Lynne Hermansen
An area of unincorporated land between 175th and 169 Highway known to local residents as the “Bermuda Triangle of Johnson County” has brought the cities of Olathe and Springhill together in a heated dispute at the Kansas Supreme Court.
Justices heard the arguments Wednesday, May 18.
Springhill annexed the land from Olathe last year and plans to develop the area into a commercial site that will include possible businesses of Carvana and Dunmire. The area is currently home to two adult entertainment centers.
Olathe has said that Springhill can not use the land for commercial use and is not honoring the original contract from the 2006 annexation agreement establishing a boundary they wouldn’t cross over.
The City of Olathe sued Springhill and placed a temporary restraining order that was overturned.
Tony Rupp, attorney for Olathe, said the issue is about the enforcement of an annexation contract setting forth the growth area.
“Each city abided until March 2021 when Springhill annexed North of the agreed boundary line area for a project known as Extract,” he said.
Rupp said the purpose of the interlocal agreement between the two municipalities was to designate an area to avoid annexation disputes and encourage long-term planning and services between the two cities.
“It prevents premature annexations,” he said.
Rupp said Springhill is breaching the contract.
Justice Eric Rosen said it was a service agreement not an interlocal agreement because it was a contract and agreement not to do something.
Rupp said they have interest to define a future growth area for both cities and a lot of the agreement was for long term infrastructure planning.
“It is two cities who have undertaken planning out when infrastructure is to be built and the expenses for long term planning,” he said. “It was a truce because of the annexation wars that occur in Johnson County.”
Justice Rosen said when they entered into the local agreement Olathe had not sought out approval from the Attorney General even though they had in other similar agreements with other local municipalities.
Justice Stegall said questions of municipal growth are the most hotly contested political questions in elections.
“Would this bind their children and their children’s children with contracts,” he said. “Why can’t they decide to resolve a different way.”
Rupp said it was a perpetual agreement but Springhill never claimed it was automatically binding.
Justice Caleb Stegall said the question wasn’t inline with Springhill’s position.
Rupp said the court can reform a contract and the question was whether or not a contract can go beyond the duration of one city council’s term to the next one.
Curt Tideman, attorney for Springhill, said the District Court had dismissed Olathe’s petition as invalid for an interlocal agreement with Attorney General assistance and the contract was not enforceable.
“Springhill has had too much city council turnover,” he said.
Tideman said the contract would bind future city councils and the agreement between the municipalities was a novel concept.
“They knew it may or may not be valid,” he said.
Justice Rosen said he was worried about the impact the case would have Statewide on other interlocal agreements.
Justice Stegall said it might have ramifications.
“Olathe could say they relied on this agreement and try to claim monetary damages,” he said.
Tideman said that again it was not binding, there was no authority and no finding of reliance.
“There is no consolidation of services,” he said. “It is a restrictive covenant that doesn’t envision a service contract but the performance of no activity.”
Tideman said it was not an agreement for joint planning but once again to enforce a restrictive covenant.
“We can’t assume the line drawn will be forever and ever at Olathe’s whim and discretion,” he said.
Tideman said the contract fails because there was a lack of Attorney General approval.
Rupp said the agreement was to perform and map out a long term comprehensive plan between the two municipalities.
“We would be saying every interlocal agreement is at risk,” he said.
No date for the Kansas Supreme Court decision has been announced.