It’s hip and it’s modern but to some Overland Park residents, it’s not welcome.
The Planning Commission, however, thinks otherwise.
A four-story mixed-use redevelopment project, named InterUrban Lofts, is being touted as a key project to help revitalize downtown Overland Park.
Proposed for the southwest corner of 79th and Conser streets, InterUrban Lofts, developed by Real Property LLC, would have 41 residential units and 8,500 square feet of first-floor office space. It also will have a 53-space underground parking garage and an open area for residents to relax and mingle.
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Nearby residents have argued for months that the massive building doesn’t fit in with historical homes in the surrounding neighborhood. They worry the project will cause blight and lower property values.
But at its meeting Monday evening, the Planning Commission moved the project along by unanimously voting to recommend to the City Council approval of a “DFD Certificate of Conformity,” a type of zoning application, to allow the building’s construction.
This is the second time the Planning Commission has voted for the item. On Aug. 24, it was approved on a split vote of 6-5.
When it got to the City Council on Aug. 31, several members worried about the project’s height and mass, the landscaping and the location of the trash services area. They sent it back to the Planning Commission.
Changes recently made to the project by the developer include additional landscaping, wooden screening around the open space, and landscaped and walled shielding of the trash area.
But the building remains four stories.
John Petersen, the legal representative for the developer, said his client declined to reduce the height of the building because losing a story would “kill the project.”
The city’s downtown form-based code, which specifies 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.
The developer is requesting 12 deviations from the code.
Several of the commissioners said they were satisfied with the changes made by the developer.
“This has been a very interesting project for everybody,” said Commissioner Tom Lance. “I think we have a real good solution. I’m very encouraged of having this project in the area because it will lead to more creative development.”
Commissioner Dave Hill, who voted against the project in August, said his change of heart came from being better educated.
After re-examining the deviations the developer requested, many of them architectural, Hill thinks they’re reasonable.
“I had the opportunity to reflect on my vote and I don’t think I gave the developer a fair shake last time,” he said. “I feel like this project will be ripping off a Band-Aid because at some point, these edges will have to be developed.”
The commissioners’ glowing reaction surprised nearly a dozen downtown Overland Park residents who showed up at the meeting to protest the project.
They said they already felt blindsided when a public hearing for the item was canceled with no warning.
The Planning Commission’s Monday agenda, both in print and online, stated the item required a public hearing.
But four hours into the meeting, Planning Commission Chairman Michael Flanagan told the audience that because the item already had a public hearing at the Aug. 24 meeting and this item was on remand from the council, the commission was not required to hold one again.
Outraged residents shouted their frustration, causing Flanagan to slam his gavel and tell them that if they continued they would be asked to leave. One resident said he would have to be removed by law enforcement.
“We sat there for more than four hours,” said James Kunce, a resident who lives near the InterUrban Lofts site. “They (the Planning Commission) didn’t even have the courtesy to tell us in the beginning of the meeting that we weren’t going to have an opportunity to speak. It’s the middle of the day, we have places to be and they just let us sit there.”
Many of the residents said they didn’t expect to change the planning commission’s vote, but they did expect to be heard.
They also said they don’t think InterUrban Lofts is a bad project, but it’s in the wrong location.
Pam Cowan, who lives directly across from the site, said that people are drawn to downtown Overland Park because of its historical charm.
“Everything that makes us quaint will disappear if you put that giant building next to these beautiful historical homes,” Cowan said. “This is not the Power & Light District. This developer’s vision is becoming our nightmare.”
She is worried the City Council will follow in the commissioners’ footsteps.
While Petersen said he sympathized with the residents, he pointed out to the Planning Commission that sometimes change is scary, even when it’s necessary.
After all, the city wouldn’t have created the form-based code for the downtown area if it didn’t want to see an impact.
“The purpose of the form-based code is to bring vitality and investment to the area,” Petersen said. “It’s about modernization. We hope our investment will spur that.”
The City Council will reconsider the item at its meeting next Monday.
Jennifer Bhargava: firstname.lastname@example.org