As a longtime advocate of historic preservation, and now as president of Historic Kansas City, I am deeply concerned about what is happening with development around the Country Club Plaza.
Many people will recall the Midtown Plaza Area Plan was adopted unanimously by the City Council last January after months of discussion. Several of our members contributed many hours to this effort as well as real expertise in terms of planning issues.
While not agreeing with every aspect of the plan, we were thrilled with its passage, believing we could now move on to other preservation issues. Soon, however, we were asked to attend additional meetings with developers, regarding potential Plaza area projects.
The “ask” was almost always the same: Are you OK with us deviating from the Midtown Plaza plan? Invitees to these meetings were Historic Kansas City members or others involved with the plan.
More recently, residents of condominiums near the Plaza were invited to meetings and asked whether they’d agree to add three stories to the Plaza Medical Building. Although not necessarily familiar with the Midtown Plaza plan, all admirably attempted to understand the nuances and ramifications of the proposal.
Many wanted to be reasonable but were hesitant to agree to changes that would denigrate the quality of living on the Plaza. Two points need to be made:
▪ First, the City Council adopted a plan that allowed reasonable development but added some limits to retain the aspects of the Plaza that area residents so love. When the plan was adopted, we understood it became the city's plan, one that city staff and council members would support.
What then is the appropriate role for neighbors and groups like Historic Kansas City? Is it our obligation to meet with developers to discuss their interest in remunerative projects for their clients?
When it’s the city’s plan, are we the ones who should be asked to approve — or disprove — these deviations? Will our efforts be in vain if the city doesn’t maintain its commitment to the plan?
▪ Second, what is the purpose of the plan? Is it just a starting point for developers to argue for deviations? What kind of Plaza will this process lead to?
If developers are allowed regular and substantial deviations from the plan, is it worth having a plan at all? Are we having the “game” of freewheeling development, while preserving the “name” of good planning?
After working diligently as residents who care about the shape and content of our city’s built environment to help install the plan as city policy, we felt it would provide at least a measure of balance between developers with endless time and money to pursue their clients’ proposals and residents, who lack the same resources but who care fervently about the city’s direction.
It seems that hope may be in vain. We will continue to attend hearings before city committees, continuing our advocacy for retention of most aspects of the plan. But we feel real frustration with the process thus far.
There is still time for the city to respect the plan, the time dedicated to its creation and the benefits it can provide to all the residents of our city.
Joan Adam lives in Brookside in Kansas City. She is an attorney and former member of the Kansas Legislature and has worked on various preservation efforts.