KC should take seriously concerns about Plaza projects

Kansas City area residents’ sense of shared ownership of the Country Club Plaza continues to create headaches for developers and city officials.

But that should be viewed as a positive outcome. It’s when people don’t care what happens that questionable deals with unwarranted tax giveaways are inked and the character of an area changes forever.

One of the latest concerns is the Plaza Parkway Building at 4620 J.C. Nichols Parkway. NorthPoint Development wants to add three floors to the two floors of vacant medical office space, which sit on a three-level parking garage. The structure would become an assisted living center with 84 apartments.

A second plan at 44th and Washington streets is for a four-story, 188-unit apartment building and parking garage. The plan by Block Real Estate Services would be on mostly vacant property west of St. Luke’s Hospital.

Area residents and preservationists, however, have pushed back against both development proposals, citing building height, increased density and traffic concerns in Plaza area neighborhoods.

People insisting on a say in building proposals for the Country Club Plaza isn’t new.

Longtime Kansas City area residents will likely never forget the ill-fated, controversial R.H. Sailors and Co. plan in the mid-1980s for a $300 million office and residential complex east of the Country Club Plaza that would have been an incredibly dense development with one building towering more than 50 stories. People choked on the idea of that monstrous project ruining the architectural appeal of the Plaza.

About five years ago, people were up in arms about a different Country Club Plaza development. Opponents successfully thwarted a law firm’s efforts to construct a high-rise office building, saving the 1920s-era, two-story Balcony Building at 47th Street and Broadway and the pedestrian-friendly environment of the Plaza.

Developers can’t be faulted for wanting to build onto the success of the Plaza, which regardless of the area’s Midwest weather extremes daily attracts thousands of tourists and residents eager to dine, shop, have drinks and socialize with others. The change in ownership of the Plaza hasn’t affected its long-standing appeal one bit.

But this community’s sense that the Plaza is a shared treasure is behind residents being so passionate about what ends up on the gorgeous front porch of this city. People are right to rely on the fairly recent Midtown/Plaza Area Plan as a guide to maintain the “bowl” concept, which limits the height of buildings around the Plaza.

NorthPoint Development, however, says it needs the added height to make the assisted living project near Mill Creek Park feasible. The City Plan Commission last month failed to reach a decision on the development.

NorthPoint is to resubmit basically the same proposal to city planners with some changes. It is expected to go to the City Council’s Planning and Zoning and Economic Development Committee soon.

Council members are not expected to be asked to change the Midtown/Plaza Area Plan to allow for height exceptions, and that’s great. What good would the plan be if it is never followed?

Instead, council members are to decide on a rezoning request for the site. If approved, it would allow the proposal to proceed.

The 188-unit apartment building at 44th and Washington streets did win approval in July from the City Plan Commission. The project is to be built without public incentives.

Public input is an important part of any development proposal. Residents in voicing their concerns show that they care about their community and have a serious stake in that investment.

Their involvement helps to ensure that the overall character of a neighborhood — or shopping district like the Country Club Plaza — is maintained.