen Petitions.     

Comments (on both sides of the issue) were at times heated. Opponents of the zoning changes say that the housing recommendations could take away the rights of homeowners, allow unfettered development, and change the very thing that makes Prairie Village what makes it a good place to live, which is neighborhoods of “single-family houses”.   

One of the few speakers in support of PV proposed zoning changes, argued that the Stop Rezoning PV group’s insistence on keeping single-family zoning intact “is about racism & bigotry”. He characterized the opponents of zoning changes as NIMBYs (not in my backyard).   

The Prairie Village city council members got their turn to speak after public comments ended.

Inga Selders (Ward 2) spoke in emotional tones about the opponents of the zoning changes…(PV live stream about 1 hour 19 minute mark)…saying that she “did not see Democracy in action, she saw Fascism”. Later in her comments, Selder called out the North East Johnson County Conservative group for their specific opposition, along with other vocal opponents of rezoning.   

Greg Shelton (Ward 5) followed Selders, also making clear his unequivocal support for the zoning changes.   

Cole Robinson (Ward 1) expressed his support of the zoning changes and suggested that the citizen petitions would fail because they are not compliant with statutes.   

Most of the Prairie Village city council stood in opposition to the citizen petitions and in support of the rezoning effort.    

How did we get here??  

This battle began in 2022 when the PV city council convened committees to propose changes to zoning ( Ad Hoc Housing Recommendation ). These proposals polarized the Prairie Village community, causing several heated council meetings, and eventually resulted in the PV city council opting to temporarily ‘table’ this issue until 2023. During the intervening time period,  citizen groups continued to debate and organize, eventually resulting in the three citizen petitions.   

In early 2023, Prairie Village city council returned to the discussion. Some alterations had been made to the original zoning proposals but, according to Stop Rezoning PV, there was not sufficient progress made toward citizen complaints on rezoning. Despite vocal opposition, multi-family zoning remained the centerpiece of the Prairie Village housing plans going forward, which resulted in the citizen petitions.  

What is at stake??? 

Ironically, the two sides of this debate seem to agree on the impact of these proposed zoning changes. However, while both sides seem to agree on the impact, both sides very clearly do NOT agree whether this impact is a ‘good thing’…or…a ‘bad thing’. 

There seems to be general agreement that the zoning changes…..

a)   encourage the development of multi-family dwellings in the form of duplexes, multi-plexes, and ‘row houses’.  

b)   limit the ability of existing homeowners (single family) to protest if the lot next door decides to replace a single-family home with a ‘multi-family’ residence.  

c)   transform Prairie Village into a ‘denser’ more urban city.  

After that, however, their agreement ceases.  

Opponents say that the changes ‘trample the rights’ of existing residents who bought homes in Prairie Village specifically because they want to live in a neighborhood of single-family houses,  not an urban zone. They say the zoning changes will effectively end Prairie Village as a single-family resident city, and bring an end to the primary reason people “like and want to live in Prairie Village”.  

Supporters of the rezoning changes (and of the multi-family density) say that single-family zoning is racially discriminatory, that Prairie Village’s historical racist past (restricted HOA and ‘red lining’) needs to be corrected, and that urban density is the only way forward.      

Next Steps:  

The citizen petitions are being reviewed by the JoCo election office. If the election office decides the petitions meet legal muster, and have sufficient verified signatures, then PV would have to hold an election on these petitions.

If the election office does not uphold the citizen petitions, the petitions themselves would be ended, but it is unlikely that citizens on either side of the debate will ‘stand down’.  
As of this writing, no scheduled completion date for the review has been set by the Election office.   

Why should we care??? 

What is under discussion in Prairie Village started with ‘zoning policy’, but quickly morphed into a larger discussion. Some big questions remain unanswered.

  • Will PV remain primarily a suburb, become dense urban, or a mixture of the two?  
  • If urban density is the goal, where will it be located?
  • How much (if any) influence will residents have on decisions made for their neighborhood? 
  • How much ‘rental’ will be built?
  • How will ‘multi-unit’ residences be sold, maintained? 
  • What is the impact to the “quality of life” with urban density? 
  • How much tax money will be used to support ‘density’?
  • How far can Prairie Village go in the effort to reduce/limit/slow the cost of housing…without also having a simultaneous impact on existing housing values?   

On the surface, this appears to be a “local city issue”, impacting only Prairie Village. Some, however, have suggested that what is happening in Prairie Village, is (or soon will be) happening elsewhere in JoCo. One opponent of the Prairie Village plan to reduce single-family housing and rebuild with urban density said, “Prairie Village is the canary in the coal mine…what we are going thru today, the rest of Johnson County will go thru next week, next month, next year.”


As Free State News reported on Aug 4th ( Why Does JoCo Want to Become Chicago ), Johnson County has declared (through its housing studies) a desire to increase density thru ‘multi-family’ projects and reduce the relative percentage of single-family homes. The current reliance of local cities on the housing direction proposed in those studies, suggests what is happening in Prairie Village with zoning changes and emphasis on density, may indeed be ubiquitous. If the push for urban-style density is already deeply embedded in the JoCo political infrastructure, concerned JoCo residents may need to start reacting sooner than later.  

As for the ‘battle in Prairie Village’, the outcome remains to be seen. One way or the other,  these issues will get resolved. One can only hope that the resolutions, whatever they may be,  truly reflect the will of the majority and not the power of various sub-groups. Only active citizen involvement will influence that.    

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