A four-story mixed-use building proposed for downtown Overland Park was deemed a little too tall by some council members Monday night.
The fate of the InterUrban Lofts project, proposed for the corner of 79th and Conser streets, now falls once again the hands of the city’s Planning Commission, which had already recommended approval of it to the council on Aug. 24.
At its meeting Monday night, the council had been set to vote on a “Certificate of Conformity,” a type of zoning application, to allow the new building, but most council members, including the mayor, were uncomfortable with the four-story height being so close to single-family homes. They sent the item back to the Planning Commission on a vote of 7-5, with the hope that changes will be made to reduce the height — or at least the impression of height.
The council also voted to continue related items, such as consideration of a tax increment financing redevelopment plan and taxable private activity revenue bonds for the project.
InterUrban Lofts, developed by Real Property Group LLC, is proposed to feature 41 residential units, 8,500 square feet of first-floor office space, a 53-space underground parking garage and a large open deck.
The city’s downtown form-based code, which specify building standards for a specific area, allows for four-story buildings in the area. The code was created in September 2011 to set guidelines for downtown revitalization.
But most council members didn’t think the height fit in this case.
“It’s a project that can be built, but its appearance of mass needs to be reduced,” said Councilman David White. “A four-story building is not what I envisioned here.”
Councilman Dave Janson agreed.
“I think this is a beautiful building but, unfortunately, it’s in the wrong location,” he said. “I also think it is one story too high.”
Mayor Carl Gerlach added that even though four-story buildings are allowed downtown, it doesn’t mean they should be built, especially near single-family homes.
“When we talked about form-based code, we knew we wanted density, but it seems that here you could just build a bunch of four-story buildings without transition and that bothers me,” he said. “This is taking our form-based code to the max.”
The developer is also requesting 12 deviations from the code, which several council members also found troublesome.
But Leslie Karr of the city’s planning staff told the council that it was not unusual for deviations to be requested with such a complex project.
Council members were not the only ones concerned about the project’s height. Several downtown residents showed up at the council meeting to speak at the public hearing.
“Never in a million years did I imagine something of this magnitude would go in my backyard,” said resident Janet Noonan, who lives near the site. “This building is something you can see anywhere in Johnson County. Please don’t put an unremarkable building in a remarkable spot.”
Fellow neighbor Jim Koontz echoed her sentiments.
“This four-story behemoth is inconsistent with the surrounding area. It’s not on Metcalf, but on two-lane roads,” he said, exasperated. “If approved, this building will cast a shadow all the way to Antioch, and that’s not acceptable.”
He said he and his wife had canvassed their neighborhood and discovered that most residents living nearby didn’t even realize what was going on. He wishes the city had sent out notifications to residents living near the site.
Councilman Terry Goodman said only property owners living within 200 feet of the site could be notified by the city.
Architect Kevin Cowan, one of the only residents to be notified about the project because so few live near it, works out of a two-story stone building he owns across from the site.
He also walked around the neighborhood with his wife, talking to residents about the proposed building. Like Koontz, he discovered barely anyone knew what was going on.
Cowan and his wife acquired 150 signatures on a petition against the project. But Goodman said the petition couldn’t be used in the council’s consideration since the details of the petition were unknown.
While Cowan is thrilled about the recent revitalization of downtown Overland Park, he’s thinks the height of InterUrban Lofts is troublesome for residents living nearby. He thinks the height could negatively affect property values or scare people into moving away.
He would rather the building be two stories, he said.
Not all the speakers at the public hearing were against the project.
Judith Fleischer said she was disappointed to see the protest.
“Maybe residents of Overland Park should welcome change,” she said. “The code says four stories are allowed for a reason. Down the street at the park, there is an amazingly tall building right next to a single-family neighborhood and that’s been there forever. I think what’s being proposed here is a good-looking building.”
Developer Hal Shapiro of Real Property Group LLC told the council his goal is to revitalize downtown Overland Park. He spent a year working with city staff to find out what would be an acceptable project for the site.
“It’s been a long road to get to this point,” he said. “I want to be a good neighbor and I plan to own this building for a long time. I want to be a part of this community for a long time.”
To defend the deviations requested, he said, “Nobody can think of everything to put in a code that will make it right for everyone.”
Shapiro did have a few supporters on the council.
Councilman Dan Stock told residents in the audience that the city has invested a lot in downtown, by building Matt Ross and boosting the farmers market.
“We’re worried about aging house stock,” he said. “Without commercial redevelopment, it’s impossible to stop blight. We want to inject new life into our community.”
The council is scheduled to review the item again at its Oct. 5 council meeting.
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