Over the objections of some historic preservationists, a Kansas City Council committee endorsed a plan Wednesday that allows a medical school to demolish five buildings as part of a campus expansion project.
But the measure doesn’t go to the full council for a vote until Feb. 23, so council members urged university representatives to keep trying for a positive dialogue with nearby neighborhoods and critics.
The Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee supported the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences’ request for a rezoning and preliminary development plan that includes a $30 million medical and surgical simulation center on the campus’ west side, just east of the Paseo and north of Independence Avenue.
Since that building would be on the site of some current parking, the university wants to create a new parking lot on a site now occupied by the Colonial Court apartment buildings, which the university purchased last year just off Independence Avenue on Maple Avenue.
Historic preservationists argued Wednesday that because the Colonial Court buildings are in a historic district, additional regulatory review is required before they can be demolished.
“The Landmarks Commission should not be bypassed,” said Stacey Winfield with the Historic Kansas City Foundation. She said a master development plan should not be used to shortcut Kansas City’s historic preservation review process.
But Jim Bowers, an attorney representing the Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences, said the council has the power to waive those extra regulatory steps, which would add two or three months of delay to the development process — and would wind up right back before the City Council for a final decision anyway.
He said that the Colonial Court buildings are vacant and in terrible shape, and that the delay would jeopardize the development.
“We’re in a time crunch,” he told the committee, saying the university wants to start the simulation center construction this spring but needs the parking resolved before then.
The university has reached an agreement on the demolition with the affected neighborhood, Pendleton Heights. Several Pendleton Heights residents testified that the university has been a great neighbor and community asset.
But Lisa Donnici, with the Scarritt Renaissance neighborhood farther to the east, said all six Northeast area neighborhoods are affected and should have been consulted. She argued that skirting the historic preservation reviews “sets a very dangerous precedent.”
Councilwoman Teresa Loar told the audience that historic preservation is very important in Old Northeast, but so is KCU as an anchor for the community, and in this instance, she’s siding with the medical school.