Develop smartly along Kansas City’s boulevards, parkways

The city should set high standards for expanding its parks and boulevards system.
The city should set high standards for expanding its parks and boulevards system. Kansas City Parks and Recreation

It’s in a developer’s DNA to complain about government rules that restrict what can be built and where.

So it’s not surprising that some developers strongly oppose parts of Kansas City’s proposed construction regulations along parkways and boulevards, especially in the fast-growing Northland.

The developers want to make it simpler to earn a buck. That conflicts with the mission of many residents whose higher priority is to protect the long-term beauty of special city assets.

Earlier this month, developers warned City Council members that their gas stations, retail malls and houses might go elsewhere if the rules aren’t changed.

How oppressive can such guidelines be? Here’s one example: “The typical suburban commercial development pattern of locating large amounts of parking between the fronts of buildings and adjacent streets contributes to a bleak and formless landscape. Locating parking along the side and rear of the buildings reduces the size of street-facing parking lots.”

Another: a commercial building should include a “minimum 20 percent transparent glass on the primary façade.”

Hang on. Our mistake.

Those are actually design guidelines for buildings that proliferate along the streets of Overland Park and Olathe, respectively. The two largest cities in Johnson County, where developers are flocking to build houses and stores, have some strict guidelines of their own.

Kansas City’s proposed new regulations also emphasize the need to reduce the sight of parking lots full of vehicles along the boulevard side of new buildings. And they call for 60 percent transparent glass on building facades fronting the roadways.

Overall, Kansas City’s tougher rules cover only the limited miles of parkways and boulevards that will be built in the future. The city is doing something special by requiring high standards for its famed roadway system, while allowing somewhat looser standards nearby on regular streets.

On Wednesday, a council committee is set to continue discussing the new rules, put forward by the Parks and Recreation Department after more than two years of working with a wide variety of community interests, including developers. The full council on Thursday is expected to try to approve final regulations.

The document should not kowtow to the threats of developers. Rather, it ought to promote rules that will provide Northland residents with high quality parkways and boulevards many decades into the future.