Archive for Wednesday, July 5, 2006

Growth: How we’re changing

July 5, 2006

Until about a year ago, Tonganoxie resident Diane Bretthauer didn't own a house key.

She also left her purse in her car, which she kept unlocked.

"But those days are gone," Bretthauer said. "We are no longer able to do those things."

Last year, Bretthauer's housekeeper was startled one day when she walked into the kitchen and came face-to-face with a stranger. He didn't steal anything, and he didn't threaten violence. But he did scare Bretthauer enough to put locks on her doors.

Bretthauer, who chairs the city's planning and zoning commission, has lived in Tonganoxie all her life. She is a fourth-generation resident in a town that she said is no longer what it once was.

Rapid growth

Tonganoxie has been growing at an unprecedented rate. According to U.S. Census estimates, between 2000 and 2005, the population has skyrocketed from 2,785 to 3,774 -- a 36 percent jump.

Other area towns are getting a boost, too. Eudora's population is up 21 percent since 2000, and Basehor's has increased by nearly 47 percent.

All three towns are considered bedroom communities because many of their residents commute to work in cities such as Topeka, Lawrence or Kansas City.

Sarah Goodwin is one such resident. She and her husband just moved from Norfolk, Va., to a new housing subdivision in Tonganoxie. Her husband will take classes at Kansas University, and she'll commute to Kansas City to work.

Goodwin says she likes the idea of driving 15 minutes just to get coffee at Starbuck's.

"I love it. I was born in Leavenworth. ... I'm just a small-town girl," she said.

Growing pains

While this flood of new, young residents has led to school expansions, the arrival of bigger businesses and better recreation facilities, it has also brought growing pains to the small towns where, Bretthauer said, everyone used to know one another.

John Cass Lenahan, 83, has lived in Tonganoxie all his life. Lately, he's kept a watchful eye on the town's growth.

"We've got a whole bunch of people moved in here. I don't blame them. This is one of the best towns I've ever been to. Of course, I'm prejudiced because I've lived here 83 years," Lenahan said.

His shop, Lenahan Hardware, is going out of business after 35 years. He said the town's new residents don't shop in Tonganoxie, but instead spend money in bigger towns close by.

And Mayor David Taylor agreed.

"I think a lot of people in this city shop in Lawrence," Taylor said.

Lenahan isn't just worried about business. He said the growth is causing problems for the whole town.

"One of the only assets we've got is population. That doesn't always mean peace and prosperity," he said. "If you double the population, you double the problems."

One problem is crime. And while it certainly hasn't doubled, some residents in Tonganoxie and Eudora claim it's on the rise.

Tonganoxie police Chief Kenny Carpenter said there have been two armed robberies this year. They were the first he's seen since he started working in Tonganoxie in 2000.

"We have more businesses, so there's more things to pick from to rob," Carpenter said.

"Other than that, it really hasn't changed a lot," he said. "We've always had some vandalism, we've always had a few cars stolen."

Occasional speeder

In Eudora, Mayor Tom Pyle said the growth hasn't led to much more crime.

"Oh no ... this is very low-crime here. A speeder now and then, or illegal parking. We haven't had an attempted break-in here in quite some time. Course you never know," he said.

Pyle owns Pyle Meat Co. in downtown Eudora, an area that he says is being revitalized by new residents.

"The new people in town are coming downtown and just walking up and down the streets of Eudora. The people who were born and raised here, they just don't do that," Pyle said.

He said the city plans to improve downtown streets, sidewalks and storefronts to make the area more appealing.

The recreation commissions in Eudora and Tonganoxie have added programs to meet a growing demand for activities in town. Sports, dance troupes and various social gatherings are on the rise, said Gayle Parker, director of the Tonganoxie recreation commission.

Pyle said Eudora is planning a recreation center and new swimming pool. Though Tonganoxie doesn't have a recreation center, Parker said he hopes they'll begin planning for one soon.

Lenahan said he doesn't have a problem with the people moving to Tonganoxie. It's change that he doesn't like.

"I'm from the old school who likes everything the same," Lenahan said. "We enjoy a little old town to ourselves. Which is selfish."

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