The much-debated real estate plan that would put a Wal-Mart, hotel, apartments and retailers at Mission’s eastern edge has once again been cleared by the city’s planning commission.
The commission reiterated its approval of the latest proposal Monday night with no new stipulations, meaning it will likely be on the city council agenda Jan. 20.
Council members discussed the plan in October, but were unable to come to a decision. After a study session, they sent the preliminary plan back to the planning commission for a second look at whether the discount superstore met the overall intent of zoning rules meant to encourage vertical structures and pedestrian-oriented spaces.
That question was the main topic of the planning commission meeting Monday. The plan for the 16-acre slice of land at Shawnee Mission Parkway and Johnson Drive calls for buildings wrapped around a central parking area. The proposed Wal-Mart would be about 155,000 square feet. The other buildings would house retail, restaurants, apartments and a hotel and would be multi-level. An office building is also proposed, but developer Tom Valenti was uncertain whether he could get a tenant and financing to build it.
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Planning commissioners differed on whether the preliminary plan met the city’s ideal of a walkable, densely planned space. Commissioner Robin Dukelow said only part of the site’s layout called for multi-story buildings with a mix of uses. One big section, dominated by the discount store, did not, she said.
However Commissioner Scott Babcock disagreed, saying that roughly 70 percent of the site would be vertically integrated in accordance with the zoning. “In a perfect world we would all love 100 percent,” Babcock said.
Babcock said the commission is also responsible for economic development in Mission. “Any time you put a Wal-Mart or a discount superstore in a spot you end up with development around it,” he said. “It’s going to bring development to areas of Mission that are currently blighted. Is it perfect? Is it going to look like the Plaza? No.”
Another commissioner, Carla Mills, said she would prefer a stronger promise that the office building would become reality.
But Valenti said he could not be certain without a tenant. If the office is not built, Valenti said he plans to move the hotel building to the east to compensate.
Mission officials and real estate developers have struggled for about a decade to find a use for the land that balances the need for economic development with some residents’ skepticism of big-box retailers.
The land, now vacant, was last occupied by the Mission Center Mall. Wal-Mart first proposed a new superstore on the property in 2004, but after that plan fell through, the city wrote new zoning restrictions for the area. The mall was later demolished.
The city has looked at a number of proposals and public financing options for the area. In 2013, the city council approved the Gateway plan in 2013 along with a package of public financing, but it never took off because Valenti said he couldn’t get the right tenants lined up.
The city council has not made any decision on public financing for the latest proposal. Valenti said he plans to ask for about $29 million from tax increment financing and community improvement districts, to be backed by the developer.
Wal-Mart has been central to the public discussion because many residents have been vocally opposed. In meetings past, some have questioned whether the national retailer would hurt the smaller businesses along Johnson Drive.
If the plan goes through, Wal-Mart would close its Roeland Park store, also causing economic ripples in that city. At the commission meetings, Valenti offered reassurance that the parking lot at the new Mission Wal-Mart would be secure and better maintained than the one in Roeland Park. He said uniformed security guards on foot and in vehicles would patrol the site around the clock and litter would be picked up three times a day for at least the first few months the store is operating.
“As an owner the last thing we want is for this development to be perceived as either unsafe or unsightly,” he said.
Although the commission and lawyer Pete Heaven spent some time parsing the language of the zoning ordinance, commissioners ultimately decided they were within their authority to allow the superstore in a mixed-use development.
The plan is scaled back from previous years, Valenti said. “Nonetheless it meets the vision, intent and letter of the (mixed-use) zoning,” he said.
“I’m not suggesting this is an ideal situation for you in light of the fact there seems to be some problem in this community with Wal-Mart. I’m not sure exactly why,” he said.
Seven commissioners voted to re-approve the preliminary plan. Dukelow voted against; Commissioner Frank Bruce abstained.
Roxie Hammill: firstname.lastname@example.org