Government & Politics

Suspension of Westport redevelopment resurfaces and ‘quacks like a duck,’ councilman says

Last summer some Westport residents and others protested the Opus apartment project, which will include a multilevel parking garage and ground-floor retail. It would replace an old building now occupied by a Bank of America branch and surface parking lot in the heart of the district. The Kansas City Council approved the project in June.
Last summer some Westport residents and others protested the Opus apartment project, which will include a multilevel parking garage and ground-floor retail. It would replace an old building now occupied by a Bank of America branch and surface parking lot in the heart of the district. The Kansas City Council approved the project in June. File photo

A proposal to pause redevelopment in red-hot Westport is back on track on after some revisions and a re-branding by its sponsor.

On Wednesday, a City Council committee approved the plan for a six-month hiatus on Westport redevelopment and sent it to the full council.

The action effectively bypasses the City Planning Commission, which in August rejected a request by council member Katheryn Shields to fast-track the proposal. Instead, the panel called for several weeks of public testimony.

Westport has been the the stage for a series of bitter fights between developers and residents over land use plans opponents say would permanently alter the character of a neighborhood, a mix of small businesses, bars and restaurants.

Shields pushed for the moratorium this summer to allow residents, businesses and real estate interests to more carefully consider the community’s future.

But she was opposed by Councilman Scott Taylor, chairman of the council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee.

He took the unusual step of writing to plan commissioners before their August 15 meeting warning them that a moratorium would signal that “the city is not open for business.” The measure has been pending before the commission since then, and was on this week’s docket.

Citing state law, Shields said the matter was not required to go to the commission to begin with because it was only a temporary zoning action. At Wednesday’s committee hearing, she introduced a substitute proposal designed to go straight to the council.

It contained revisions specifying that development plans already approved and in the pipeline could go forward. It provided that buildings under 8,000 square feet could be demolished to make way for new construction.

She also dropped “moratorium” from the plan, re-naming it a “suspension. While Webster’s considers them synonyms, Shields said “suspension” is less heavy-handed in tone.

“People like it better,” she said.

Taylor continued to express unhappiness with the revised version.

“If it quacks like a duck, it’s a duck,” he said of the change in terminology. But Taylor was the lone opponent. The committee voted to 4-1 to move the plan to the full council. In addition to Shields, Council members Lee Barnes, Heather Hall, Quinton Lucas voted in favor.

Planning commission chair Babette Macy was sharply critical of Shields’ maneuver. The commission agreed to continue the measure on Tuesday, citing widespread public interest in meeting with Shields.

Only after the session did commissioners learn they would be bypassed.

“Our commission was surprised and confused by the change of process — especially in such a high profile case, Macy said in an e-mail Tuesday to Lucas.

“Even staff could not articulate why a change in process was to occur. I have served on the (planning commission) for over 10 years and we have never had a case bypass our body...”

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