The Mission Gateway project on the site of the old Mission Mall has been gestating for nearly 10 years. What are a few more weeks in hopes of getting it right?
That was the prevailing logic when the Mission City Council met Wednesday night to consider the fourth and latest preliminary plan for a mixed-use development at the crossroads of Shawnee Mission Parkway and Johnson Drive. Its largest feature would be a Wal-Mart.
The city Planning Commission on Sept. 28 gave its unanimous approval to New York-based developer Tom Valenti’s latest design for the 16-acre site. In addition to Wal-Mart, the preliminary plan calls for a hotel, apartments, retail shops and perhaps an office building, arranged in what architect Josh Shelton called a “Texas wrap,” with parking concealed by buildings located on the outer edges of the site.
But after seven people got up at the public hearing to question various aspects of the project and two council members spoke against it, the council voted 5-2 to refer the matter to a work session to iron out some more details, rather than give it an up-or-down vote.
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“I know this has been a long process, and hopefully we are coming to a good conclusion,” Valenti said as the discussion began. “We believe we have met the criteria for the MXD zoning … with a dense project.”
Shelton said the project “observes the best practices of suburban and urban development models, coexisting with a bigger-box model like a Wal-Mart.”
Valenti said his group has a contract with Wal-Mart to locate within the Gateway Project. If and when that happens, the current, nearby Wal-Mart store at 5150 Roe Blvd. is expected to close.
Attorney Korb Maxwell spoke about the developer’s interpretation of two of the 28 stipulations that were placed upon the project by the Planning Commission, many of which were carried over from previous preliminary plans approved in 2007, 2008 and 2012. Maxwell said the utilities atop the Wal-Mart building could be screened from the street, but not from every angle — for example, from apartments at higher elevations. And he said that while the developers could create “ a sense of entrance” into the project from Johnson Drive, security concerns demanded Wal-Mart have a single, interior-facing entry.
The city’s attorney, Pete Heaven of Lathrop and Gage, called those interpretations reasonable.
Heaven reminded the council members that they were to consider only the preliminary plan at that point, and none of the ancillary issues such as the tax increment financing or community improvement districts the developer has requested.
That didn’t stop members of the public from bringing them up when they got their turn, however.
Liz Craig said she was concerned about the impact Wal-Mart would have on nearby, smaller merchants.
“I’m afraid it will hurt the hardware store, for one,” she said. “It will change the character of Mission. I don’t want to see that happen, and I don’t want our taxes to pay for this.”
When it was their turn to speak, two council members also opposed the plan.
Councilman David Shepard said he had supported the Gateway plans in the past, but could not support the current plan because “it is not in furtherance of the city’s stated vision of MXD zoning.”
He quoted from the ordinance that MXD “is intended to encourage … building configurations that create a distinctive and memorable sense of place … multi-story structures with differing uses organized vertically rather than” horizontally.
He questioned whether the current plan meets the limitation on a “discount superstore” footprint and whether the Planning Commission was correct in offering an exception to that requirement “where the overall intent of that zoning category has been clearly met.”
“It is my strong opinion that the overall intent of the MXD Planned Mixed Use District has not been met by the submitted preliminary plan, and I will not support the Planning Commission’s recommendation,” Shepard said.
Councilwoman Debbie Kring was even more blunt.
“There is a measure lost in this process,” she said. “It’s what’s in the best interest of this community. The trust and credibility are not there anymore. I can’t support it.”
Both Shepard’s and Kring’s statements received applause from the audience.
Mayor Steve Schowengerdt then proposed a work session to “have more dialogue” about the plan and perhaps even the underlying ordinance.
Shepard opposed that move, saying it was unfair both to the developer and the community.
“We need to rise up and be leaders,” Shepard said. “Vote it up or down.”
But only he and councilwoman Arcie Rothrock voted against the work session. It is to be scheduled before the council meets again Nov. 18.
Valenti said after the meeting he was not disappointed in the outcome and thought he could answer any questions the council has at such a work session.