Kansas AG Kobach sues Edgerton over land annexed for warehouse project

Signs in Edgerton opposing a 600-acre warehouse development, now at the heart of a lawsuit filed by Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach.

Neighbors in southern Johnson County have organized for years against the plan to build a 600-acre warehouse near Edgerton. Above, signs protesting the project. File photo.

Kansas Attorney General Kris Kobach has sued the city of Edgerton, contending that the city’s annexation in 2020 of nearly 700 acres was illegal and that the land, which had been eyed for industrial development, must return to unincorporated status.

Kobach stepped into a three-year battle this week between rural property owners and the city when he filed the suit in Johnson County District Court, siding with the landowners against the city.

In the suit, Kobach faulted the city, saying it used an illegal method to push through a string of “consent annexations” that could be done quickly and without public hearings.

Kobach argues the annexation was illegal

Normally annexations take place only after multiple public hearings and notifications of affected parties.

Consent annexations have few of those requirements. Kansas law allows consent annexations in limited circumstances, when the land adjoins a city and the landowner consents.

Kobach’s suit contends the Edgerton’s annexations three years ago were invalid because they relied on a “narrow corridor of land” to access the parcels abutting the city limits.

The first parcel, which adjoined the southern border of Edgerton, was shaped like a boot with the tip of its toe touching what would be the next parcel annexed.

From there, seven other parcels were annexed within the space of a week, as each became contiguous to the other in a domino effect.

Neighbors have organized in opposition

Outraged neighbors said they had been blindsided by the actions, in part because they were unaware of plans to build a 600-acre warehouse on the annexed land.

NorthPoint Development of Kansas City had purchased the land under the names of different local farms and cattle companies it was affiliated with.

The residents then formed a group, Protect Rural Rural JoCo, and sued.

District Court Judge James Vano ruled that they did not have standing, though he did express some sympathy for their arguments. The state attorney general’s office would be the entity with authority to sue, he said.

Jennifer Williams, organizer of the group Protect Rural JoCo, said Kobach's lawsuit against Edgerton was a "welcome surprise."
Jennifer Williams, a resident near the land annexed by Edgerton and one of the organizers of the group Project Rural JoCo. File photo.

Kobach’s lawsuit is a “welcome surprise” to residents

Protect Rural JoCo members asked then-Attorney General Derrick Schmidt, but his office would only commit to filing a friendly brief on their behalf, said Jennifer Williams, organizer of the group.

They also asked the Johnson County Commission to get involved, but commissioners declined.

Williams said Kobach’s unexpected suit this week seemed like an answer to prayer.

“We’re ecstatic,” she said. “It was definitely a welcome surprise to see them do that.”

The group has been involved in three lawsuits with the most recent one still alive on appeal, she said, declining to say how much the cases have cost them.

“We’ve already paid for our properties. We shouldn’t have to keep paying so much just to protect ourselves from the government whose only purpose to begin with is to protect the people. And we find ourselves having to pay to protect ourselves from them,” she said.

No development has started

So far there has been no development on the land in question, Williams said.

Kobach’s suit gives renewed hope to Williams and members of Protect Rural JoCo who were beginning to believe they couldn’t fight city hall, she said.

“I didn’t even realize how much hope I had lost until it came back again,” Williams said. “I know how easy it is to give up whenever you’re fighting a giant.”

Edgerton Mayor Don Roberts did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In the past, he has said the city has always fairly and openly followed legal requirements to annex the land.

The case has been assigned to Johnson County District Court Judge David Hauber.

Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at roxieham@gmail.com.