Mayor Randy Rhoads and Lee’s Summit, MO: Regional leaders in smart growth

Yesterday we announced the winners of our 2013 Leadership Awards. Mayor Randy Rhoads and Lee’s Summit, MO were one of the winners.

In one Missouri city, a mayor’s leadership has helped foster a culture that values sustainability and public participation, with significant smart growth accomplishments on the ground to show for it.

Lee’s Summit, Missouri is a city of just over 91,000 people located 20 miles from downtown Kansas City. During the last decade, Lee’s Summit experienced rapid growth, with the city’s population swelling by nearly 20 percent from 2005 to 2010. This created an emerging sense in the community that property developers – rather than citizens themselves – were charting the course for the future of Lee’s Summit. Development questions were thrust to the forefront of civic conversation as the community grappled with how to grow in a fiscally and environmentally sustainable manner.

In 2012, after an extensive public process focused on community involvement and engagement, the City completed the Lee’s Summit Sustainability Action Plan, a broad policy outline with specific recommendations. Among the focus areas of the plan are water conservation and stormwater management, energy efficiency, transportation, land use and waste reduction. Another long-term plan called LS360° was formally adopted in 2009 and focuses both fiscal and quality-of life issues. Both initiatives were characterized by strong public participation through the entire planning process.

Notable among Lee’s Summit accomplishments is the City’s Complete Streets policy, the first in the region. The policy helps ensure pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, disabled citizens and motorists are all considered in future transportation projects and accommodated fairly. Originally championed by a local physician and a key component of the LS360° plan, the City formally incorporated a livable streets resolution in 2010. The policy included the creation of a citizen Livable Streets Advisory Board appointed by the Mayor to advise the city council on methods and procedures for implementing the guiding principles of livable streets.

That mayor is Randy Rhoads, who has led the town since 2010 and served on the city council for 12 years prior. Mayor Rhoads has been an integral part of many of the accomplishments above, and his leadership is part of why the city has been selected for this year’s award. Mayor Rhoads has succeeded in these initiatives thanks in part to his affable, low-key manner. The mayor is commonly described as a gentleman in the best sense of the term and is a positive, leveling influence in a dynamic, diverse community with often sometimes complex politics.

In addition to the city’s long term plans, Mayor Rhoads has worked alongside city council members to revitalize Lee’s Summit’s historic downtown. Input from local merchants and other community stakeholders, along with extensive streetscape improvements have informed an ambitious strategic redevelopment program. One noteworthy project the city is particularly proud of is ‘New Longmont’, a new urbanism inspired development which incorporates smaller lot sizes and a range of housing types with schools, office space and future retail space all within walking distance of one another.

Throughout his tenure, Mayor Rhoads has been devoted to leading open, inclusive community processes that has allowed residents’ vision for the future of Lee’s Summit to shine. By working together, the city is becoming a great place to live, work and play. Smart Growth America is proud to recognize Lee’s Summit and Mayor Rhoads for their work.

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