Government & Politics

Westport street privatization proposal postponed in an effort to find consensus

The Kansas City Plan Commission postponed a hearing Tuesday on a proposal to privatize parts of two streets in the Westport entertainment district. The hearing is now set for July 18.
The Kansas City Plan Commission postponed a hearing Tuesday on a proposal to privatize parts of two streets in the Westport entertainment district. The hearing is now set for July 18. Kansas City Star file photo

A hearing on a proposal to privatize stretches of two streets in Westport was postponed Tuesday to allow supporters and opponents to try to seek consensus.

The Kansas City Plan Commission had the item on its Tuesday agenda, but is now expected to review the case on July 18.

The proposal seeks to privatize Pennsylvania Avenue from West 40th Street on the north to Archibald Street, and Westport Road from Broadway on the east to Mill Street. The land would go to the Westport Community Improvement District through quit-claim deeds.

The roads would be used for traffic and other public purposes except during late weekend nights and at other specified times.

The idea has been discussed for more than a year as a way to improve public safety, because police would be allowed to use metal detectors and keep weapons and firearms out of the heart of the Westport district during late weekend nights.

But 4th District City Councilwoman Jolie Justus, whose district includes Westport, said social media comment on the idea reached a fever pitch in recent weeks. She said there has been a blizzard of comments, including from critics who oppose the city giving up public streets and from those who fear Westport will start to charge for access. Critics said there were better ways to improve public safety than sacrificing public streets.

There was such a difference of opinion that city planning staff sent the proposal to the Plan Commission, a citizens advisory group, without a recommendation for or against the idea.

So Justus asked Monday that the Westport Business League postpone its request to allow for more dialogue, and the business group agreed. Her meetings with the various stakeholders have not yet been scheduled.

“It seemed like there were some alternatives” worth exploring, that would better balance the need for public safety with the concern about giving up public streets, Justus said. “We can do better.”

She said those alternatives should become clearer after she convenes a meeting with both supporters and opponents.

Charles Renner, attorney for the Westport Business League, said the group had met in the past with stakeholders and city staff to hammer out the existing proposal, but was willing to keep meeting. He said there are ways to alleviate people’s fears about losing the ability to move around the streets.

“It’s a collaborative effort, and we’re not done collaborating,” he said.

Justus said she wants to briefly “press pause” on the matter but doesn’t want to postpone the idea indefinitely. She hopes to reach a consensus by July 18.

Lynn Horsley: 816-226-2058, @LynnHorsley

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