Five years after fierce opposition killed construction of a law office tower on the north rim of the Country Club Plaza, area residents are battling another large development proposed for that neighborhood.
The five-building, block-long development would include a hotel, apartments and retail shops, plus public green space.
A parade of speakers Tuesday at a Kansas City Plan Commission hearing said the project was too big, the buildings were too tall, and traffic already was too heavy between the Plaza and the St. Luke’s Hospital complex.
“Send it back, please,” Mark Meyerdirk, a condomium owner at 4545 Wornall Road, asked the commissioners.
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He was one of about a dozen condo owners and advocates for the Plaza’s architectural heritage who criticized the 10-story mixed-use project planned for the block bounded by West 46th Street on the north, Wornall Road on the east, West 46th Terrace on the south and Broadway on the west.
The commission is considering a zoning change that would allow Plaza Hotels LLC to build the development, which would wrap around an existing, lower-rise Marriott Residence Inn that fronts 46th Terrace.
Commissioners delayed a vote on the project until April 5 to give city staff time to review new architectural renderings, which weren’t yet available. Designs introduced in November had pictured modern, angular glass walls for the towers.
“We’re very concerned about contextual design on the Plaza,” Greg Allen, president of the Historic Kansas City Foundation, told commissioners.
Developers said they could submit new design concepts for city staff review within a week.
“We have heard from the neighbors,” architect Matthew Hufft said after the hearing. “We’ll dress these towers in a way that relates to the Plaza’s more historic architecture but still make a statement about more modern architecture.”
Condominium owners who live at the Parkway Towers, 4545 Wornall, and the Broadway Lofts, 4646 Broadway, said the proposed towers would block their views of the Plaza, affect the values of their homes, and bring more noise.
Residents also said they believed the project violates the spirit of the Midtown/Plaza Area Plan, which was approved by the City Council in January after months of study and input to guide redevelopment in the area.
Jim Scott, with the planning and design firm of Scott Associates, hired by some of the residents to review the Plaza Hotels project, said approving the project would appear to “violate many hours and community trust put into the Midtown/Plaza plan.”
City staff said the Midtown/Plaza plan allows this particular project — because of the timing of its introduction — to be grandfathered in under earlier Plaza/Westport Neighborhood guidelines.
A few residents said they might accept a seven-story tower height, but not 10 stories, as now designed.
The 10-story towers already represent a downsizing from the proposal unveiled in November to the city’s Planning and Development Department.
“We have reduced the height and density down to the minimum we think can make the project viable,” said Chase Simmons, a Polsinelli attorney representing the developers.
Mark Pomeranke with NorthPoint Development, Robb Heineman, a co-owner of Sporting Kansas City and a private investor, and Hufft with Hufft Architects also attended the commission hearing as part of the development team.
Heineman, along with Greg Maday, another co-owner of Sporting Kansas City, are private investors in the hotel part of the project. NorthPoint is working on the apartment side of the project.
“We believe there’s still a need for luxury hotel rooms on the Plaza,” Heineman told the commissioners. “We pledge a world-class project, not just another hotel.”
Simmons said the development team doesn’t intend to ask for tax increment financing or tax abatements. He said the team is considering a special taxing district that would use hotel sales taxes to help defray development costs.
In November, the Plaza Hotels proposal called for two 13-story towers, one for a 252-room hotel and one for a 168-unit apartment building.
The new proposal, downsized after multiple meetings with resident groups, calls for five buildings rising no more than 10 stories, with openings between the towers and 35 percent of the 1.5-acre site devoted to green or public space.
“That open space might have to go away if we reduce the height,” Hufft warned.
Revisions reduced the plan to 215 hotel rooms and 144 apartment units. A mostly underground parking garage also was scaled down from the earlier 519 spaces to about 100 fewer.
The development team hoped to attract neighbors’ enthusiasm for the project by adding a “pedestrian deck” that would be open to the public and overlook the Plaza, as well as grassy areas, a waterfall and an outdoor venue space. But several residents said they feared more noise and didn’t think the pedestrian areas, as presented, seemed very accessible from the street.
“We’re not against change on this property,” said John Dvorak, a Parkway Towers resident, but this plan “would upend the character of the neighborhood.”
Several residents called on the city to step back from authorizing the Plaza Hotels plan until a more thorough traffic study was completed. But city traffic engineer Wei Sun said a large study could cost $400,000, and no funds are allocated for it.
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