A giant retail store with a sprawling parking lot is not what Overland Park city staff thinks should replace the former Metcalf South Mall. But developers had a chance on Monday afternoon to defend their plan.
At the Planning Commission meeting, more than 100 residents showed up to hear details about a redevelopment plan, titled Central Square, which will replace the former K-Mart shopping center and deteriorating mall on the north and southeast corners of 95th Street and Metcalf Avenue.
Co-developers Lane4 Property Group Inc. and The Kroenke Group plan to demolish both the shopping center and the mall. Sears will remain untouched.
The north side of the plan calls for a pedestrian-friendly retail village with specialty shops, creative office space, a gathering space and a cinema. There will also be 191 luxury residential units on top of the hill.
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The south side would include a 177,000-square-foot big box tenant, with a 615-space parking lot, additional retail buildings, 35 residential units and a drive-thru restaurant.
Because of the asphalt-heavy suburban layout of the south side, the city’s planning staff recommended denial of the entire project.
Planner Keith Gooch told the Planning Commission the massive parking lot doesn’t adhere to the city’s Vision Metcalf guidelines, which call for less surface parking, more mixed use and well-designed streetscapes along the Metcalf commercial corridor.
“It’s a sea of parking with a big box retailer,” Gooch said about the proposed plan. “There is no real streetscape. It was designed for a car rather than a pedestrian.”
The developers, however, feel otherwise.
The big box site on the south side is vital, because it will be the project’s economic driving force, said Owen Buckley, president of Lane4.
He said that for the project to be successful it needed to be convenient for shoppers at the store, which meant a parking lot, rather than a parking garage.
“This is suburbia, not the Crossroads,” Buckley said. “We can make this project beautiful, safe, clean, walkable and unique, but there will still be some suburban traits. That’s just reality.”
The Planning Commission had been scheduled to vote on rezoning to allow the redevelopment. But at the developers’ request, the Planning Commission continued the item to its Aug. 24 meeting.
“We need to create a unique place here,” said Commissioner Ned Reitzes. “I see seeds of it but we’re not quite there yet. There’s still a lot of work that needs to be done.”
Approximately 850,489 square feet of existing retail buildings are proposed to be demolished to allow redevelopment of the site. The plan calls for a total of 571,794 square feet of retail and office and 226 apartment units.
To dispel rumors that the big-box store would be a Wal-Mart, Buckley told the council, “we’re not in meaningful discussions with anybody.”
Buckley also told the commission that shops placed near Metcalf on the south side of the project would shield the view of the massive big box store parking lot from the street.
Most of the residents who spoke out at the public hearing, however, were not thrilled with the prospect of a big-box retailer so close to their neighborhood.
“I think Lane4’s vision is needed for what has become an eyesore,” said Gerald Klopper, who lives near the site. “But I’m worried having a big box store by homes might cause property values to drop. I’d rather see a park in that area with walking trails.”
Other residents had specific worries about the store in question.
“I personally don’t want a Wal-Mart there,” said Carol Wagner. “It’s not the quality of store I want in that area. If it’s going to be a large store, I’d prefer Macy’s or Von Maur, a higher-quality store.”
Scott Harrick, an Overland Park resident who owns four Smoothie King franchises in the Kansas City area, had an alternate suggestion.
“I’m dying to bring my business up north, but as a business owner I look for locations that draw parents and kids,” he said. “I think this big box doesn’t have to be a store, it could be an indoor soccer complex or something similar to bring families to the area. People move out south to have those opportunities, so why not bring that here and drive younger families to these neighborhoods?”
Some residents showed up to voice their support.
“I believe (the plan) will enhance my property values and I think it will entice excitement into the area,” said Paul Potts, who has lived near the site for 30 years.
But most of members of the Planning Commission were not enthusiastic.
“When I saw this plan, I was disappointed with the lack of mixed use and the large number of parking lots,” said Commissioner Janie Thacker.
Vice-chairman Steve Troester told his fellow commissioners he is a fan of Lane4’s past projects, such as Corinth Square, but he wasn’t impressed with Central Square so far.
“I think it’s apparent everyone in the room wants this project to be special,” he said. “This intersection is intense and it feels like we’re creating something not much different than what was already there.”
Buckley’s enthusiasm for his project didn’t waver after the criticism.
He thinks the project will transform the busy intersection for years to come.
Revitalizing the north part of Overland Park is imperative, Buckley said.
In a slide show, he showed that south of Interstate 435, the city has around 73,000 people with 6.8 million square feet of retail. Meanwhile, there are approximately 85,000 residents north of the interstate, with 5.3 million square feet of retail.
He also added that he takes comments and concerns from the community very seriously.
Over the past year, the project’s development team has met with city council members, city staff and residents to learn what they expect out of the Metcalf South site. An online survey also drew around 1,600 participants. The top three responses were entertainment, retail and residential.
Later the Planning Commission meeting, the commissioners approved a final development plan for the construction of a new elementary school that will replace the existing Trailwood Elementary School.
The new school will be located on the western part of the property closer to the corner of 95th Street and Rosewood. The playground will be moved to where the existing school is located.
A new sidewalk also is proposed to be constructed along Rosewood Avenue.
The current school will remain open during construction, which is estimated to take around 18 months.
Although the planning commission unanimously approved the plan, a few concerned residents spoke up during the public hearing.
Kim Whitman, who has two children who attend Trailwood, said the parking lot should be moved to the back of the new building, rather than the front, to make it safer for children walking to school.
She also would like a larger space between the sidewalk and busy streets.
“It’s stressful to walk children along busy streets — the more buffer the better,” she told the commission.
She also didn’t like the layout of the building, which gives some nearby neighbors a stark view of the back of the school.
Raymond Stolhand, who lives in the neighborhood, told the commission he was concerned about the young students being exposed to loud construction noises for 18 months.
Jason Durham, an architect on the project, told the commission that there have been talks to restrict construction and limit noise during certain school times.
As for the layout, fellow architect Ryan Walters told the commission it was chosen based on what would give the classrooms the best natural light. The building was also located and shaped in a way that would allow the original school to remain standing during construction.
The commission was pleased with the response.
“I think the architect has done a good job,” said Commissioner Tom Lance.