Steve Paul

January 28, 2014

KC zoning board upholds preservation commission on Armour Boulevard apartments

The fate of a group of historic Armour Boulevard apartments remains uncertain after the Kansas City Board of Zoning Adjustment, following a 90-minute hearing and a dramatic pause, upheld a Historic Preservation Commission decision to forestall their demolition.

The fate of a group of historic Armour Boulevard apartments remains uncertain after the Kansas City Board of Zoning Adjustment upheld a Historic Preservation Commission decision to forestall their demolition.

The preservation commission in September denied an economic-hardship judgment sought by the building owners, and the zoning board on Tuesday denied the owners’ appeal on a five-to-one vote.

The board ruling followed a 90-minute hearing and a dramatic pause, as the six members went into executive session to seek legal counsel, board chair Theresa Otto announced. Otto cast the lone dissenting vote.

Peter Cassel, representing the owners and developers of the properties, at 100-118 W. Armour Blvd., appeared stunned by the decision and declined to comment. His attorney, Charles Renner, of Husch Blackwell, was similarly taken aback. Renner expressed surprise and said the developer would have to evaluate its options.

Those options apparently include a further appeal to state court, or a decision to allow the four properties to sit and deteriorate further until late 2017, when the preservation commission’s decisions would expire and the developer could go ahead with plans to demolish the buildings and building new ones.

Cassel’s group of companies, including investors Antheus Capital of New Jersey and MAC Properties, has redeveloped numerous other properties along and near the historic Armour Boulevard in midtown Kansas City. In the hearing before the preservation commission last fall, Cassel presented a case for economic hardship, arguing that his company could envision no scenario and could apply no reliable figures that would allow the developer to do anything but lose money on a rehabilitation project.

The four buildings — three matching duplexes and an 18-unit structure once called the Collins Flats — are more than 100 years old. They were designed by John McKecknie, a prolific and important Kansas City architect of the first half of the 20th century.

Amanda Crawley, executive director of the Historic Kansas City Foundation, joined at Tuesday’s hearing by former Jackson County Executive Katheryn Shields, who sits on the foundation board, argued in favor of upholding the commission’s decision.

The Board of Zoning Adjustment had never considered an appeal of a preservation commission decision. That circumstance arose when it was discovered that a rewrite of the city’s zoning ordinance in 2011 accidentally left out language that historic preservation (formerly Landmarks Commission) rulings can only be appealed to circuit court. An effort is under way in City Hall to restore that language to the zoning ordinance.

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