An apartment complex proposed for north of the Country Club Plaza joins a lineup of Kansas City redevelopment plans challenged by people who think the new buildings would be too tall and too dense for their neighborhoods.
This plan is for a four-story, 188-unit apartment building and parking garage at the southwest corner of 44th and Washington streets, on mostly vacant property west of St. Luke’s Hospital.
Despite opposition, the proposal earned approval in July from the Kansas City Plan Commission, with a provision that designers reduce the south side of the building to three stories and resubmit the plan to city planners.
City Council members will consider at a future meeting whether to grant final approval for the project, which is to be built without public incentives.
Meanwhile, the plan by Block Real Estate Services for the 2.5 acres it owns between Washington and Pennsylvania illustrates how the Midtown/Plaza Area Plan is a guiding light for neighbors who want a say in redevelopment. That push typically is against higher-rise, higher-density and higher-traffic changes that don’t comply with the plan guidelines.
“We’re not opposed to redevelopment,” said Erik Heitman, president of the Plaza-Westport Neighborhood Association. “We just want developers to follow the plan.”
Planners on the city development staff acknowledge that critics in this case are in sync with the Midtown/Plaza Area Plan, which was approved after laborious discussions.
A city staff report said parts of the Block proposal are inconsistent with Midtown/Plaza Area Plan guidelines for density and height at the site. And “the proposed structure does not match the existing urban form of the area related to building scale and massing,” city planner John Eckardt wrote in the staff report.
So, to proceed, the property needs to be rezoned and the Midtown/Plaza plan’s recommended land use for the block needs to be amended.
The apartment project wouldn’t be jarring at all compared to the hospital, medical and nursing home buildings to the east and north. But to the south and west, the apartments would rise higher than the neighboring single-family bungalows and smaller two- and three-story apartment buildings.
“We haven’t seen a stepped-down plan yet,” Heitman said. “It’s very important to us to create a significant transition to the single-family homes in the neighborhood.”
Joan Adam, president of Historic Kansas City, said the Midtown/Plaza plan protects the “bowl” concept limiting building height around the Plaza and that the plan’s advocates have strained resources to oppose exceptions sought by developers.
Proponents say the proposal is being tweaked to reduce the appearance of mass.
“We’re exploring a different transition on the south side, stepping the building down from four stories to three,” said Evan Fitts, a Polsinelli attorney representing the Block development team. “We’re adding green space, landscaping and fine-tuning architectural changes.”
Planners also note that the apartment layout — a square-cornered 8 shape — hides the multideck garage from street view inside one of the 8’s holes (with the other open space for a pool and patio for residents).
Whitney Kerr Sr., a real estate broker who has worked for 15 years through Westport Today and the St. Luke’s Foundation to assemble properties in the area, said he’s pleased with the Block plan.
“We started out with a gift of 125 houses from the J.C. Nichols Foundation, with the express purpose of protecting the neighborhood from more commercial development,” Kerr said. But, he added, that includes building multifamily residences.
The target property, which Block purchased from Westport Today, is part of a 20-year-old agreement, Kerr said, that allows high-density residences on that site.
There’s also an economic reality about redevelopment in the Plaza-Westport area: “When land is being sold for $20 to $29 a square foot, you’re talking $860,000 to $1 million an acre,” Kerr said. “You need density to make the numbers work.”
Heitman, who lives in the neighborhood, said he doesn’t oppose development on the site. But, he said, neighbors already contend with the higher traffic and density of the nearby 46 Penn apartments “where there’s about a moving van a week on streets scaled for single-family residences.”