The Historic Preservation Commission on Friday unanimously approved a developer’s proposal to make repairs to four apartment buildings, at 100-118 W. Armour Blvd, addressing numerous violations of the city’s property maintenance ordinance. The commission voted to remove language about “mothballing” the building, because that set up a confusing conflict between the city’s ordinance and specific requirements laid out by the U.S. Department of Interior regarding the temporary sealing of historic properties.
After the vote, developer Peter Cassel, of the Silliman Group in Chicago, expressed frustration over the city’s landmarks process.
“We could be building today in the urban core of the city,” Cassel said, “but instead we’re talking about storing columns and fixing code violations.”
The Historic Preservation Commission last fall denied the developer’s plan to demolish the four buildings and replace them with a new apartment complex designed by Hufft Projects of Kansas City. Cassel said he could not predict what the economy will be like in two and a half years, when the commission’s denial expires and his company can move ahead with demolition of the buildings, which it acquired in 2008. Cassel has argued that restoration of the buildings was economically unfeasible.
“We were wrong,” he said, “in our estimate of the value of the buildings when we bought them.”
The case certainly highlights the contortions that cities go through to make a great place and could well become a case study in the conflict of good intentions, historic preservation and urban development.
Winter was tough on the four decaying apartment buildings at 100-118 W. Armour Blvd.
These are the buildings suffering from a long-running historic preservation dispute (find a backgrounderhere). Last fall the city’s Historic Preservation Commission denied a developer’s request to demolish the buildings and reconstruct new apartments on the site. That decision was affirmed
by the Board of Zoning Adjustment in late January.
Now the developer, Silliman Group of Chicago, whose ownership group has brought back to life more than a thousand apartments in the Armour Boulevard Historic District, has made a mothballing proposal to the preservation commission. The case is on the commission’s meeting agenda for Friday morning in City Hall.
Porches are sagging precipitously, gutters have failed and numerous other problems and probable code violations need attention at the three duplexes and one 18-unit building. The developer has offered a plan to address certain issues. For example, it would store the removed porches and other materials.
In the past, the developer Silliman’s Peter Cassel has argued that restoration of the buildings, which were designed by a prominent architect, John McKecknie, in 1902-03, was economically unfeasible. Its outlook for the four properties has not changed, Silliman’s attorney, Charles Renner, told me this week.
On the surface, the mothballing proposal is a prelude to eventual demolition, which would likely happen after the commission’s denial decision expires in three years. Some are holding out hope that alternatives exist.
“If this project is allowed to be demolished, the City of Kansas City Missouri will have set a precedent on how anyone can purchase a historically protected building, wait three years and demolish the building,” said Tim Bowman, a developer who has unsuccessfully offered to buy the buildings from Silliman and restore them.
Historic preservationists and neighborhood leaders are prepared to argue Friday that the Silliman Group’s mothball proposal does not go far enough to button up the eyesores and does not comply with U.S. Department of Interior requirements for the temporary fixing and shuttering of historic properties.
“We support the neighborhood in their efforts to protect their historic district and save these landmark structures,” according to an official statement from the Historic Kansas City Foundation. “These buildings are outstanding examples of the historic assets of this city, and we support the neighborhood in its call for the developer to do better than minimum and to adhere to the Department of the Interior’s standards for mothballing. There is every reason, still, to save these structures and every reason to believe that means of doing so are reasonably at hand. Proper mothballing, we believe, will lead to better outcomes.”
So it’s possible fireworks could erupt, uncertainty will reign and this preservation story will continue to play out for some time to come.