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Zoning Dispute Reveals Deeper Tensions in Sedgwick County

José Salcido and Claudia Amaro | Planeta Venus

January 25, 2024


Sedgwick County Commissioners during De Leon's hearing - Picture by José Salcido

The De Leon Family's Quest for a Simple Zoning Change Opens Up a Community Rift


As the Sedgwick County Board of County Commissioners convened on the brisk morning of December 20th, a pressing issue waited on the agenda. Erendira De Leon, a Latina of short stature with a resolute expression, navigated the pre-meeting bustle, accompanied by her family and supporters. They were preparing to face off against a neighborhood dispute that had escalated to an official commission hearing.

 

The matter at hand was Zone Change Request ZON2023-00020, concerning the De Leon property on North Ridge Road. The family sought to alter zoning to accommodate seven trucks overnight for their business, a change that had unexpectedly spiraled into a neighborhood quarrel. Allegations of bias surfaced, with De Leon indicating a neighbor's objection caught on a "Karen-type" video and the pejorative reference to them as "those people."

 

Contrasting with the De Leon’s claims were the grievances of a group of older Caucasian neighbors. Their complaints ranged from excessive dust and noise to disruptions from ATV riding. However, not all neighbors were against the De Leon; one, who ran a similar truck business, supported them, recounting discriminatory remarks made by other neighbors.


Familia De León
The De León family after the hearing on December 20th, 2023 - Picture by José Salcido

Erendira and Victor De Leon moved to their new home on Ridge Rd. in 2017 with their two younger children, now 18 and 12. They wanted a bigger property for their kids to have more space.

 

De Leon had opened several restaurants in Wichita in the past, but they were tired and decided to quit the food industry a few years ago. They have now been investing in properties that they remodel.

 

When they moved to their new property in Ridge Rd., they saw an opportunity. Victor De Leon started De Leon Concrete LLC, a company that started by offering concrete work and now has evolved into a construction material hauling company.

 

“Those were not our plans. When we moved, it just happened. I was working in restaurants, but then I changed my mind, I was tired. We decided to open this small company. We started little by little. We did not see this happening, but we realized that here we have four sand plants around us, and we started investing in medium size trucks.” Said Erendira De Leon.

 

De Leon says that, ever since they moved, neighbors complained and called on them for minor things, but she did not want trouble, so she ignored them, if a city or county official approached them with a situation De Leon says they would fix it as soon as possible.


“Sometimes we do not understand how every system work in different cities and counties but if they tell me I will fix it and do it right, we do not like problems, we never had them before.” Said De Leon, but according to her, things started getting worse and angry neighbors started coming to her house to threaten them and ask them to leave. She says she heard rumors from other neighbors that a group of people were gathering signatures and saying that they did not want “those Hispanics” in the neighborhood.


This situation made De Leon extremely uncomfortable, and she feared for her children, who had been approached aggressively by some neighbors.

  

The issue's elevation to the Commission's attention was peculiar, particularly given the Planning Director Scott Wadle's recommendation against the De Leon family, despite the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission's denial and the surrounding land use's apparent compatibility with the family's request.

 

Yet, the meeting offered moments of redemption. Commissioner Jim Howell's nuanced understanding of zoning versus quality-of-life issues brought clarity to the proceedings. Eighteen-year-old Angel De Leon's articulate defense of the family business highlighted the session's dramatic potential.

 

While the De Leon family succeeded, the victory was tempered with conditions that hint at underlying tensions within the community's governance. This zoning case stands as a cautionary tale for county residents about the fragility of property rights and entrepreneurial freedom when faced with neighborly discontent.

 

The De Leon family's struggle represents both a personal triumph and a collective warning: the ease with which community bias and administrative hurdles can undermine the American dream of enterprise.


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