Despite concerns, former Sears site in Overland Park to get apartments, food, retail

After a year of reworking plans and meeting with neighbors, a developer can finally start revitalizing the shuttered Sears property in Overland Park.

New York-based Seritage Growth Properties — a spinoff of Sears that has been renovating its former stores across the country — has been seeking approval to revamp the southeast corner of 97th Street and Metcalf Avenue. And on Monday night, the Overland Park City Council put the project back on track by approving a rezoning request.

This time, plans for the 19-acre site include a 300-unit apartment complex, stores, restaurants, gas station and 350-stall parking garage on the land surrounding the former Sears store. Seritage developer Jeff Martin said he also will revamp the Sears building, but did not specify plans. The two-story building could be refaced and expanded.

“This is an important step for our project,” Martin told the Council on Monday. “It helps move this project forward in a positive way, and it gives us the ability to deliver a mixed-use vision we have for the site.”

The former Sears and Sears Auto-Center buildings anchored the southern end of Metcalf South Shopping Center and closed in September 2017. The rest of the mall was demolished, and that land is being separately redeveloped by Kansas City-based Lane4 Property Group.

The developer’s most controversial proposal has been for the 300-unit apartment complex. The east side will be four stories high, while the western facade will be five stories.

Residents have complained that a building that tall will crowd the already congested corridor, which many have argued is becoming too dense and encroaching on single-family homes.

“We have not had the opportunity to really be part of this planning process. … None of us want a really tall building right behind where we live,” neighbor Carmen Linderman-Vanbooven said at an October planning meeting. “One of the reasons people buy a single-family home is to have a little more breathing room. That much density, with a building that tall, it just feels like somebody didn’t listen.”

Many are concerned about traffic increasing in the area. Mark Stuecheli, a former senior transportation planner for Overland Park, urged the Council to require the construction of additional turn lanes into the site. He expects backups from traffic heading into Lowe’s, just north of the site, and other businesses to come.

“I think in this case it would be appropriate and beneficial to the traveling public, citizens of Overland Park and customers and residents of that future site to have right-turn lanes,” he said. “I would strongly encourage you to include that requirement as a stipulation for this rezoning.”

According to a traffic study included with the proposal, during peak hours, more than 10,800 daily trips were made to the Sears site before buildings were demolished. When the project is completed, that number will grow to 22,800.

“Those are valid concerns. We don’t discount those concerns, and we’ve analyzed those concerns. We disagree that the development requires a right-turn lane,” Jack Messer, planning and development director, said Monday. “When this site was a fully functioning mall with a much higher density of traffic, we handled that without right-turn lanes quite well.”

The developer is not requesting tax incentives. He can now move forward without presenting a final plan for City Council approval. Councilman Dave White recommended that a final plan be required, but without agreeing to that stipulation, the Council approved the rezoning request, with a 9-2 vote. Council members Faris Farassati and Gina Burke voted no.

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Sarah Ritter covers Johnson County for The Kansas City Star. Formerly a reporter for the Quad-City Times, Sarah is a graduate of Augustana College.