FRONTENAC — A dispute between the cities of Pittsburg and Frontenac over a section of Wild Red Road connecting to East Atkinson Ave near the Pittsburg Highlands housing development continues to escalate, despite a recent offer from Pittsburg attempting to resolve the issue.
“[Pittsburg City Manager] Daron Hall has proposed that we enter into a little agreement where they admit that they trespassed — he calls it encroachment — and that they maintain it, they control the road, but they won’t do it again,” said Frontenac City Attorney Tim Fielder at Monday’s Frontenac City Council meeting. “And he talks about us giving them license — to the City of Pittsburg — for the continued encroachment.”
Fielder said Kansas cities have control over their own territory under what is known as home rule. The construction of the disputed section of road “constitutes both a trespassing and a taking,” Fielder said. “The trespass was contemplated by Pittsburg as early as November 28, 2017, when it allowed the platting of Pittsburg Highlands.”
Hall admitted in an email, Fielder said, that the encroachment was pre-planned.
“There’s no sense of wrongdoing on Pittsburg’s part but rather a sense of entitlement to do as it pleases, and they don’t offer to stop the trespass or the taking, but rather demands that the City of Frontenac agree to codify the taking of its corporate territory, pursuant to Pittsburg’s terms,” Fielder said. “Pittsburg’s terms do not offer payment of damages or compensation to the city. We’re just to accept it and like it.”
Under Hall’s proposed agreement “it is Pittsburg who decides when its encroachment will end, not the City of Frontenac,” Fielder said, adding that Hall proposed the agreement be filed with the Crawford County Register of Deeds. This would constitute “a de-facto de-annexation of part of the City of Frontenac,” according to Fielder.
“Pittsburg proposes that Frontenac license its encroachment,” Fielder said, which would constitute “a perversion” of Kansas law. “This property is within our jurisdiction. We can’t push that off onto somebody else. We have to do something,” Fielder said, adding that the road in question also creates liability issues for Frontenac.
Frontenac has three options, Fielder said. Either the city could do “nothing,” and “let the City of Pittsburg encroach whenever it wants to, take whatever it wants to,” it could enter into what Fielder said he would consider an illegal agreement with Pittsburg “which allows the encroachment or any other encroachment in the future,” or finally, the city could “seek relief from the district court of Crawford County, Kansas and ask the court to require them to remove the road and not to do it again, get an injunction against them for doing something like that again.”
Frontenac City Council Member LaDonna Pyle suggested Pittsburg built the road within Frontenac’s city limits to save money, and questioned the safety of the disputed street, saying that it is “not up to our specs or theirs” and no traffic study was done regarding the road.
Fielder also discussed safety issues with the road.
“My feeling is that street is unsafe, and it’s a local street that does not empty out into a collector street. It’s a local street that empties out directly into an arterial avenue. And furthermore it’s on a slight grade. You come up to it from the south, the nose of your car is pointed skyward. The other thing is you have curves on the east and you have curves to the west,” Fielder said. “You need to pay attention and you need to be active if you’re going to pull out, because you’ve got people coming off the bypass over there and they’re doing 45, 55 miles an hour. I know that’s in excess of the speed limit but that’s the reality. And the other thing is it’s difficult to see in either direction.”
Aside from safety, Fielder said property tax revenue is also an issue.
“Pittsburg Highlands sits entirely, 100 percent within the City of Pittsburg,” he said. “They’re receiving the tax money for this public street. We get nothing, other than liability.”
Frontenac City Council member Pat Clinton questioned whether building the road could be a first step towards Pittsburg’s further encroaching on Frontenac’s city limits.
“What are we going to do if they do it again?” she asked. “That’s what eats me. I don’t know, I’m not saying they will.”
Fielder suggested, however, that not disputing the road’s construction could lead to exactly such a situation.
“If we ignore it now, we’d have allowed a de-facto de-annexation in my opinion,” he said. “But the other thing is, is that we’re inviting them to do whatever they want to do.”
Frontenac City Council Member Mike Snow asked whether it was common for cities to be sued if there was a bad wreck on one of their streets. Fielder said it was if dangerous road conditions could have been prevented. Because no traffic or safety study of the road has been done, Frontenac has no way of knowing whether there are real safety issues with the road, he said.
“There’s no traffic study done, there’s no safety study done, there’s no stormwater done, there’s no engineering report, nothing,” Fielder said. “They just constructed it very quickly. They got a contractor out of Missouri and gave them plans and said, you know, ‘Go to it,’ and the contract, and within the space of a couple days it was there.”
Clinton said it was a “pretty gutsy” move by the City of Pittsburg. “Very gutsy,” she added.
Frontenac City Clerk Terri Kutz said that Pittsburg’s control over future decisions about the road as outlined in Hall’s proposed agreement could also present problems for Frontenac.
“We don’t know what that place is going to look like in 25 years or 50 years,” she said. “We may want that road to be out for other reasons, we don’t know. We just don’t know what it’s going to look like.”
Clinton said that at first, she “wanted to be a good neighbor and say ‘OK,’” but is now questioning the liability issues posed by the road.
“I live in Frontenac, and I’m here to protect our people,” she said. “I don’t want our city to get sued because of something they shouldn’t have done in the first place. I guess at first, like I said, I didn’t care. I wanted to be a good neighbor. But it kind of scares me just a little bit.”
If Frontenac “can get a declaratory judgment from the district court, the district court will require the City of Pittsburg to remove it,” Fielder said. “And will those people be cut off from access? The answer is no. They’ve got a street that they can go out on the south end, and then I think they can talk to the good folks at the city [commission] in Pittsburg, and say ‘We would like to have access to the north end as well, but why don’t you put it in correct.’ And you can just join up, in other words, you can just go a few feet to the east or to the west, probably to the west, and hook up to Atkinson. Or they could just put a cul-de-sac on the north end and everybody just goes in and out the south end, which is what they should have done in the first place.”
Fielder said Frontenac City Council did not need to make a motion — but Pyle made one nonetheless — “that we proceed with the district court, because I think [Pittsburg] did it on purpose.”
Council Member Lynn Grant said she also thought so.
“At first I kind of thought, well, you know, let’s sit back and see,” she said. “But what I have learned in the last two or three weeks, is it’s just intentional and will never get resolved in a legal way.”
Pittsburg simply wants Frontenac “to kind of slap their hand and say ‘Oh, it’s OK, it’s alright, we’re going to keep it, we’ll take care of it and we’ll be liable,’” Pyle said.
“And this is just one step,” she said. “The first step.”
Asked by Snow whether legal proceedings against Pittsburg would cost Frontenac additional money, Fielder said it would not because he is paid a salary.
“The City of Frontenac is my client,” he said. “I’m working to protect, you know, the City of Frontenac. And it just outrages me that you have a neighbor who just simply blows us off, you know, and I don’t think that’s right.”
The Frontenac City Council voted in favor of pursuing the matter in Crawford County District Court.
“And I hate it, I truly do, because I want to be a good neighbor, but I think we have to think about us,” Clinton said.
Fielder will not “sue tomorrow,” he said Monday, “but I’ll write a demand letter to their attorney.”
In response to an inquiry to the City of Pittsburg from the Morning Sun, Deputy City Manager Jay Byers released a statement Wednesday.
“The City of Pittsburg has not yet received the formal letter from the City of Frontenac,” Byers said in the statement. “Pittsburg City officials met with Frontenac officials to discuss their concerns regarding the paving of an existing gravel approach, which connected Wild Red Road to Atkinson Avenue. City of Pittsburg officials made a proposal to address any concerns the City of Frontenac may have regarding this improvement, and will work with them to address any additional issues not previously discussed.”