Editor’s note: Despite the Plan Commission recommendation, the Kansas City Council voted unanimously to approve the Plaza Bowl mandatory height restrictions at its meeting Thursday, Feb.14.)
By Kevin Collison
A proposal to mandate height restrictions on development in the core of the Country Club Plaza, the so-called “Plaza Bowl” plan, was rejected unanimously Tuesday by the City Plan Commission as arbitrary and ‘political.’
The plan championed by Kansas City Councilwoman Kathryn Shields and backed by Friends of the Plaza, preservationists and nearby neighborhood associations is intended to make what are now only recommended height restrictions legally binding or “codified.”
Supporters say the stricter rules are necessary to maintain the character of the landmark shopping district which began construction in 1923.
“The Plaza is the essential example of what creates a sense of place in Kansas City,” said Jim Wanser, president of Historic Kansas City. “We believe is that sense of place and sense of history is what draws people to our city.”
But several key property owners, including Commerce Bank, Price Brothers and Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist said the boundaries used to define the height restriction area were arbitrary and would reduce the value of their properties.
“The Plaza has to be saved with density and diversity,” said Douglas Price of Price Brothers. “We’re 100 percent against this plan. The current plan works.”
For the most part, the plan would limit the height of development along the 47th Street corridor to 45 feet between Pennsylvania and Roanoke. But the Plaza Bowl boundary and its 45-foot limit does veer north on Broadway to include 46th Terrace east to Wyandotte.
The proposed mandatory height restrictions now go to the full Council accompanied by the negative recommendation from the Plan Commission. Shields, who attended the meeting with supporters, was optimistic about its prospects there.
“I think the Council is very supportive of historic preservation and preserving the Country Club Plaza,” she said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues on this issue.”
The effort to make the Plaza Bowl height restrictions mandatory became more urgent in December when a plan was introduced to demolish the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist and replace it with a 12-story apartment project.
The new overlay plan would limit any development on the site to 45 feet. The church is located at the northwest corner of 47th and Pennsylvania.
In an additional effort to prevent the church from being demolished, Historic KC filed a request with the City Landmark Commission to have it declared a local landmark.
The group however, withdrew its application earlier this month, opting to support the Plaza Bowl plan.
Charles Spaulding, a member of the church, noted it’s currently located near several taller buildings. Block Real Estate Services also is building its 13-story 46 Penn Centre project immediately north of the church.
Spaulding said his church was built in 1942 to accommodate 500- to 700 members. It’s a fraction of that number now and the proposed 12-story building would include a new worship space for them.
“We’re interested in a project that will allow us to stay for generations,” he said.
Representatives of several neighborhood groups including the Plaza-Westport and West Plaza Associations along with residents of nearby condo buildings including the Parkway Tower testified in favor of the mandatory restrictions.
The proposal also was backed by the Taubman Co., co-owner of the Country Club Plaza, and Ken Block of Block Real Estate.
“It’s a much better deal to codify the Plaza plan with zoning so we all know what the rules are,” Block said.
But attorneys representing other property owners said making the restrictions mandatory would devalue their buildings.
Commerce Bank owns a building at 4635 S. Wyandotte, formerly used as a drive-thru, that it’s considering redeveloping into a six-story office location, according to attorney Aaron March. Under the plan, nothing taller than 45 feet could go there.
“It would make it impossible to develop if the plan is changed,” he said.
Patricia Jensen, the attorney representing the owner of the Plaza Medical Building at the northeast corner of 46th Terrace and Wyandotte said the original 1989 version of the Plaza Bowl plan allowed a building up to 10 stories could go there.
The new plan would restrict it to 45 feet.
“It’s not fair to pick and choose specific buildings for height limits while adjacent buildings are not,” she said.
In the end, Plan Commission members were uncomfortable with the boundaries used for Plaza Bowl height restrictions, and also noted the Council would have the authority override restrictions if it chose for individual projects under the plan.
“I’m worried that people will think it this passes, these projects won’t be built,” said Babbette Macy, Commission chairwoman.
She added, “I think some of what’s been picked is political with this jagged line.”
This article appeared originally on the KCUR public radio website.
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While I think the bowl plan enhances the aesthetic of the Plaza, consideration needs to be given to the existing property rights of current owners, which includes air rights through the allocation of floor area ratio (“FAR”) allowances. If the council were to pass an ordinance restricting heights as proposed, I suspect that there will be several inverse condemnation suits filed, posing a risk to the public treasury. The council may want to consider this in their decision making process.
It might be better to allow the property owners to broker their air rights, like they do in other cities. Parcels on the periphery of the Plaza could accumulate air rights beyond existing FAR limitations by buying them from Taubman/Macerich, for example. If a developer wants to build a taller structure, they acquire adjoining air rights, which has the added benefit of preventing an equally tall view-blocking structure from being constructed next door.
Block could simply pay the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientists for their air rights, providing the church money to demolish or retrofit their functionally obsolete structure while assuring Block that their cynosure 46 Penn development retains its views.
“to demolish or”… uh, no.
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