Stroke foundation pulls heartstrings but angers neighbors
The plain exterior of the American Stroke Foundation’s house at 8700 Lamar belies the bucolic feel of the inner compound. Sculpted gardens and paved paths surround the house. A pool and cabana lie steps below vast glass windows looking out onto a patio. The interior of the house is open, well-appointed, and comfortable.
Looking out the back windows of the house, founder Shirley Rose says the house was a necessity to her organization’s mission. “We needed a place where people would not feel like they were going back into the hospital,” she says. “We wanted to have a home in a residential neighborhood to make the people feel as comfortable as possible. People come out of hospitals and rehabilitation centers, and the last thing they want to feel is like they are going back into an institutional setting. We teach them and help them to readjust to their homes. A real house was the most practical way to do that.”
Rose lives in the neighborhood not far from the center. She and fellow neighbor Larry Winn, who acted as an attorney for the foundation and is part of the powerful business and development law firm Polsinelli White Vardeman and Shalton, both looked at four or five houses in Johnson County. The foundation failed to win approval for houses in Leawood and Prairie Village before settling on the house in Overland Park.
They never bargained on the problems Rose Grimes and some very vocal neighbors have caused the foundation.
Grimes, other neighbors, and some city councilmembers say the rules were bent for the foundation. No one, they say — except the powerful Rose, whose late husband Stan Rose founded Sun Publications — would be able to get a permit to operate the foundation in an area zoned for single family residences. Now that the city council perverted the permitting process for Rose, Grimes fears it could happen again — next time bringing commercial enterprises into the neighborhood. Such moves would deteriorate property value, residential ambience, and a sense of community in the area.
Business is businessGrimes sits at the dining room table in her home, a block from the foundation, where she runs a licensed for-profit child day care business. The table before her is stacked with Overland Park City Council meeting minutes, city planning documents, city ordinances, and correspondence on the subject. Just behind her, in the kitchen, stands a half-size breakfast table — “for half-pints,” she says. Outside, in the backyard, is child-size patio furniture and a playground, complete with soft mulch surrounding the equipment and railroad ties outlining the area.
From the dining room table, Grimes and her husband, Alan, helped rally neighbors to speak out against the foundation’s presence. The Grimeses say neighbors working together drew 100 to 150 people to city council meetings on the permitting for the foundation in February, August, and November 1999. They believe increased traffic, use other than single family residential, and the exception made for the foundation will change the area irrevocably.
Rose counters that many neighbors have businesses in their homes and that no one says anything about them. She says she and her husband ran what was to become Sun Publications “from our home in Prairie Village for 12 years, and no one said anything about it.”
Grimes agrees. “But none of them is saying they are something they are not, and all of them are within the law. No one has asked the city to bend the rules for them,” she says. Those home-based businesses, including hers, follow all the rules, pay their business taxes, and need no special zoning. One business in particular, a directory publishing business, grew to the point where it had three employees. Parking became an issue, Grimes says, as did the employees’ presence. The business was forced to move out of the neighborhood to a commercial location.
“That’s only right,” says Alan Grimes. “They were big enough to have outgrown their home-type business. Neighbors complained to them, then the city told them they had to move.”
Overland Park city councilmember Kris Kobach says conflict between the foundation and the neighbors began almost two years ago, when Rose acquired the property. “The first real sparks started flying in government halls when we had to decide on something that was a nonresidential use in a residential area,” he says. “They came before the council in November 1998 and in August 1999, where we voted a special use permit. We had to have a supermajority.”
Overland Park allows residents within 200 feet of a special use permit applicant to submit a protest petition. If signed by a majority of the surrounding residents, the petition forces the city council to have eight of 10 votes to approve the permit. It is a tool, says Kobach, also a law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, “that allows neighbors to protect their neighborhood from development it may not want or need but that the city sees fit to allow.”
In this case, the city council’s planning committee recommended the American Stroke Foundation have the special use permit. The neighbors’ petition forced the city council to have the supermajority, which the foundation could not muster. The foundation then applied for a residential day care permit, which requires only simple majority approval from the city council.
Looks, acts, walks like a duckWhile it may sound like a garden-variety not-in-my-backyard issue, says Neil Sader, an Overland Park attorney and city councilmember, it’s an issue going back to the mid-’80s. “This is an older neighborhood, with many of the homeowners being there for 25 years or more and a bunch of original owners,” he says. “In the mid-’80s, a developer got the okay for a large apartment complex (Cedar Crest Apartments) in the neighborhood. It was a very controversial rezoning. At the time my predecessors, in exchange for the apartment rezoning, made promises to the community of no further multifamily and commercial uses.”
Kobach, who has been on the council a year, opposed the foundation’s initial request for a special use permit. “The council promised not to change that and to have, always, residential use there,” he says. “There were to be no commercial uses, only residential uses, schools, churches, and the community center.
“Then they said they wanted a residential day care permit. I opposed that for a completely different and stronger reason. They were asking the city to distort its permit process. The foundation is neither residential nor day care. No one lives there, and it’s not day care. Day care involves the extended care for a dependent child while the caretaker has gone working. That is not what this is. The foundation provides therapeutic and caregiving assistance. They are great services, and I support the mission of the foundation. But they are not doing day care.
“If they could have shown us what looked like a house and smelled like a house and sounded like a house, then it would have been indistinguishable from a house. In a sense, they were asking the council to give them a deer hunting permit. The city said, ‘No. You don’t meet the standards.’ But then they come back for a turkey hunting permit but stipulate the turkey they are hunting has legs, antlers, and weighs 300 pounds. The majority of the council voted for it. We gave them residential day care and then put special conditions in the permit so that it wouldn’t have to do day care.”
The residential day care has very specific regulations in Kansas, says Alan Grimes. The caregiver must live on premises, “and there is a bunch of licensing involved,” he says. “We did pretty well fighting the special use permit with the protest petition, which was signed by all 10 of the neighbors in the affected area. The fact is that they let the foundation have the residential day care permit with stipulations that in other cases would never fly.”
Unlike under other residential day care permits, the foundation does not need to have a resident caregiver. The foundation must, however, limit the number of stroke survivors it assists to 10 at a time, with no more than 15 people allowed in the house. The foundation cannot assist those in need of rehabilitation, nor those with ongoing medical or physical problems. Volunteers are limited to what they can do with people who use the facility. Foundation employees must also undergo a strict training regimen outlined by the state to work in the facility. And the executive director must be present when stroke survivors are using the facility.
Kobach voted with Jack Halligan and Neil Sader on Nov. 15, 1999, against the residential day care permit. The rest of the council voted for it, and the foundation received the permit. “This is one of the older neighborhoods in Overland Park,” says Sader. “We want to make sure they don’t diminish, that they don’t deteriorate. This neighborhood borders a commercial area. A couple of blocks away is Metcalf Avenue and significant commercial activity. The neighbors are rightly concerned with potential deterioration of their neighborhood, and that is already creeping southward. We are trying to cut it off at the pass. A lot of it is the perception of neighbors and that this would contribute to deterioration in their area. That perception of decline is as important as reality.”
Rose Grimes says the use of any zoning permit but single family residential in a neighborhood “really means that the city council sees this neighborhood on its way out,” she says. “We don’t believe that is happening. There are a number of people here who have owned their homes since they were built. But there are even more people like us who moved here because we saw a neighborhood that was stable, where people cared about and worked with each other.
“Once the special use permit is issued in a neighborhood, it sets a precedent for permits. Those properties issued special use or other zoning exceptions never change back to single family use. This is a land use issue, and we moved here from places facing those kinds of problems.”
But Byron Loudon, Overland Park attorney and city councilmember, says that based on what the foundation said it would use the house for, the facility “would be a benefit to the community. The neighborhood had legitimate concerns about how the property would be used. The stipulations between the applicant and the city were enough to cover those concerns.”
“Look,” Rose Grimes says, “this is a neighborhood we are trying to keep together. We cannot allow the city to expand business into it any further.”
“If you and I did what they do down at the center, the city would be on us in a hurry,” says Alan Grimes. “And you can bet we would have to find ourselves someplace else right quick.”
A foundation for the neighborhoodKobach and Sader say the foundation is already breaking the rules. Neighbors have complained of excessive traffic at the center. A city employee stopped by recently to find more than 15 people in the building, and Executive Director Christy Hall was not on the premises. But Hall says the employee stopped by during a meeting that was published in a Sun newspaper. “We asked people to call and make reservations,” she says. “We had 11 reservations. But some other people came anyway, and that is how more than 15 people came to be here. There were no clients here, so there was no need for me to be here.”
The foundation must also follow strict parking stipulations that prevent people using the center from parking in the community center parking lot or in the parking lot of the church to the west on 87th Street. Due to the center’s residential zoning, the foundation could build only a circle drive. Earlier plans included more parking.
Neighbors report seeing the center’s clients using the community center parking lot. “These people who may have a host of problems are crossing the street from the community center,” says Rose Grimes. “The community center also already has problems keeping its handicapped parking spaces free.”
The business office and all fund-raising, administration, and accounting must be conducted off-site. Although the foundation officials promised in November to establish an office off-site, such an office was not rented until February. Neighbors and city councilmembers Kobach and Sader discovered in January that the foundation had been granted use of a conference room in a building owned by Robbie Small, Shirley Rose’s daughter, at 105th Street and Marty. When the issue was raised, the foundation rented space at the same building. Rose and Hall say they hold some board of directors meetings there. Some board meetings take place at the house at 8700 Lamar, Rose says, so the doctors can see what the facility is and what it needs. The organization’s tax forms list the foundation address at 8700 Lamar, not the business office.
The foundation’s fund-raising efforts and accounting, Rose says, are hired out to Mayer Hoffman McCann on the Country Club Plaza. State laws require that patient files be kept on site. Hall has a regular office in the house, with copier, fax, and computer. She says the office is necessary to keep up with patient files.
Grimes, however, says the presence of Hall’s office suggests that some business takes place there. She also says that in a January meeting she had with Hall, Hall stated that her job included fund-raising and that it would be done at 8700 Lamar.
And as of March 16, Hall had not yet received the state training needed to operate a residential day care center but said her training was scheduled for late March.
Who? What?Another problem arises in finding out whether the foundation is what it claims to be. Rose says she contacted regional medical centers and assembled doctors on the foundation’s board of directors to determine what services the organization should provide. The doctors would essentially direct the course of assistance and education the foundation offered.
Previous lists of boards of directors included both Providence and Bethany medical centers. In a letter to Overland Park resident Sheryl McCollough dated July 28, Bethany Medical Center CEO Keith Poisson wrote that Bethany “has not provided financial support or served as a board member to the American Stroke Foundation and cannot say we participated in any specific design or direction of services.” Similarly, Providence Medical Center President Frank Creeden wrote to Rose Grimes in a letter dated Nov. 9 that Providence “has not provided financial support, nor has anyone from our administrative staff served as a board member or participated in the formation or design of any services provided by the American Stroke Foundation.” Providence remains listed as a board member on American Stroke Foundation literature. Creeden, however, did not return a phone call for this story.
Kobach says another relevant factor in his decision was that foundation officers attempted to demonize opponents. “They were saying, ‘You don’t care about stroke victims.’ It was not fair. No one was not saying it was not necessary. They were saying it could be done; it just doesn’t need to be done in a residential neighborhood.”
Rose and Winn, however, deny the allegation.
“Then I asked, ‘Why do this in a residential setting?'” sways Kobach. “They said they needed to help stroke victims with stuff in a home. Then I asked why they couldn’t do that in a commercial setting, setting up the things they needed — which they could have done at a much lower cost than buying a home. They said a house would be more pleasant. But that is when the argument falls apart. There are many other places, even a commercial office setting, that would be more accessible. The council wouldn’t even have to make an exception in normal office permitting. The council has been very good so far with other issues like this. They have not been arbitrary, but this one is too much.”
Early in its existence, the foundation had trouble providing services without running afoul of state regulations. It’s not that hospitals and rehab centers don’t have facilities for the rehabilitation of stroke victims, Rose says. But they have few resources to help stroke victims learn how to get back into their day-to-day existence. Rehab centers and hospitals do great work helping people learn to control their bodies and use new ways to make them work. But she says many stroke survivors have to learn how to cook a simple meal in their homes. Those who have had more severe strokes have to learn to use the bathroom and the telephone. Families pick up where the stroke survivor can’t, getting into and out of bed, helping them use the bathroom and take a shower.
Only licensed professionals can provide therapeutic and rehabilitative services. Since the house is not handicapped accessible, also excluded from services would be anyone who was not ambulatory. In addition, the American Stroke Association provides support group services similar to those of the foundation, although Rose says her foundation does not duplicate services of any other organization.
Other issues bother neighbors. Privately owned homes generally increase in value in Overland Park, but depreciation is normal for commercial property. The foundation’s 1998 nonprofit tax forms put the total revenue for the organization at $252,022, with assets, including the house, of $367,546. Liabilities, which include the house mortgage, are $196,000. The house and land are listed at being worth $262,326. On the tax forms, the house is handled as a commercial property. In 1998, the foundation claimed $5,017 in depreciation against the value of the house. To the Grimeses and other neighbors, this is a sure sign of commercial creep into their residential neighborhood. The foundation has not filed tax forms for 1999. Hall says the foundation may have to ask for an extension given the amount of work that the foundation needed to do this year to keep abreast of its permit.
Rose also intends to take the foundation national, creating facilities like the one in Overland Park across the county. Such plans have led Rose Grimes and other neighbors to suspect there was more to the location of the house than a pleasant setting for stroke survivors. Overland Park has long planned to build a new community center in 2005 and demolish the present facility across the street from the foundation. City staff have recommended waiting until 2006. Rose Grimes and the neighbors believe the foundation may be positioning itself to eventually buy the land the community center now sits on.
“There is no fact to that whatsoever,” says Hall. “We have heard so many stories. One was that Shirley was a front for a development company that wanted to put a strip mall in here. There was no truth in that. Much of what you are dealing with here is paranoia.”
A Rose is a RoseShirley Rose is a powerful person, rife with self-confidence. She is well-dressed and energetic, and she has an impressive presence. She is a person people want to be close to. Amiable and a well-spoken straight-talker, she sits in the “Great Room,” a cavernous living room at the foundation’s house. Her clear blue eyes don’t waver as she talks about the influences that led her to establish the foundation, an organization that provides support services and a resource center for stroke victims and their families.
Rose says she established the foundation as a legacy of her husband. Stan Rose was riddled with stroke symptoms from August 1995 to his death in January 1997. Shirley Rose was active for 20 years in the American Cancer Society. But when her husband had his stroke, she says, “I had to back off. There was just too much to do, and too much going on. After Stan’s death, I wanted to get involved again. My daughter, Robbie, suggested I try to find something that had to do with stroke and stroke victims. But when I looked around, I could find nothing. It just blew my mind.
“Stroke survivors face a lot, and living with the effects of stroke is the greatest of all. I believe there are many stroke survivors who are put into nursing homes needlessly. Their families are overwhelmed, but they can be useful and productive if they can learn to be.”
Executive Director Hall emphasizes the facility’s informational and assisting functions. A bedroom, she says, helps family members and stroke survivors learn to negotiate getting into and out of bed. Bathrooms are equipped with stainless steel bars for people who need to learn how to use the bathroom or how to help family members who have had strokes. In the Great Room, shelves line a wall with information from health and medical organizations. Not all of them are related to stroke. “We will give out any information that may be useful,” says Hall. “We are a resource center for stroke survivors.”
“We don’t duplicate the services of other groups,” Rose says. “We believe in teaching people and assisting them in using their homes.”
Little distinguishes the foundation’s work from many hospital rehab and support group services, say Martin Newberg and his wife, Ruth. The Newbergs believe that between support groups, hospital rehabilitation personnel, and professional rehabilitative services, there may not be much need for the center. Both have had strokes and say they have no need for the center’s services. “Everyone has a home, and each has its own environment,” says Ruth Newberg. “I got my therapy in my home. The people at Menorah showed me how to get around. Before they let me go home, they came here to see if I could get around. They helped me learn how to take a bath, do the dishes, carry a hot pan from the stove to the counter.”
John Mitchell, who lives near the center, suffered a debilitating stroke several years ago. When he first heard of the American Stroke Foundation and what it was trying to do, he was in favor of the organization. “(But) after the foundation dodged attempts to keep it from opening a facility in the neighborhood, I came to believe the people with the stroke foundation had one thing in mind. They were underhanded and they were going to shove that in there whether people liked it or not. I took my rehab at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, then I went to a support group. But I have to say they have been doing things at 87th Street over the years that have made this a place to avoid. I had to say enough is enough on this traffic.
“There are other places that thing could have gone. It’s impacted us already. They got their money out, and Larry Winn did not care about what the people thought. I would not have wanted to be where I was not wanted. Everyone in the area demonstrated that they did not want Rose there. But it was like trying to squash mercury, every time you came at them with something, they went around it.
“I mean, the idea of a stroke foundation in memory of her husband was fine, but this is not the place for it. They like to think the neighbors are terrible, but it is a stupid place to put it. When they get the city council to break all the rules, there is something there. If we did it, they would shut us down in a hurry.”
When asked whether she thought beforehand of the prospective zoning problems that would come with the house, Rose says, “I trusted my lawyer on that.”
Winn says he and Rose knew what needed to be done to establish the foundation at 87th Street and Lamar. “There was the community center across the street to the north, a vacant field that belonged to a church to the west, and the apartments to the south,” he says. “The only common perimeter with the residential area was to the east across Lamar. The property had no deed restrictions and was in no homes association.”
Mitchell and Martin Newberg, who lives across the street from the center, believe the city council passed the residential day care permit because Shirley Rose is a powerful woman in Johnson County. “She is a wheel in the city (Overland Park),” Newberg says. “With the prestige of Shirley Rose and the mission of the place, they let it go through. She has a lot of clout, the best lawyers, and everything else.”
Kobach and Sader also believe Rose’s position in the community helped the foundation get the residential day care permit. They think bending the rules for Rose damaged the permit process in Overland Park too.
Loudon says Rose had nothing to do with his decision to vote to approve the permit. “It could have been anybody,” he says. “Shirley Rose is a lovely lady and has done other wonderful things in the community. Each zoning matter is based on the merits of the application not on the merits of the applicant. I have heard that repeated, but I think Rose had no effect. Such talk makes neighbors feel better about why it passed, but it has no bearing on reality. The permit process was created to deal with situations out of the normal. If the applicant can persuade the council the application is worthy, then it is done. I felt it was a proper use. There is some question as to whether they are abiding by the stipulations of the agreement, but that is another question.”
Rose says her influence had nothing to do with the foundation’s getting a permit. “I was treated just like anyone else,” Rose says. “If you want to do something, you do what you can to make it happen. I did not push anyone around. I asked if there was a way to make it happen. The protest petition stood in the way, and I got the idea to go this way from the community. They believe in the community. They believe in law. Some are resentful because of my involvement, but the foundation without Shirley Rose would go on.”
Although neighbors point to Winn’s influence as a powerful business attorney, he says his role in the matter was limited to altruism. “I believe in what Shirley Rose is doing,” he says. Winn says Overland Park city staff suggested the residential care permit as a solution. “It’s been one of the saddest situations we have ever seen,” he says. “We lost and came back and asked to give the foundation a chance to be a good neighbor. If they aren’t, we will all know about it. Most often in these deals, we all shake hands at the end and go about our business. Neighbors on the losing side of the vote don’t have enough to do with their time. I wish I had as much time as they apparently have. Sadly, some are neighbors of mine.”
“If someone isn’t able to get around, they have to be taken into the center,” Ruth Newberg says. “A person unable to walk can’t get into the front door. Shirley Rose picked the wrong place. She could have picked a much better place.”
Contact Patrick Dobson at 816-218-6777 or firstname.lastname@example.org.