In the movie Doctor Zhivago the title character returns home from the war to find his in-laws’ stately Moscow home taken over by Bolsheviks.
“There was living space for 13 families in this one house!” a party official condescendingly berates him.
I couldn’t help thinking of this scene when the city council of beautifully quaint Prairie Village, Kansas, moved to essentially eliminate single-family neighborhoods in order to “diversify” the burg where I just happened to grow up. The move raised the possibility of multi-family homes interspersed with homey single-family residences.
As noted by the grassroots group PV United’s website, in June 2022, “The City Council voted 11-0 in support of the Ad Hoc Committee’s housing recommendations that included drastic and unnecessary changes to the existing zoning framework. The Ad Hoc Committee, appointed by Mayor Eric Mikkelson, proposed changes that would increase population density by 1) allowing multiple units per lot, accessory dwelling units, and courtyard patterns on lots designated for single families and 2) eliminating the property and due process rights of existing homeowners.”
Prior to Tuesday’s vote, the council appeared to backtrack from the plan – though PV United argued that “contrary to a city government statement … the council has the authority to revert at any time to its original unanimous position to significantly change rezoning rules.”
Ultimately, after trying to peddle that hot slice of communism, PV council members were utterly whacked upside the head by a hefty helping of good, old-fashioned grassroots democracy: Candidates opposed to the blanket rezoning won at least four of six council races Tuesday – in some cases handily.
The electoral wins – stunning for a left-veering town that some call “the People’s Republic of Prairie Village” – are a staggering blow to heavy-handed statism and a bouquet to grassroots activism – as well as the ad hoc community group PV United that mounted the people-powered “Stop PV Rezoning” movement.
Ward 3 winner Lori Sharp, who garnered an impressive 58% of the vote against an incumbent, explained the stunning victories to Kansas City talk show host Pete Mundo of KCMO radio.
“The Prairie Village residents picked Prairie Village last night over party,” Sharp told Mundo. “They came out in droves. Huge night. … We’re trying to protect the current zoning laws that have created this great little city, this great little town that we all love.”
The current system of zoning requires communication and cooperation among residents and leaders – “which creates this neighborhood feel that we all have and love. It was really a vote for the community.”
The blanket rezoning proposal had created name-calling and division in an otherwise placid population, she said.
Tuesday’s result means an incoming slate of new city officials that have proven their intention to work hard, as evidenced by the amount of neighborhood canvassing they did during the campaign, Sharp said.
“People know that we are going to be hard workers, and we are going to focus on what’s best for Prairie Village and what’s best for the current residents.”
Mundo noted the withering criticism of the grassroots activists, particularly in the Kansas City Star, smearing them as extremists and racists. Sharp said she simply focused on the residents and the message.
One other race, for Ward 6, was too close to call, with PV United-backed Kelly Wyer just 14 votes behind incumbent Ian Graves with provisional and mail-in votes yet to count. If Wyer ends up winning, PV United will have won five of six races.
The group’s lone loss so far is by a write-in candidate.
The wins are an unmistakable rebuke of top-down governance.
They’re also a classic bit of republican democracy.