It has been 14 years since developers acquired the former Leawood Country Club property near 89th Street and east of Lee Boulevard. Three short culs-de-sac devoid of houses or other buildings are the only signs of development since then.
If Tuesday’s Leawood planning commission meeting is any indication, progress on the site may not happen soon.
The commission dedicated their first meeting of the year to discussing the new proposal for the 16-acre property put forth by the development team of Saul Ellis and Mark Simpson.
The new plan requested approval to rezone the property to convert it into 24 single-family houses and eliminate recreational amenities contained in the previous plan approved by the city council in 2004.
After hearing from the applicant and the many disgruntled residents who packed the council chambers to voice their concerns, the commission voted unanimously, 4-to-0, to recommend denial of the proposal to the Leawood city council .
John Petersen, a Polsinelli PC attorney, presented the new plan to the council and answered questions on behalf of the developers.
A lawsuit by neighbors against the city over rezoning of the land initially delayed construction. Then the recession hit. The development also lost partners over the years.
Now Petersen said the market has changed for the types of homes desired and the original plan, which included the clubhouse, pool, and tennis courts as a compromise to residents in addition to 23 homes, is unsellable.
“It was a good faith effort,” he said. “The problem is that some of the key elements were not sound. They were flawed. No one wants to live across from a public pool.”
Public access to recreational land is a good idea, Petersen said, but it presents liability issues that can’t be alleviated.
The new plan scrapped the recreational amenities entirely and focused solely on building 24 single-family homes on plots that average about 2,000 square feet larger than originally proposed.
Petersen said the larger plots make room for three-car garages and reconfigured floor plans averaging slightly under 12,000 square feet that meet today’s housing demands. A pedestrian easement along the already existing foot trail through the property was offered to meet resident’s requests for green space.
About 50 people attended the planning commission meeting, which was standing room only at times. Janel LaMonica and her husband, Flip, were two of the thirteen residents who spoke at thehearing about their unhappiness with the new plan’s removal of the dedicated recreation green space.
“Mr. Petersen mentioned at least three times that he’s a lawyer. I’m not. I’m a mom” Janel LaMonica said. “This plan must be improved. There are young families and children everywhere. Those kids are playing in the street right now. They have nowhere to go. They deserve the green space we were promised.”
Aside from wanting more green space, a letter signed by 124 residents and presented to the planning commission also outlined concerns that the proposed homes are too large and clustered and do not fit the character of the smaller houses already established in the area.
Mark Curfman said he believed the city was giving the developer what they wanted at the expense of the neighborhood.
“The higher the density of the houses, the less compatible it is with the surrounding neighborhood,” Curfman said.
Ultimately the commission agreed the new plan didn’t live up to promises made in 2004.
“I can appreciate that the market changes and a pool is not the right kind of application now, but I don’t think that means you replace a pool with a lot of houses,” Commissioner Kip Strauss said. “I don’t think that gives the developer the right to change the essence of the agreement.”