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Before buying or building, research land use!

Perhaps you have followed the debate between some Leawood homeowners and the city's proposed expansion of the Ironwoods Park Amphitheater. Or maybe you read about Overland Park's controversial multi-family housing proposal, the one Nottingham families oppose.

I am not weighing in on these issues, but watching them unfold reminds me again of how important it is to thoroughly understand planned land use before buying property. In a 2005 Home Front column, we shared these examples to illustrate the importance of due diligence. They seem relevant still.

  • Homeowners in a golf course neighborhood where all the houses are new and upscale. At the time of my visit, the owners had been in their home for about eight months. They described their too-late discovery that nearby railroad traffic is a major annoyance. They, as well as their unhappy neighbors, knew that the railroad was near, because one has to drive by the tracks to get into the subdivision. However, nobody seemed to allow for how invasive the trains might be. Tracks run through a valley about a quarter-mile away, where trees and terrain hide them from view. Even so, the sound gets amplified out of the valley to such a degree that outside conversation must be curtailed until the locomotives pass. Trains run at all hours, which impedes sleep—and, to paraphrase the homeowner, you're never not aware of the trains.
  • A couple who chose a wooded home site in Olathe based on summer fact-finding. This property had a tall radio transmission tower just to the south. They knew about the tower, but a tree canopy hid everything except one guy cable anchored near their south boundary. They purchased the property, but when it came time to lay out the house, it wouldn't fit on the lot. Contract language was such that the developer had to refund their money, and both parties were greatly disappointed. Later, the couple had occasion to be in the neighborhood and stopped by to see "their" lot, which by this time had someone else's house under construction. It was winter and twilight, and they were stunned by the site and sounds coming from the tower's aircraft warning lights, now so very obvious without leaves on the trees.

Go beyond the surface. Take time to get the feel of a new neighborhood. Find out how surrounding ground is zoned. If you are moving into a city in which you have no history, go to city hall and look at the comprehensive plan, future land-use map, subdivision easements, and FEMA floodplain boundaries. Ask for a copy of the city's housing ordinance, and then take time to understand thoroughly where you are about to live relative to adjacent land uses and future land plans—not just as things appear at the moment of purchase.