The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph no longer intends to pursue a controversial plan for an 82-unit apartment building on St. Francis Xavier parish property near Rockhurst University.
Discussions continue over how to use the old St. Francis Xavier school building near 53rd Street and Troost Avenue.
Diocese spokesman Jack Smith and others confirmed this week that the diocese has dropped its proposal to demolish the school and replace it with a large residential building, intended primarily for Catholic students at nearby Rockhurst University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
John Veal, a member of the St. Francis Xavier Pastoral Council, said Bishop James Johnston met with the council on Feb. 28 and told the group that the apartment development plan and an alternate charter school proposal were both “off the table.”
“He said he wanted to preserve the existing building, that was one of his goals,” Veal said. “I think we were extremely encouraged that he cared enough to consult with us.”
Earlier this decade, when Bishop Robert Finn was in charge, the diocese proposed demolishing the former St. Francis Xavier School building, which is currently shuttered, and replacing it with a 103-unit residential building, primarily for Catholic students, on the west side of Troost Avenue near 53rd Street.
The diocese said the old school could not be affordably refurbished and the student housing project was the best and most financially viable use for that property. As the project evolved, the number of units was reduced from 103 to 82 in response to neighborhood concerns.
But many members of the parish, plus leaders of surrounding neighborhood associations, argued the development was being crammed into too small a space, was not a good design, and would exacerbate the area’s serious parking shortage. Many wanted the school building saved and repurposed. The City Plan Commission, an advisory group, rejected the plan three times since 2012 because of community opposition.
A Kansas City Council committee endorsed the development plan in July 2015, but the full council deferred a final vote, hoping for a workable compromise. A mediator failed to reach a settlement in fall 2015. Finn resigned in April 2015 and Johnston formally replaced him in November 2015. The apartment development plan remained in limbo.
Veal said that at his meeting with the Pastoral Council, Bishop Johnston talked about possibly incorporating some student housing, on a much smaller scale, into the existing building. Nothing is definite. The hope was for the parish to get most of the ground floor for a parish hall.
“What might happen now remains to be seen,” Veal said. “The idea was to get the word out and to start talking.”
He said the parish’s main concern is “to have a parish hall and not do something with the site that would overwhelm the church and the neighborhood.”
Smith confirmed that both the apartment building and charter school proposals are off the table, but said no decision has been made about a path forward.
“Right now is a time of exploration,” he said.