It won’t happen quickly, but Kansas City is poised to start building a town within the town.
For two years, the Kansas City Water Services Department has been laying the groundwork for a community in the Northland that ultimately could have 70,000 residents — more than twice the size and population of Gladstone. Now that project — $40 million in new sewers — is on the verge of completion, on time and on budget.
“It’s very close,” said Andy Shively, water services engineering officer. “We’re getting done ahead of development.”
Yet that sewer success and the promise of growth also tee up another expensive challenge for the city. All these new residents will want roads, but a big debate is brewing over just how deluxe that road network needs to be.
This is not your average development. On the drawing board for 50 years, it is a massive, 15,000-acre doughnut hole of land straddling Platte and Clay counties, between Interstate 29 and U.S. 169, from Barry Road to the northern city limits.
Advocates say it’s Kansas City’s next best chance to compete with Johnson County and other suburbs in an area with good school districts, quality retail and a 20-minute drive to downtown.
The bucolic terrain of rolling hills and woods is envisioned as a residential area of 60,000 to 75,000 people over the next 30 years. Until now, it lacked the crucial sewers to get started in the First and Second Creek watersheds.
With the completion of about 10.5 miles of sewers and two huge new pump stations, home construction is expected to start in the spring in what planners now call the Twin Creeks area.
“It will be the next strong growth area for many years,” said Brenner Holland, residential development general manager for Hunt Midwest, which joins MD Management as the two big companies concentrating on Twin Creeks.
Together, the two companies have near-term plans to build more than 100 homes, with hundreds more in future phases, although market conditions will govern the process.
Attorney Jim Bowers, representing both companies, notes that Twin Creeks is the next horizon for new building because an earlier growth target — the 3,000-acre Shoal Creek Valley between Interstates 435 and 35 along Missouri 152 — is being built out.
Sewers also were key to Shoal Creek’s boom. In 1990, that then-sleepy area had 354 homes and about 880 people. After it got sewers in the mid-1990s, residential and commercial activity took off, with more than 6,600 homes and a population of more than 22,000 by 2010. The same is anticipated for Twin Creeks, with housing developments worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
But even as Northland supporters hail the sewer project and development plans for Twin Creeks, they are starting to argue over an even more expensive need — roads. The current network is sufficient for initial housing phases, but not to accommodate the potential population.
A preliminary estimate of $300 million for the area’s roads makes the $40 million investment in sewers pale by comparison. Some Northland advocates say this is a blank canvas and a chance to get something nearly as attractive north of the Missouri River as Ward Parkway. But developers warn that insisting on spectacular parkways could drive up the cost so much that it stifles growth before it takes off.
“The fear is that the development standards for these parcels would be so onerous and burdensome that the adjacent land could not be developed in a reasonable fashion,” Bowers said.
Still, city leaders say that the Northland has to grow to benefit the entire city and that Twin Creeks, if done right, is the way to make that happen.
“We’re building a city within a city,” said longtime city councilman Ed Ford. “The future of Kansas City is the Northland.”
The first building using the new Twin Creeks sewers is slated to open sometime in February, Holland said.
Precisely because of the sewers, Holland said, Hunt Midwest got a jump-start in early 2014 on Benton House of Tiffany Springs, an $8.5 million senior living facility near Missouri 152 and North Ambassador Drive.
Other developments on tap include:
▪ Hunt Midwest’s 300-acre Park Place North property, between Northwest 100th and Northwest 108th streets and east of Platte Purchase Drive. The company hopes in 2015 to start building the first 62 of what will ultimately be 514 single-family homes spread across 202 acres and selling at around $300,000. It also would include 144 townhomes, 308 row houses and some commercial property, Holland said.
▪ MD Management’s Bittersweet subdivision is planned for 372 lots, bounded by Line Creek Parkway on the west and Tiffany Springs Parkway on the north. Bowers said the first phase would include 40 to 50 homesites, with scheduling based on market demand.
▪ MD Management is also continuing to develop and expand the Fountain Hills residential subdivision, north of Missouri 152 and Platte Purchase Drive. Bowers said 350 lots have already been developed and all but 66 sold, but 293 lots are in future phases.
While existing east-west roads are sufficient to support near-term projects, city planners agree more lanes will probably be needed within five years to promote true development and take full advantage of the $40 million sewer investment.
A group of Northland economic development advocates and Kansas City officials has met regularly for more than a year, as the Twin Creeks KC Task Force, to anticipate and plan for the area’s needs. They agree the road costs are daunting.
“The city street map calls for most of the arterial roads to be parkways,” Ford said, noting that the total cost is estimated to be more than $300 million. “That’s a lot of money, and there’s no identifiable source to pay for it.”
These would be city roads, so it’s unlikely state or federal money will be available, said Wes Minder, neighborhood design manager in the Public Works Department.
All financing options are being explored. That might mean using some tax increment financing or city and Platte County sales tax dollars, or creating new taxing districts devoted strictly to road construction.
The first priority for roads would be widening and improving 108th Street, a former TWA commuter road that’s just two lanes with no sidewalks. In addition, Platte Purchase Drive would be widened from Missouri 152 to 108th Street and would connect with Tiffany Springs Parkway.
Preliminary estimates, Minder said, are that those 6.5 miles could cost close to $50 million, about $8 million per mile, although that’s where the debate kicks in.
Task force member Allen Dillingham, a Northland resident and Kansas City park board member, believes the Northland deserves a parkway system on par with what exists south of the Missouri River.
“Now we have a chance to do this up north and really hit a home run,” he said.
Dave Mecklenburg, another Northlander and park board member, agrees.
“I do not want the Northland to get the short end of the stick on this type of thing,” he said.
Both Dillingham and Mecklenburg believe the $300 million price is exaggerated and say there is a way to build the roads, with sidewalks and attractive landscaping, in the range of $5 million per mile.
Ford and Bowers argue the price has to be practical.
“We need quality roads, but we also need to balance that with what’s affordable,” Ford said, adding that some improved roads could still have two lanes rather than four to contain costs.
Bowers said he was encouraged by a recent Twin Creeks task force discussion in which city officials talked about being flexible on parkway standards. He said developers, who would pay part of the costs, want attractive, quality roads just as much as parks officials do, but within reason.
Otherwise, he warned, the added development cost just makes the housing too expensive.
Dillingham acknowledged that he and development representatives are “not exactly on the same page” but said he is confident all sides can eventually agree.
“If we have an issue of extra cost,” he said, “we’re definitely not wanting to stand in the way of getting development.”