The Kansas City Plan Commission on Tuesday unanimously rejected the Catholic diocese’s latest proposal for student housing near Rockhurst University, but that doesn’t mean the plan is dead.
Under city rules, the commission’s 6-0 vote of opposition is strictly advisory, and the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph can still seek City Council approval for a rezoning and preliminary development plan. Attorney Mike White said he needed to see how the diocese wanted to proceed, but he predicted the plan will move ahead, although with some facade modifications.
This is the third time since 2012 that the diocese has encountered heavy neighborhood opposition to a student housing project on the site of the former St. Francis Xavier School, on the west side of Troost Avenue near 53rd Street. Tuesday’s hearing drew nearly 100 people, with many opponents but also supporters, including Bishop Robert Finn, in the audience.
The latest plan calls for retaining and improving a parish hall building, demolishing the former school and constructing a U-shaped, 85-unit residential building with 176 new parking spaces. The new building is intended to serve students at both Rockhurst and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
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Many nearby residents doubt the concept’s financial feasibility and complain that the diocese’s communication and outreach to the neighborhoods has been poor.
Les Cline, president of the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition, said the neighborhoods want the existing building saved and repurposed for educational, health care and community uses.
But the Rev. Kenneth Riley, judicial vicar for the diocese, said the use must be compatible with Catholic mission. He said requests to use the building as a charter school, for example, aren’t compatible because that would compete with area Catholic schools.
White said the diocese’s experts are convinced the building can’t be saved. He added that his clients have met numerous times with area residents but aren’t required to agree with the neighborhood’s demands.
Attorney Patricia Jensen, also representing the diocese, told the commission the proposed building has changed in response to neighborhood concerns, with fewer units, a lower height and double the minimum parking required by code.
But commission members said the lack of neighborhood and community support remained a major obstacle. They were also worried about sufficient parking, whether the proposed building fits well in the space along Troost and UMKC’s continued objection to the plan.