After nearly three hours of testimony Tuesday, the Kansas City Plan Commission approved rezoning and development plans for a large apartment building at the corner of Westport Road and Broadway.
Three-fourths of the 22 people who testified spoke against the plan. Most said they thought the six-story, 256-unit apartment building was too big, too dense and was architecturally wrong for the character of “Old Westport,” especially at that prominent corner site.
Those who spoke in favor of the Opus Development proposal said they welcomed a “modern” approach to Westport redevelopment that would put more residents and store patrons in the neighborhood. The project would replace a Bank of America building and surface parking lot.
The project next goes to the City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee for further consideration.
Passionate testimony at one point generated a call of “liar” from the audience, directed at the development team. That frustration — simmering throughout the meeting — centered on parking and traffic problems that already affect Westport.
Many Westport-area residents have been concerned about large redevelopment projects that may change the character of the “Old Westport” district.
Some area residents and business owners said they didn’t believe the 303 parking spaces attached to the development, for resident and the public use, were sufficient. Several opponents also said traffic already was impeded at certain times of the day and that more residents would worsen conditions.
In the end, the five voting commissioners approved the requested rezoning on a 5-0 vote.
Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the redevelopment plan for the project that would place five floors of apartments atop ground-floor retail space plus an adjacent parking facility slated to be two underground levels beneath a surface level.
The approvals fell in line with recommendations from City Hall planning staff, but commissioners made it clear that they hoped Opus would heed opponents’ calls for a structure that seemed to fit better with the historic buildings around it.
The plan as approved would allow the building to rise to 75 feet, which city planners said was not contradicted by the Midtown Plaza Area Plan for that location.
Joseph Downs, representing Opus, reiterated what the developers have stated from the outset: The proposed height and unit density are what the project needs to provide an adequate return on investment, and they will not scale it down.
“That’s the plan we need to do,” said John McGurk, an attorney representing Opus.
Valentine neighborhood resident Mary Jo Draper, who helped launch a Help Save Westport campaign last fall, said, “The majority of us favor development and increased density in Westport, but we thought this project was the wrong scale.”
Dissent about the project in April had caused a continuance of the project’s consideration until the May commission meeting.
Some of the project critics, including Lisa Briscoe, executive director of Historic Kansas City, said they preferred to delay decisions on sizable Westport development projects until after a planned inventory of Westport historic structures was completed.
“Scale and character is important,” Briscoe said, noting that the heart of Westport has three sizable development projects proposed at the moment.
“Westport is under threat, and it’s not protected,” Briscoe said, referring to the fact that the area has never applied for or received historic preservation status.
Those who spoke in favor of the development said they wanted more residents in the area.
Backers said the apartments would improve safety by putting more people walking the streets and help hold down rental rates by providing more inventory.
The multiuse apartment project was publicly introduced in March. McGurk said the developers had held 58 meetings since January with area groups, city planners and others interested in the project.