Neighborhood critics fail to stop major Westport redevelopment project

A Kansas City Council committee heard Wednesday from a developer who said his Westport redevelopment plan won’t be altered, from people who opposed its size and location, and from people who said it would be good for the area.

After hearing passion from all sides, members of the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee on a 3-1 vote came down on the side of development at the corner of Westport Road and Broadway.

The majority vote sends the 6- or 7-story, 256-unit apartment project by Opus Development to the full council next week for final consideration on its rezoning request. Current zoning allows a 50-foot building height; this development needs to be 75-feet tall.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields was the “no” vote. She preferred to send the developer and neighborhood critics away with instructions to reach a compromise. Taking more time to talk, she noted, was a solution that served the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and its neighbors who had been at loggerheads about museum expansion plans.

But Councilmen Lee Barnes, Scott Taylor and Quinton Lucas preferred to advance the rezoning request, basically on the grounds that the project was a viable redevelopment proposal for a corner that has been mostly vacant for years.

Committee member Heather Hall was absent.

The committee’s decision frustrated project opponents who also had argued unsuccessfully in May before the City Plan Commission. That body had advanced the measure to the council committee.

Opponents testifying against the project, which will include underground and surface parking and a small amount of ground-floor retail, said the building was too big for the corner and that it would dramatically change the historic character of Westport.

Backers said the district needs more residents who by living and walking in Westport will support its businesses and add safety, simply by being there, to a corner that has suffered from crime and disuse.

A Bank of America branch now operates in an old brick building on the site. Most of the rest of the property, which Opus bought in December 2016, is a surface parking lot.

John McGurk, an attorney representing Opus, said the development “will take the property to its highest and best use.” He warned that the council would kill the project if, as Shields initially suggested, the rezoning ordinance was held off the docket to ask the developer and the neighborhood representatives to talk further.

The development team has repeatedly stated that the apartment block needs to be at the proposed size in order to earn a return on investment and it intends no further change in its proposal.

Asked twice during the hearing if Opus intended to seek public incentives to help finance the project. McGurk said that was not the developer’s intent at this time.

Jim Wanser, Mary Jo Draper and Vern Barnet were among several area residents who sought a more collaborative approach to this and other Westport development projects, particularly because other large proposals are on the drawing board.

Historic preservation advocates Joan Adam and Lisa Briscoe also asked for a more collaborative and measured approach.

Other area residents and Westport business owners said they welcomed higher density and more resident foot traffic.

Developer George Birt, who has worked on similar residential projects in the River Market area, said development like the one proposed by Opus in Westport was key to turning the former River Quay entertainment district into the multi-use neighborhood it is today.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford