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3. KC Star story 2017 May 17
2. Letter to the Plan Commission 2017 May 15 from Vern Barnet
1. KC Star story 2017 April 13

For photos etc please go to The Kansas City Star website.

Some Kansas Citians who testified against a proposed apartment complex at Westport Road and Broadway came to the City Plan Commission meeting Tuesday with signs indicating disapproval of the plan. Diane Stafford

MAY 16, 2017 6:21 PM
Big Westport apartment complex gets backing from Kansas City Plan Commission

After nearly three hours of testimony Tuesday, the Kansas City Plan Commission approved rezoning and development plans for a large apartment building at the corner of Westport Road and Broadway.

Three-fourths of the 22 people who testified spoke against the plan. Most said they thought the six-story, 256-unit apartment building was too big, too dense and was architecturally wrong for the character of “Old Westport,” especially at that prominent corner site.

Those who spoke in favor of the Opus Development proposal said they welcomed a “modern” approach to Westport redevelopment that would put more residents and store patrons in the neighborhood. The project would replace a Bank of America building and surface parking lot.

The project next goes to the City Council’s Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee for further consideration.

Passionate testimony at one point generated a call of “liar” from the audience, directed at the development team. That frustration — simmering throughout the meeting — centered on parking and traffic problems that already affect Westport.

Many Westport-area residents have been concerned about large redevelopment projects that may change the character of the “Old Westport” district.

Some area residents and business owners said they didn’t believe the 303 parking spaces attached to the development, for resident and the public use, were sufficient. Several opponents also said traffic already was impeded at certain times of the day and that more residents would worsen conditions.

In the end, the five voting commissioners approved the requested rezoning on a 5-0 vote.

Commissioners voted 3-2 to approve the redevelopment plan for the project that would place five floors of apartments atop ground-floor retail space plus an adjacent parking facility slated to be two underground levels beneath a surface level.

The approvals fell in line with recommendations from City Hall planning staff, but commissioners made it clear that they hoped Opus would heed opponents’ calls for a structure that seemed to fit better with the historic buildings around it.

The plan as approved would allow the building to rise to 75 feet, which city planners said was not contradicted by the Midtown Plaza Area Plan for that location.

Joseph Downs, representing Opus, reiterated what the developers have stated from the outset: The proposed height and unit density are what the project needs to provide an adequate return on investment, and they will not scale it down.

“That’s the plan we need to do,” said John McGurk, an attorney representing Opus.

Valentine neighborhood resident Mary Jo Draper, who helped launch a Help Save Westport campaign last fall, said, “The majority of us favor development and increased density in Westport, but we thought this project was the wrong scale.”

Dissent about the project in April had caused a continuance of the project’s consideration until the May commission meeting.

Some of the project critics, including Lisa Briscoe, executive director of Historic Kansas City, said they preferred to delay decisions on sizable Westport development projects until after a planned inventory of Westport historic structures was completed.

“Scale and character is important,” Briscoe said, noting that the heart of Westport has three sizable development projects proposed at the moment.

“Westport is under threat, and it’s not protected,” Briscoe said, referring to the fact that the area has never applied for or received historic preservation status.

Those who spoke in favor of the development said they wanted more residents in the area.

Backers said the apartments would improve safety by putting more people walking the streets and help hold down rental rates by providing more inventory.

The multiuse apartment project was publicly introduced in March. McGurk said the developers had held 58 meetings since January with area groups, city planners and others interested in the project.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford

A Letter to the City Planning Commission

Download this in pdf at

Concerning the Opus Development proposal 
for Broadway and Westport Road

May 16, 2017
City Planning Commission, Kansas City, MO — Babette Macy, chair; the Rev Stan Archie, vice chair; Coby Crowl; Matthew Dameron;  Bobbi Baker-Hughes;  Trish Martin; Diane Burnette; Margaret May

Dear Commission Members—
     In 1993 I moved from Johnson County to purchase my home in Westport where I continue to live happily. Our Heart of Westport neighborhood association, in which I regularly participate, is a remarkable group of cooperating residents, businesses, and others who cherish our special part of the City. Like them, I support increased density in Westport. I question uncoordinated development. 
     While I praise other developers who have repeatedly met with neighbors and have carefully responded to our concerns, I worry about the lack of shared planning evidenced by misstatements and apparent misunderstandings by Opus Development. Its plan for a for a six-story, 254-unit residential building at Broadway and Westport Road raises a number of problems I outline briefly below. 
     Of course, I am writing without information about any revision from Opus which may be presented today. One would have hoped that Opus would have given the neighborhood a chance to learn about its revision before today’s presentation to the Commission.

 1. The Opus plan, from out-of-town developers obviously unfamiliar with Westport, should be slowed in order for it to be adequately studied along with the historic assessment plans now underway, and with the other developments planned within Westport. Uncoordinated developments lead to unexpected and unintended results which can be damaging.

2. While I understand the Opus Development would enhance the City’s tax base, the costs to the character of the historic neighborhood would be considerable. As a home-owner, it seems unfair that a commercial effort in this situation could receive an assured level tax rate for 25 years when we homeowners recently voluntarily down-zoned our properties to single-family units to provide stability to the neighborhood without any such assurance.

3. Although it is doubtful that the oldest part of the building, currently a bank, has sufficient historic value to save, the fact that the newer portions were designed to fit into the appearance and character of Westport shows the kind of environmental respect Opus has not proved. The new wing of the Westport Presbyterian Church demonstrates that it is possible to design a modern structure that fits within the artistic character of existing buildings. Until now, Opus has not shown care in façade architectural design, nor in its excessive proposal for rezoning height restrictions and other problems with scale. The plans I have seen simply violate the neighborhood by a developer who has shown more arrogance than care to learn about us, unlike other developers who understand their success here may ultimately depend on neighborhood support, not neighborhood destruction. The height proposal would literally cast a shadow in a key intersection of our neighborhood.

4. Parking and traffic movement in Westport is a long-standing problem. Approval of the Opus plan while traffic experiments on Westport Road are currently underway and parking plans are unresolved is decidedly premature.

5. The Opus presentation I heard did not demonstrate understanding of the severity of the problems of flooding and other infrastructure inadequacies. Perhaps City staff will find ways to study how Opus and the two other developments I know about can help to resolve such concerns, but to a non-engineer like myself who lives in the neighborhood, the scale of the Opus proposal considered even by itself seems daunting to accommodate without expensive infrastructure improvements which should be borne largely by the developer.

6. I have no expertise in imagining business mixes, but I do have a sense of loyalty to businesses that have helped build and support the neighborhood, and I would like reassurance that businesses planned in this development will fit into the kind of operations that make Westport so special.

In sum, while I welcome increased residential development in Westport, the Opus project as I have learned about it thus far causes overwhelming worry because of the arrogant style of its management, inattention to the historic and architectural character of Westport, lack of coordinated planning, and practical issues of scale and infrastructure. Unless these issues are resolved, I urge you to delay approval of requests from Opus. 


Vern Barnet

For photos etc please go to The Kansas City Star website.

APRIL 13, 2017 4:27 PM
Neighbors and preservationists rally to fight Westport development proposals

Westport, one of the most important historic areas in Kansas City, has no official designation as a historic district.

That recent realization by historic preservationists ups the ante as midtown neighbors mount opposition to new apartment developments proposed for an area of the city that dates to the 1830s.

One apartment proposal — scheduled to be presented to the City Plan Commission on Tuesday — would tear down an old building at the southeast corner of Westport Road and Broadway to pave the way for a new 256-unit apartment and retail complex.

“It was an unpleasant surprise that a place as historic as Westport doesn’t have protections in place,” said Greg Allen, an officer with Historic Kansas City.

“We’d always thought there was,” said Alana Smith, president of the Westport Historical Society. “We find now there wasn’t, and we’re in big trouble.”

A coalition calling itself Help Save Old Westport has mounted a GoFundMe campaign to raise $25,000 to pay for a building inventory, a necessary step to apply for historic overlay district designation, similar to what the downtown Garment District, the River Market and other historic parts of the city have.

Some neighbors also are upset at a proposal to permit closing of a section of Westport Road and Pennsylvania Avenue to vehicle traffic on specified nights, weekends, holidays and special events.

Advocates for the “strategic street vacation,” including Mayor Sly James and members of the Westport Regional Business League, say putting up temporary road barriers is the best way to control late-night access and limit dangers at the popular bar and restaurant crossroads.

The City Planning and Development Department is evaluating the street-closing application, and no public hearing dates have been set for it.

The immediate trouble, in the eyes of those who want to maintain Westport’s current character, is the proposal by Opus Development that would raze the corner building at Westport and Broadway. Parts of the structure, currently occupied by a Bank of America branch, date as far back as 1876.

“The plan to tear that building down brought the issue to the fore,” said Mary Jo Draper, a neighborhood spokeswoman. “Some people say we need density in order for the midtown area to be strong, but there are so many concerns about traffic and parking. My concern is that we don’t destroy the scale or character of Westport.”

Another development company, Pulse Development, also floated plans for two 14-story apartment towers immediately north of Manor Square on Pennsylvania. Density, parking, traffic and architectural criticisms erupted immediately, and developer Drew Hood subsequently said the plan was “preliminary” and that it’s been pulled back for revision.

“This is a new development cycle for Westport, different from in the past,” said Elizabeth Rosin with Rosin Preservation, who works on historic projects.

The proposed apartment renderings, at least preliminarily showing modern facades, picture a size and style far different from the lower-slung, red brick commercial buildings that line the heart of old Westport.

In the past, Rosin said, Westport’s commercial property owners haven’t wanted to create a national or local historic district.

“They wanted the freedom to handle their own properties without anyone telling them what to do,” Rosin said, adding that property owner support will be necessary to create any local or national historic district.

“Owners can do what they want with their buildings, except for a few like Kelly’s” Westport Inn, said Smith, the Westport Historical Society leader.

The Kelly’s building, at Westport and Pennsylvania, dates to 1850 and lays claim to being the oldest building in the city. It is designated a National Historic Landmark.

In Smith’s mind, the six-story Opus apartment development would be “god-awful” for the neighborhood’s character. “I want to say, ‘You can’t do this. You can’t ruin this district,’ ” Smith said. “We want to preserve the historic nature of early Kansas City.”

Allen, with Historic Kansas City, said he’s heartened that neighborhoods are mobilizing — sometimes successfully, sometimes not — to challenge development plans they deem inappropriate.

“I congratulate city staff on insisting that neighborhood input be sought by developers,” Allen said.

Opus officials invited residents of the Valentine, Heart of Westport, Volker, West Plaza and Southmoreland neighborhoods to attend a meeting Thursday night at the Plaza Library.

About three dozen people came to the presentation by officials from Opus Development. In a question and answer session, most of the comments were from residential neighbors who thought the project was “too big.”

Residents asked if the project would be viable if it were reduced to four stories instead of six. The Opus team said no.

Several business owners in the Westport area said they supported the project because it would bring more residents to the neighborhood, and thus more business for them.

Almost everyone expressed concern about parking.

The development team said there was no real historical significance to the bank building. It had been adapted so often over the years that virtually nothing was left from the original.

Opus vice president Joe Downs said in a written statement that the company was “working with neighborhood associations and the city to incorporate the best of Westport into a new mixed-use residential project” with a groundbreaking targeted for later this year.