Preserving Prairie Village's character
When Doug Klein heard that the Prairie Village City Council was considering a new round of guidelines designed to restrict some aspects of residential construction, he worried how they might affect the plans he and his wife had to expand their home.
Klein, who lives on a corner lot on 71st Street, said he wants to add a master bedroom, bathroom and two-car garage to his mid-century home. He said reading about the proposed changes online, particularly those controlling the location of garages and minimum amounts of green space, raised concerns.
On Monday, he was one of more than 50 people who attended the first of three open houses held to give Prairie Village residents more information about the proposed guidelines and collect public input.
For Klein, it was an opportunity to explain to city officials what he wanted to build and find out if he needed to change those plans. So far, he said he won’t because his lot appears large enough to accommodate the extra construction.
“I got a lot of answers,” he said. “I think what they’ve proposed is great as it’s going to limit the size of the houses that are going in. There’s a couple near us that don’t look like they have any green space at all.”
Prairie Village officials, like those in other northern Johnson County communities, have spent the last few years wrestling with the issue of young and growing families buying older homes and replacing them with much larger structures that longtime residents complain go against the city’s homey charm.
Two years ago, the council approved a slate of changes designed to lower maximum home heights and expand the required distance from homes to side property lines.
The new guidelines — developed with the help of an ad hoc group of builders, architects and some residents — would require that 65 percent of a residential lot of 10,000 square feet or smaller would have to be planted with vegetation. Larger lots would require 70 percent green space.
Other guidelines would require trees in the front yard, ask designers to use windows to break up large walls, set a minimum for windows and doors on the front of homes and create limits on the size and placement of garages and driveways.
Many of the residents attending the open house said they approved of the proposals, with several mentioning their concerns about the number of large homes being built in their neighborhoods.
“I think they’re finally going to do something they’ve needed to do for a long time,” Jerry Ward said.
His wife, Charmaine Ward, said she became interested in the subject after construction began on a home down the street that she said takes up most of the lot.
“It’s an enormous house with a three-car garage that does not belong on the block,” she said. “I don’t understand how it got built under any guidelines, so I’m very frustrated.”
David Woy said he wasn’t opposed to progress and the newly built homes don't affect his property, but he called the new houses he has seen “ominous” because of their size and that he wanted Prairie Village, where he’s lived for 38 years, to retain its character.
“I can certainly see how (those houses) would concern people and impact their homes if a million-dollar house is next to their $100,000 to $200,000 house,” Woy said.
Julie Taylor said she was mostly interested in the guidelines aimed at retaining trees and other green space, which she said she appreciates when walking or biking around her neighborhood.
Taylor acknowledged that she’s still learning about the proposed changes and would have to scout around her neighborhood to determine if 65 percent green space is too little or adequate. But she said she also understood the pressure the city is under to allow larger homes.
“I know as families come in they expect more space,” she said.
Jim Lichty, an architect, said he viewed the controversy differently and felt city officials are focusing on the wrong problem. He said homes in the city are going to grow because of modern demands, but he said he worried that approving guidelines that standardize the construction of large homes will lead to “cookie-cutter” development that still changes the city’s character.
He said he’d rather see guidelines that encourage high-quality, better-designed homes that meet current building codes, regardless of size.
“I think the city has an opportunity to demand a lot more than they are demanding in terms of this redevelopment of individual lots,” he said.
City Administrator Wes Jordan said the city would hold additional open houses on July 11 and 17 to get public input on the proposed design changes. The city is also providing an online survey (www.surveymonkey.com/r/PVneighborhoods) for residents who can’t attend one of the meetings.
Jordan said staff hopes to present those surveys and public comments to the council on Aug. 6. Based on the council members’ input, the changes could go to planning commissioners in September and come back to the council for a vote in October at the earliest.
“It’s a work in progress,” he said.
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