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‘We don’t want to be Olathe’: Prairie Village planners pass tear-down rules

The Prairie Village Planning Commission passed home construction rules aimed at concerns about the practice of tearing down smaller, older homes and replacing them with much larger homes.
The Prairie Village Planning Commission passed home construction rules aimed at concerns about the practice of tearing down smaller, older homes and replacing them with much larger homes. The Kansas City Star

A set of new rules governing residential construction in Prairie Village — aimed at so-called tear-downs — has cleared its first hurdle.

The city’s Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended approval for the slate of guidelines for lots zoned R-1A and R-1B. They now head to the City Council, which is scheduled to vote on the changes on June 20.

The rules were developed following eight months of meetings with neighborhood associations, developers, architects, home builders and others, as well as discussed in a series of public information meetings with residents this winter.

Assistant City Administrator Wes Jordan said the city wanted to respond to resident concerns that builders in Prairie Village were replacing older, smaller homes with houses much larger and out of character with their surrounding neighborhood.

“I think we all realized we needed to do something that could control massing,” Jordan said. “This was a lot of discussion trying to strike a good balance of encouraging development and also not towering potentially over existing structures.”

Among the proposed changes:

▪  Limit the maximum height of buildings in R-1B to 29 feet, reduced from 35 feet. The maximum height of R-1A structures, which are typically on larger lots, would remain at 35 feet. In addition, the rules change how a building’s maximum height in R-1A and R-1B is measured. Instead of measuring the average height of a sloped roof the rules would now measure to the building’s highest point.

▪  Allow new and replacement buildings to be built between 6 inches and 24 inches above grade along the front of the house. Current rules require homes to be built at the same first floor elevation or lower than the building being replaced in an attempt to prevent new houses from towering over their neighbors. Officials acknowledged that this rule didn’t work as expected and could cause drainage problems. They also would add more specific criteria for evaluating homeowner requests seeking an exception to this rule.

▪  Change the minimum side setbacks to 10 percent of the lot width. For typical R-1A lots, that increases the distance from 5 feet on each side to 8 feet. For typical R-1B lots, the distance increases from 4 feet on each side to 6 feet. These amounts would increase further for wider lots.

City officials noted that the changes would not replace neighborhood association guidelines that were more strict.

A number of residents told the commission they supported the new rules, saying they would help preserve the more modest character of Prairie Village while still giving home-buyers options.

“The houses that are going up now, some of them are wonderful,” said Andrea Ernst. “Some of them look like they belong in Mission Hills or further south. This isn’t Mission Hills. We don’t want to become Olathe. We do want to maintain some standard in the village.”

Other speakers, however, argued in favor of greater flexibility for builders, warning that the restrictions could make the city less attractive to those wanting larger houses and affect long-term property values.

“If we don’t allow the two-story house with 10-foot ceilings, better overall living amenities, then I don’t think we’re realizing what some of our neighboring cities are, and that is stronger, long-term, viable homes,” said Dennis O’Roark, who supported keeping the maximum building height in R-1B at 35 feet.

Jordan said these changes represent “phase one” of the city’s efforts to modify its residential building guidelines and reflect the modifications that generated the most consensus during meetings with building professionals and residents.

He said the city continues to work with those groups on a number of “phase two” issues, such as potential guidelines for building design, standards for building materials and requirements governing architectural details on the back and sides of a home.

However, he said it may take several months before those groups could agree to any new proposed guidelines.

David Twiddy: dtwiddy913@gmail.com

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