Even icons can use a little help now and then.
For Kansas City’s parks, boulevards and parkways, that translates to an ordinance proposal underway that would impose standards on commercial developments to prevent them from marring what are generally considered to be some of the city’s most-prized assets.
The city’s Parks and Recreation and Planning & Development departments are leading the effort to create the ordinance proposal and have sought citizens’ input via three public meetings. The first was on Jan. 27 at MainCor in Midtown.
About 40 attendees browsed displays showing examples of developments deemed desirable and otherwise, and talked with city officials and others about the effort. Another meeting was held Jan. 28 at Northland Neighborhoods and the third was expected to be held Tuesday at the Kansas City Police Department’s South Patrol Division Station.
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Westside resident Barbara Bailey was among those who attended the first meeting.
“We’re trying to preserve what we already have, and not just let some developer do what they want with it,” Bailey said.
Jim Bowers, a partner with White Goss Attorneys at Law, who represents development companies, said he didn’t think anyone would argue against the value of preserving the city’s parks and boulevards. And developments next to them are more valuable because of their historic value, he said.
“The question is whether implementation of these new guidelines would slow down the process and make it more expensive,” Bowers said. “Most developers I work with don’t purchase land until they know they have the right to develop it.
“My concern is that if the regulations turn out to be cumbersome, expensive and time consuming, the developers I represent might choose to develop elsewhere.”
So far, protection from commercial developments for parks, boulevards and parkways has come through the normal city planning process, Parks and Recreation Director Mark McHenry said. That involves the City Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Adjustment and City Council.
“We’re hoping to take guidelines and standards and make them part of the development code,” he said. “In primarily residential areas, there’s been little problem. In more commercial areas, there’ve been more problems.”
The goal, McHenry said, is to apply the standards to all new development projects adjacent to or within 150 feet of parks, boulevards and parkways, and to integrate the standards into the city’s Major Street Plan, which the Parks and Recreation, Public Works and City Planning & Development departments oversee.
Development companies’ profit motives, and efforts to preserve historic civic assets and aesthetics in general, can sometimes be at odds, McHenry said, “but some (developers) just do that on their own because it’s the right thing to do.”
Mike Burke, director and CEO of Kansas City-based law firm Burke Payne LLC, said he hadn’t seen the most recent proposal, but that one several years ago “caused a great deal of concern because it transferred zoning authority along boulevards to the parks board.”
“The state statute designates a city planning commission as the zoning authority,” Burke said. “Having another agency function as a zoning authority sets up a mirror or shadow city planning commission. It’s duplication, and it can affect timing, which is often make or break on a development project.”
City ordinances legally can impose greater restrictions than those required by state statutes but must not contravene them, Bowers said.
The parks department has “ample opportunity to comment” on development proposals, Burke said.
“I think the city staff in general has done a good job with that,” he said. “Trying to do one-size-fits-all in a very complex boulevard system is difficult. And I’m a fan of the boulevard system; I think it needs to be preserved.”
The effort in Kansas City is relatively uncommon across the nation, said Richard Dolesh, vice president for conservation and parks for the National Recreation and Parks Association, based in Ashburn, Va.
“Not a lot of cities are doing this to protect parks and boulevards through widespread ordinances,” Dolesh said. “Parks of an iconic character create the identity of a city. A city has a vested interest to preserve them. It’s a historic patrimony that the city receives.”
One catalyst for the current effort started about eight years ago when a group of residents brought to the Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners a proposal to replace some traffic signals along Ward Parkway, said Denise Phillips, Parks and Recreation’s contracts administrator. In 2007, the department posted some standards for parkways and boulevards on its website.
“We’ve been briefing the parks department every other week for the past three months,” Phillips said. “We want to give the experience (on parkways and boulevards) of driving through a park. We looked at all that for new developments of roads that are on parkways or boulevards. Most of that’s going on in the Northland.”
City officials have met with neighborhood association presidents and development attorneys during past three months to discuss the effort, Phillips said.
The next step, Phillips said, is for Parks and Recreation and Planning & Development to report the public’s input to the parks board on Feb. 10.
“We’re hoping by the start of March we’ll have something in an ordinance form and take that to the City Planning Commission and then to the full council,” she said, adding that if the council approves the proposed ordinance, “the regular city development process unfolds, and proposed developments must concur with existing requirements.”
Parks and Recreation hired Kansas City-based planning and design firm Vireo in September for $65,000 to help develop land-use and design standards, said Patti Banks, the firm’s majority owner and principal.
The working proposal includes prohibition of nearly 20 categories of developments near parks, boulevards and parkways, including day-labor employment agencies, short-term loan companies, pawn shops, junkyards, manufacturing operations, recycling services, adult businesses, detention and correctional facilities, and outdoor advertising.
The proposal’s design standards include about a dozen requirements involving pedestrian access, parking and traffic, landscaping and fencing, and architectural design.
In November, the city applied with the National Register of Historic Places for recognition of the boulevard and parkway system that was in place in 1893, Phillips said — roughly from the Missouri River to the Plaza. Landscape architect George Kessler designed the system with the idea that parkways and boulevards should look and feel like parks — commonly called linear parks — as well as connect existing city parks with one another.
Dona Boley, author of “Kansas City’s Parks and Boulevards” and president of the Kessler Society, said it was important “to maintain the integrity of what’s been done but extend it into new areas of the community.”
“In general, developers want trafficways that can go 45 miles an hour with residential (properties) backing them,” which cuts their costs and increases their profits, she said.
“What vision do we want for our city?” Boley said. “This gives citizens input into answering that question.”