Shawnee & Lenexa

Shawnee center gets rezoning as fight continues

Persistent objections from neighbors about a 55-foot retaining wall planned for the Shawnee Landing shopping center have begun to have an effect on some members of the Shawnee City Council.

Council member Michelle Distler asked a representative for the 26-acre project whether the developers could continue to consider options other than the unterraced vertical wall in the site plan approved by the city planning commission last week.

The council had just seen presentations by residents of Bell Road, neighbors to the development’s south, showing similar walls in various states of collapse. “I’m starting to have some concerns about this wall myself,” she said. Hearing residents’ concerns and seeing pictures “is making me a little more uneasy than I was before,” she said.

Development lawyer Curtis Petersen countered that such walls are not unusual or difficult and that respected experts have said the wall would be safe.

“I do understand that, but I also understand that experts built the Titanic,” said Distler. “I’ve seen experts be wrong before.”

The discussion took place as the council considered and eventually approved rezoning for the land at the southwest corner of Shawnee Mission Parkway and Maurer Road. It was the latest in a series of steps to develop some of the last residential land that abuts a busy commercial center near Interstate 435.

Residents of nearby Bell Road have adamantly opposed the project since learning that a sewer line would run through their neighborhood and take out hundreds of trees. After the county approved the sewer line, they sued and have since come to every city meeting to object to other aspects of a project they say will destroy the value of their homes, which are in the range of $300,000 to $460,000.

Some of those residents were on hand for the council meeting Monday night. Alan Godsy of Bell Road, called the wall “an abomination” and questioned whether the storm water retention basin would be adequate in the event of a 500-year flood. Godsy’s property is among the closest to the development.

“No one has been able to tell us what the risks are for our neighborhood in the event of a failure of the storm water system. Ladies and gentlemen, we are concerned for our homes and for our own lives in such an event,” he said.

Jane Drury, also of Bell Road, said the development would add noise, ambient light, crime and possibly litter to the neighborhood. “It is completely changing the character of the area. It is destroying all the things that brought us to live there — the trees, the wildlife and the seclusion,” she said.

Councilman Dan Pflumm also asked Petersen whether more consideration could be given to the idea of terracing the wall, rather than having a straight vertical drop. But Petersen said that although a terraced wall wouldn’t cost more, it would have an effect on the number of independent pad sites for stores planned for the development.

Cutting back on those sites is “literally a nonstarter,” he said. “If we could economically develop this site with terraces, after all the conversations we’ve had, we would terrace it,” he said.

The development plan is for a yet-to-be-named anchor tenant in 50,000 square feet, another 94,600 square feet of in-line stores and seven pad sites with a total of 33,100 square feet. If approved, construction would begin this year and last about three years.

Developing that part of Shawnee Mission Parkway has been a priority for the Shawnee city leaders for years, but it is a difficult site because of its topography and lack of sewers. When the latest development group, SMPW Fund I, LLC, expressed interest, the city took the unusual step of offering to front a percentage of the money to construct the sewers. The city’s share is estimated to be $115,000.

The city is also considering a public finance package with tax incentives, including tax increment financing and a special sales tax for infrastructure. The final consideration of the public finance package, which is estimated at $15.3 million of the $56.3 million project, will come up at the council’s Feb. 23 meeting. The council will also consider the sales tax for infrastructure and review other aspects of the project plan at that meeting.