A garish, neon-green band suddenly appeared on a downtown Lee’s Summit building. Last week it disappeared just as quick, painted over when a tussle about design standards ended.
“The green was to point out it was an acceptable thing to do under the guidelines,” said Shane Veritasi, owner of the popular bar The W. “It was brutal. It hurt my soul every time I drove by it.”
For months Veritasi wrangled with the city over his plan to use a slab of white Turkish marble in rebuilding the storefront of the building at 6 S.W. Third St.
Veritasi said the dispute delayed opening of another establishment he’s planning, Hand in Glove, on the first floor of the building. Its decor will prominently feature marble. The idea was to tie the storefront to the interior. The marble has a creamy look, not glossy white, with faint gray veining, he said.
“At the end of the day, we want to look authentic to the time period,” Veritasi said.
The Lee’s Summit City Council last week granted his appeal of a city staff decision to deny his request to use marble on the exterior. Next the city will revisit the downtown design standards, with the Community and Economic Development Committee planning to hold hearings in the future.
Bob McKay, director of special projects and planning for Lee’s Summit, said the city wants to look at what is working and what isn’t working in the downtown design standards, the first review it has had under the regulations.
“It’s what’s brought it to a head,” McKay said.
City staff and the city’s Historic Preservation Commission contended the marble wasn’t appropriate because it hadn’t been used in Lee’s Summit downtown. Veritasi argued the marble was appropriate for the building’s time period, because it was used in other locations in the United States, like Washington D.C.
The bulkhead below a window was painted green partly in protest, Veritasi said, but also was useful for showing interested people what he had in mind.
“There were people thinking I wanted to cover the whole building in marble,” he said.
Kathy Smith, chairwoman of the Historic Preservation Commission, would like to see an official historic district for the commercial area, which already is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
It could include stricter guidelines for how owners can alter or restore properties in downtown.
Smith, also director of the Historical Society of Lee’s Summit Museum, said she praises downtown owners who want to improve buildings but cautions that well-intentioned decisions can hurt eligibility of a structure or a district for the national register.
Smith said most of the downtown was rebuilt after two major fires, with many buildings erected from 1880 to the 1920s, particularly near intersections of Third Street with Douglas and Main streets. Dropped into the mix are alterations to structures and new buildings, such as the Grider Orthodontics building, which itself caused some consternation when it came to meeting the downtown standards.
When the city looked at creating a historic district years ago, there was push back from property owners who feared over regulation. “It was very contentious,” Smith said.
The city did achieve getting the downtown core listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and a few years ago added some design standards for the area in its Unified Development Code.
Smith said that when she moved to Lee’s Summit in 1989, 26 storefronts were vacant. Now, with effort of the city, the businesses and Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, the area is busy with coffee shops, bars, restaurants and boutiques. She said Veritasi is doing a great job with The W and bringing new customers to the downtown area.
However, Smith thinks regulations that would encourage restoration to original designs, or go back 50 years, keep a consistent character for downtown.
“There was never a building with marble in downtown Lee’s Summit,” Smith said. “It’s nothing against any business. It’s just that we have to protect what we have. You have to respect the buildings.”
Veritasi and Smith agree the current regulations have deficiencies.
Currently, there is nothing to stop an absentee owner from letting a building fall into disrepair and demolish it.
Where there’s painted brick, an owner could decide to splash an entire building with an eye-popping color.
Veritasi wants rewritten standards to include leeway for storefronts to evolve, which he says has been happening in downtown since the city’s founding.
He’d like to allow hanging neon signs outside businesses.
He said the city should consider allowing newer technology like “soda” blasting, a milder abrasive, to remove fading or chipping paint on exteriors of buildings. The city forbids sandblasting to prevent damaging the brick surfaces.
Smith and Veritasi agree that having clear standards for colors and materials would make the regulations better. And they agree there is a need for flexibility, even if they disagree on the extent of what should be permissible.
Councilman Rob Binney said there was push back years ago from property owners who feared too much control by the city if it created a historic district. He said the city will want to hear from property and business owners and residents.
“Trying to find a way to put all these interests together isn’t easy,” Binney said. “It’s a positive to me that you have people who want to protect their investment.”