The Prairie Village City Council’s rejection of a senior living community on the site of the former Mission Valley Middle School isn’t stopping the developer behind the proposal.
By JONATHAN BENDER
Special to The Star
Joe Tutera, the CEO of the Tutera Group, said he will still try to build on the site at 8500 Mission Road that MVS LLC, an entity controlled by the Tutera Group, purchased in 2011 for $4.3 million.
“This is just the beginning of the process,” Tutera said. “We are resolute in seeing this project to completion.”
The Mission Chateau project won the backing of most of the City Council in a vote just before 1 a.m. Wednesday that capped nearly six hours of discussion. But the 7-6 vote in favor of the special use permit application for the senior living community, which the Planning Commission had recommended, wasn’t enough.
Passage required a super majority of 10 votes because of a protest petition that owners of property adjacent to the site filed in August.
When the final tally was announced, the crowd of several hundred at Village Presbyterian Church burst into applause and cheers.
“We are very pleased that the City Council rejected the plan,” said Whitney Kerr Jr., the president of the Mission Valley Neighbors Association, which led the opposition against the development.
The Tutera Group wanted to build Mission Chateau on 18.4 acres, but opponents contended that the 358,040-square-foot project would be too dense for the area. The plans called for 327 units total: a skilled nursing facility, a memory care center, independent and assisted-living facilities, and duplexes known as “villas” to be constructed in three phases.
“The size, magnitude, intensity, height, and impact overwhelm the neighborhood,” said Councilman David Morrison, who represents Ward 5, where the project was slated to be constructed. “Prairie Village is a very special place. It’s like the Wizard of Oz and Munchkinland. It would be like Lebron James and Larry Bird moving into Munchkinland. It just doesn’t fit.”
On Aug. 6, the Planning Commission voted 5-1 to recommend approval. The vote came after three contentious public hearings and a commission work session that led to a small reduction in the project’s size.
The air was no less charged at Village Presbyterian Church Tuesday night and comments become more pointed as the room became warmer. Attorney John Duggan, the representative for the Mission Valley Neighbors Association, and attorney John Petersen, spokesman for Mission Chateau, sparred several times over what could be admitted to the record.
The public comments were divided with many residents wearing stickers on their chests to signify their position. The opposition was adorned in red and white — “Massive development will cost taxpayers dearly” — and contended that the project’s scale would harm property values and create parking and noise nuisances.
“It seems like he’s trying to fit a Cadillac in a compact-only space,” said Leawood resident Michael Grossman.
“I have no doubt this will destroy this neighborhood,” added resident Jorie Nelson.
Those in favor of the project, clad in yellow and blue stickers proclaiming, “I support seniors staying in Prairie Village,” spoke about the city’s changing demographic and the Tutera Group’s ability to meet the need for additional senior housing facilities.
“These are people who know how to treat the elderly,” said Frank Adler, a resident of The Atriums. Adler was one of several residents currently living in Tutera facilities who spoke.
“I honestly believe the ‘No’s’ asking you to vote no will actually be living there in years to come,” said Jim Blackwell, who has been a Prairie Village resident since 1955.
The council began discussing the proposal at 12:36 a.m. and five minutes later, Councilman Dale Warman made a motion to vote on the proposed ordinance.
“The loss of the school is regrettable, but we need to move forward,” Councilman Steve Noll said of his decision to vote for the project. Council members Warman, Ruth Hopkins, Charles Clark, Andrew Wang, David Belz and Mayor Ronald Shaffer all voted to approve the special permit application.
“The project is out of context with the surrounding neighborhood,” said Councilman Michael Kelly, who voted against Mission Chateau. His concerns over the scale of the development were echoed by council members Ted Odell, Ashley Weaver, Brooke Morehead, Laura Wassmer, and Morrison, who all voted in opposition.
The Tutera Group can resubmit a proposal to the Planning Commission or appeal the council’s decision in court. Tutera said his team intends to make a decision in the next several weeks about how to proceed. And the debate will likely continue over the proposed redevelopment of the shuttered Mission Valley Middle School.
“I have never witnessed such a divisive project in this community,” said Mary-Michael Sterchi, who has lived in Prairie Village for 25 years. “The beauty of Prairie Village is that we’re supportive of each other.”