The Evolution of Clearview Village: From Sunflower Village to the Modern Day

Historic Johnson County village is falling apart. Will Panasonic plant save or kill it?

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On the outskirts of De Soto, 70-year-old Wanda Riedhart wrenched open the wobbly aluminum door that scrapes the concrete pad at her home — a single-bedroom rental inside one of 164 concrete, barracks-like houses at Clearview Village.

Long in decline, the low-income neighborhood — a once thriving wartime community known for decades as Sunflower Village — was hurriedly built in 1943 to be “temporary housing” for some of the thousands of workers who flooded into rural Johnson County after Pearl Harbor. They came to work at the Sunflower Ordnance Works, built after the attack to become the era’s largest smokeless powder and propellant plant in the world.

Riedhart has in effect lived for 12 years in a place that was never built to last.

Eighty-one years on, it shows.

Dozens of the rectangular buildings now sit empty. Windows are broken or boarded with plywood. Paint is peeling. Wood is rotting. Weeds break through cracked sidewalks and asphalt.

Yet, in a manner as sunny as her hair — spiked and dyed a luminescent magenta — Riedhart insists she’s happy there. She especially loves the $760 per month rent. Two-bedroom, two-baths go for about $1,050. “Cheaper than anywhere else,” Riedhart said.

She likes her neighbors and loves that her job at Casey’s convenience store, where she starts at 2 a.m. to prepare doughnuts, is barely a mile off.

“I think I lucked out,” Riedhart said. “I have a great apartment. I have great friends that live right close. There’s nothing around.”

Except now there very much is.

Panasonic’s new $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant
Panasonic’s new $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant is rising south of Clearview Village, which opened in 1943 as Sunflower Village to be “temporary” housing for workers at the Sunflower Ordnance Work.

Trash or treasure?

Directly across from Clearview, spread along more than a half-mile of West 103rd Street, Panasonic’s $4 billion electric vehicle battery plant is rising on the grounds of the old ordnance works. Scheduled to open in 2025 with some 4,000 workers, nothing since World War II has so impacted De Soto, a mostly rural town of 6,500. That includes fueling rumors on the fate of Clearview and its 500 or so residents.

On 70 acres, Clearview, even in its dilapidated state, is worth a small fortune.

Designed as Sunflower Village by Kansas City landscape architects Hare & Hare, the district in 2014 was placed on the National Register of Historic Places, not for its buildings, but for its layout as an example of the pastoral Garden City Movement. Johnson County this year appraised the property at $6.1 million.

But ever since the Panasonic plant construction began, rumors have swirled among Clearview’s residents, who have been bearing witness to the village’s gradual neglect. Their assumption has been that David Rhodes, whose Olathe company, Wheatland Investment Group, owns six senior living developments in Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas, will either put the land up for sale or redevelop it himself. But Rhodes, who has owned Clearview since 2001, claims the topic is rife with misunderstanding.

After working the 2 a.m. shift at a nearby Casey’s, Wanda Riedhart, 70, enjoyed a cup of coffee at her $760 per month Clearview Village apartment. David Rhodes, whose Olathe company owns Clearview, says he has no immediate plans to redevelop the land, home to 164 single-bedroom rental units.

“It’s easy to see where rumors start,” Rhodes said, particularly with those who don’t know the neighborhood’s history.

“It’s not just people who live there that get things wrong,” Rhodes said. “It’s people who are watching from the outside that get things wrong, too.”

Rhodes, who attended Kansas State University in the 1970s, said he understands why Sunflower Village — later Clearview — was built on the ordnance works’ western boundary.

“But times change,” Rhodes said. “Things become outdated, and when that happens, you have to deal with it.”

Community renaissance?

In February, the De Soto City Council approved a $250,000 grant from the Kansas Department of Commerce to study redeveloping the site into a mixed-use community. Ideally, said City Councilwoman Risa Fields, who represents Clearview, Clearview would continue to provide affordable housing while also attracting new businesses.

“I would love to see it turn into a place where people want to go,” Fields said.

The Johnson County Department of Housing and Community Development is working with the city to explore a broad array of possibilities for Clearview, said Mike Grube, the department’s director.

Fields has met with developers who she said are interested in building single-family homes on the property.

Grube, though, said he doesn’t see that happening. Not with the housing shortage Johnson County now faces. Not with Clearview’s potential to help fill the gap.

“There’s a great need for workforce housing in Johnson County,” Grube said.

Affordable housing crisis

From 2010 to 2020, the median sales price of a Johnson County home nearly doubled, to $350,000 from $175,000, according to the United States Census Bureau. Rents have risen at a comparable pace. The result: Rising numbers of Johnson County residents cannot afford to live there.

“I think it’s really important that we protect that stock, because we’re not creating more of it,” Grube said.

For Riedhart, the $1,050 monthly rent for a two-bedroom, two-bath unit, while affordable for her, would be out of reach for many others. Rhodes said the same.

“You can’t throw 150 people out on the street,” Rhodes said. “They have no place to go.”

While that may be so, Riedhart said, she and many others she knows are preparing for the day when Clearview no longer exists.

“If we can get something out of it,” she said, “I guess we’ll take it.”

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Lily Nguyen

Lily is a sophomore in university studying journalism. She writes for the student newspaper and enjoys crafting feature articles on local artists and cultural events. Her writing is lively and colorful, filled with vivid descriptions and engaging interviews. Lily dreams of becoming a cultural correspondent, bringing lesser-known stories to the forefront.