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Slimmest Of Chances To Save Plaza-area Nelle Peters Apartments

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Neighbors called the 1927 English Tudor-revival apartments charming and said they fit the character and history of the west edge of  Kansas City's Country Club Plaza.

Historic Kansas City Foundation preservation enthusiasts said the three half-timbered brick, stucco and stone buildings are examples of the work of prominent female Kansas City architect Nelle Peters and should be saved. 

Related: Who Was Nelle Peters? Why People Want To Save Work Of Female Kansas City Architect

They also said restoration was possible with historic tax credits and other incentives to fit a growing market of millennials who opt for charm and a sense of place over conventionality.

Owner Doug Price and his attorney told the city council committee renovation would be too expensive given the $3.6 million price he paid for the three buildings.  The numbers didn't add up to a profitable situation, they said.

They also questioned whether the buildings in the 4700 block of Summit were actually designed by Nelle Peters.

The Planning, Zoning and Economic Development Committee voted to recommend that the city council not approve an ordinance that would grant the buildings Historic designation.

That designation would give preservationists at minimum about two years to look for an interested buyer and try to help that developer get tax breaks to restore the properties. 

Ryan Huffman of Cohen-Esry, testifying for developer Price Brothers, raised the issue of whether the buildings were historic creations of the landmark architect or clever copies that sought to capitalize on the popularity of her style.

Huffman spoke as both a preservationist and a real estate expert. In the latter capacity he offered the opinion that preservationist expectations of restoring the existing buildings as apartments were unrealistic because today's renters insist on contemporary amenities.

“This property has no amenities. It also has no ability to add abilities to the project because the grounds are constricted. Most notably, there is no parking.”

Members of the council committee said they were historic preservation enthusiasts, but were concerned that a developer had spent a substantial amount of money in the belief that he would encounter no obstacles to his plan to raze the structures and replace them with a more modern apartment complex .

Chair Scott Taylor also expressed concerns that having the buildings remain vacant would foster vagrancy, crime and blight in the west Plaza neighborhood.

There was no second for a motion from Katheryn Shields that the committee send the Historic Designation ordinance to the full council with a “do pass” recommendation.

After some discussion, a motion to send the plan out of committee with a “do not pass” recommendation passed by a 4 to 1 vote.

The full council is to vote on the ordinance on Jan. 21 and is expected to follow the committee recommendation.

Steve Bell is the afternoon newscaster at KCUR 89.3. You can reach him at steveb@kcur.org.

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