It’s abundantly clear that plenty of people want to live in the newer neighborhoods springing up in Kansas City north of the river.
Now the Parks and Recreation Department wants to put in place development standards for the miles of boulevards and parkways that will be built in the city in the future, especially to serve Northland residents as well as businesses. Kansas City is rightly famed for its beautiful parks and boulevards system south of the river, so it makes excellent sense to continue that planning in newer parts of the community.
Parks officials have spent years working to ensure that top-quality streets will be built, ones that won’t be cluttered with the normal trappings of cookie-cutter suburbia, such as gas stations on too many corners and fast-food joints with drive-throughs facing the road.
The standards were put together in meetings that stretched out for several years. Many neighborhood leaders have endorsed the plans, which were partly requested by developers who wanted to know exactly what guidelines they had to meet to build along parkways and boulevards. Along the way, some developers objected to a few rules, prompting negotiated concessions.
The parks board in June endorsed the proposed standards, and the City Plan Commission approved them last Tuesday.
And then — wham — the standards ran into a last-minute roadblock on Wednesday when a group of developers and attorneys asked a City Council committee to approve their weaker version.
Fortunately, the panel didn’t do that after hearing several hours of testimony before holding the issue until July 22. Council members asked City Planning Director Jeff Williams to see what kind of agreement could be worked out with the developers.
Compromise is not a dirty word, so it’s possible the proposed standards could be tweaked to take care of some of the developers’ concerns without unduly endangering the construction of first-class boulevards and parkways.
However, compromise works both ways.
In any negotiations, Williams and parks officials ought to review any earlier changes made at the request of developers, to see if some parts of the standards could be strengthened even more. The city should not be in a no-win situation of having to change its plans without good justification.
Last week, some members of the development community voiced the typical threat that residents and businesses would go elsewhere if the standards were put in place as written. In their version, the developers said, they wanted to be able to erect gas stations on corners or parking lots in front of buildings and not be required to put so much ground-floor clear glass on their buildings.
That’s the unsightly kind of development that already exists in far too much of this metropolitan area. Indeed, as parks officials note, dozens of miles of regular roads will be constructed in the Northland, too, and developers could build almost whatever their heart desired along those roads, which offer looser guidelines.
Parkways and boulevards are special. They deserve higher standards. The Parks and Recreation Department has put forward — yes — tough rules designed to provide streets of lasting beauty.
The City Council should not help weaken these rules to appease developers who’d rather not go the extra mile to contribute to a higher quality of life north of the river.