Popular ‘makerspace’ to leave Brookside following neighborhood complaints

Neighbors with houses backing up to the Hammerspace parking lot at 440 E. 63rd St. fought against expansion of the makerspace business, and the company has decided to leave the Brookside neighborhood.
Neighbors with houses backing up to the Hammerspace parking lot at 440 E. 63rd St. fought against expansion of the makerspace business, and the company has decided to leave the Brookside neighborhood.

Hammerspace Community Workshop and MakerSpace, a Brookside-area facility that’s served hobbyists, crafts makers and small-business operators for years, will relocate following sharp criticism by “not in my backyard” neighbors who took their complaints to City Hall.

A group of neighbors made it clear they didn’t want the “makerspace” — where members of the public can use tools and equipment — just beyond their backyards in the neighborhood a few blocks east of the 63rd and Brookside shopping area.

Walt and Rise Davis, two of five neighbors who testified recently before the Kansas City Plan Commission, said they’d “complained since day one” that the makerspace business at 440 E. 63rd St. didn’t fit the neighborhood.

Robert Dunsford, who lives nearby, called Hammerspace an “aberration in a neighborhood on the rise,” particularly given redevelopment along East 63rd.

Four Hammerspace users unsuccessfully countered the neighbors’ complaints about noise and smells from the site. The supporters said makerspaces are family- and neighborhood-friendly assets for hobbyists and small-business operators who don’t have their own basements or garages in which to craft things.

In the end, plan commissioners, particularly reacting to noise complaints about activities in the Hammerspace parking lot, denied a necessary zoning change that the 6-year-old community workshop sought in order to add another building on the site.

Hammerspace owner David Dalton now says he has put the property on the market and intends to move the community workshop elsewhere, most likely farther east in Kansas City.

“I think Hammerspace is a boon to the neighborhood,” Dalton said, “but we don’t want makerspaces to get reputations of being incompatible with neighbors. We want them to use our space and be happy with it as an asset.”

Makerspaces, or community workshops, are popping up around the country, catering to people who need space and tools to do carpentry, metalwork and other crafts. The Device Shop operates in Shawnee. The Metropolitan Community College’s Business and Technology Center in northeast Kansas City has a FabLab facility. The Johnson County Library in Overland Park includes a MakerSpace area.

Dalton, whose family has owned property at East 63rd and Oak streets for more than 50 years, said the zoning adjustment he sought — which was recommended by the city planning staff — would have solved neighbors’ complaints about noise and smells from work being done in the Hammerspace parking lot.

His proposed new building and new equipment, including a propane forge, would have brought those activities indoors, smoke-free and smell-free, he said.

But city plan commissioners weren’t willing to bet that the changes were appropriate for the site or that they would satisfy the Astor Place neighbors, who argued at a commission hearing that the workshop hurt their property values.

Hammerspace has operated at 440 E. 63rd St. since 2011, apparently out of compliance with the city’s zoning codes from the beginning. That partly was because the makerspace concept was still new to city regulators. Is a makerspace light industrial? Or artisan manufacturing? Or heavy business/commercial? Or a community business?

Dalton found he needed to apply for rezoning in connection with his plan to add a new building on the lot. He said the expansion was needed to help accommodate the 90 to 100 Hammerspace users “who use us for their hobbies or their business livelihood.”

The Hammerspace advocates told plan commissioners that makerspaces wouldn’t be as attractive to users if they’re in industrial parks. They said nearby families and dwellers in apartments or small houses benefit from proximity to pursue their hobbies or crafts.

Dalton was one of the earliest participants in an ongoing turnaround of properties along East 63rd Street between Main Street and Troost Avenue. He repurposed a vacant building formerly occupied by Southwestern Bell to what was introduced as an “independent maker space.”

Since then, other redevelopers and tenants, block by block, have begun repopulating the corridor that had seen better days. Two developers in particular, Butch Rigby and John Hoffman, have led the resurgence.

Rigby, who’s renovating and leasing several buildings along the stretch, said he knew that Hammerspace wasn’t embraced by its back-door neighbors, “but I assumed everyone would work it out.” Rigby said he could “see both sides of the argument,” but it still was sad that the Daltons were affected after so many years of property stewardship in the area.

Hoffman, whose UC-B Properties company has built a new apartment building and is building a high-end row of townhomes on East 63rd, said he thought Hammerspace was “a nice complementary space” and an “interesting concept” for the neighborhood.

But, Hoffman added, “it’s a neighborhood in transition, and its future is probably stronger for residential and retail” than for something with Hammerspace’s semi-industrial character.

Hoffman said Dalton let him know that the Hammerspace building was on the market, but Hoffman didn’t follow up.

“That building would have to come down, and we hate to tear things down,” Hoffman said. “That building itself doesn’t lend anything to the neighborhood. Things change, and that neighborhood really cares about itself.”

Dalton said he was frustrated that the zoning denial seemed to hinge on issues that he believed had been resolved or would be with the proposed addition.

“I’m sad to leave Brookside. We have lots of history here,” he said. “But this isn’t the end of Hammerspace. We’re making lemonade out of lemons.”

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford