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Prairie Village council sends home construction guidelines to planning commissioners

After more than two hours of debate, the Prairie Village City Council on Monday agreed to send a slate of proposed residential construction guidelines and restrictions to planning commissioners for their input.

The 8-2 vote represented just the latest step in the council’s effort to deal with a surge of property owners tearing down older, smaller homes across the city and replacing them with much larger structures that some residents complain are at odds with the character of their neighborhoods.

The discussion also highlighted some of the continuing divisions on the council itself on how best to protect the charm of the community and remain welcoming to growing families and new development.

“I want to make sure we’re not so restrictive that no one wants to build a house in Prairie Village,” said Councilman Ted Odell, who voted with Councilwoman Serena Schermoly against moving the proposal along.

The planning commission is scheduled to consider the guidelines and hold a public hearing during its Sept. 11 meeting. Assuming the commissioners recommend approval, the guidelines would return to the council for adoption on Oct. 1.

The new guidelines, which would apply to home rebuilds and existing homes expansions of more than 200 square feet, include:

Requiring that at least 60 percent of a home’s front yard and at least 65 percent of an entire lot be planted with vegetation.

Requiring all lots to have one tree planted near the street, with lots more than 80 feet wide needing two trees.

Asking designers to use windows to break up large building walls and setting minimums for windows and doors on the front of homes.

Creating limits on garages and garage door sizes.

The city this summer held a series of public forums on the proposed restrictions that attracted 163 attendees. It also published an online survey that generated 625 responses.

Assistant City Administrator Jamie Robichaud stressed to the council that the survey was far from scientific but said that at least 80 percent of respondents indicated they supported each of the proposed guidelines.

She said opponents of the proposals generally said that they feared the changes would limit certain types of design or that they didn’t think the city had the right to tell homeowners what they could build on their property.

Robichaud said the forums and survey responses did lead staff to propose some changes to the guidelines. For example, people living on lots of 10,000 square feet or smaller would be allowed to build a deck or patio of up to 300 square feet without it counting against the 65 percent green space requirement. Staff, responding to concerns from residents who said they often felt blindsided by the disruptions surrounding a rebuild on their street, also recommended requiring those new builders to hold a neighborhood meeting on their plans before being able to receive a building permit.

Council members changed this proposal further to require that the property owner mail out a notice, worried that a neighborhood meeting could turn contentious if residents objected to the plan.

“I have sat, as an architect, through a meeting with neighbors for that and it gets violent sometimes, neighbors against neighbors,” said Councilman Terrence Gallagher.

The council also agreed to tweak the garage size proposals, which would have banned houses across the city from having three-car garages facing from the front of the home. Instead, the restrictions on forward-facing three-car garages would apply only to smaller lots in R-1B zones.

An attempt to scale back the green space requirement from 65 percent of the lot to 60 percent failed 4-7. Those pushing for the change said they thought the level of green space was too restrictive, especially for homeowners wanting to make major expansions.

“I think we’re really affecting current residents,” Schermoly said.

Mayor Laura Wassmer, however, warned against extensive changes, noting that the public was asked to comment on the proposals and that more than 80 percent supported them. She advised letting them go through the public hearing process.

“I think for us to go back piecemeal and to start taking things away invalidates what we just did with our residents,” Wassmer said.

Other areas of concern for the council were planting trees in neighborhoods with sidewalks close to the street, whether the city’s definition of “green space” includes such things as koi ponds and whether the city needs to tighten up restrictions on the size of new home foundations, which some councilmembers said builders are using to get around the city’s 2-year-old limits on roof heights.

Robichaud said she would raise those issues with planning commissioners ahead of the Sept. 11 hearing.

In other business, the council voted to approve the sale of $15 million in industrial revenue bonds on behalf of Van Trust Real Estate, which is developing the Meadowbrook Inn at for the former Meadowbrook Country Club and Golf Course on Nall Avenue.

By buying the bonds through the city, the developer will be able to be exempt from paying sales tax on construction materials for the boutique hotel.

The city will not be responsible for paying back the bonds, and Van Trust has agreed to use the sales tax savings to speed up work on nearby Meadowbrook Park.

David Twiddy: