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Kansas City Council Set To Debate Limits On Plaza Building Heights

Kevin Collison
CityScene KC
A proposal to demolish the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist at 47th and Pennsylvania and build a 12-story, mixed-use apartment building has sparked a debate about height restrictions for developments on the Country Club Plaza.

Kansas City's debate about whether to limit the height of new buildings on the Country Club Plaza escalated on Wednesday.

Members of the city's Planning, Zoning & Economic Development committee considered a proposal to restrict building heights to 45 feet in certain parts of the Plaza as part of the “bowl” plan that designates shorter buildings in the center of the entertainment district and taller ones on the edges. Currently, such restrictions are recommended but not mandated.

The Kansas City Plan Commission unanimously rejected the proposal last week, but committee members on Wednesday voted to move it to the full City Council for debate.

The ordinance is primarily opposed by property owners in the area, who argue that the plan will arbitrarily devalue some properties and not others.

Patricia Jensen, an attorney representing the owner of the Plaza medical building, told committee members the ordinance was just “another instance of you… taking away the rights of these property owners.”

Advocates, including councilwoman Kathryn Shields, Friends of the Plaza, and other local neighborhood associations, say that the plan preserves the long-term vision of the Plaza.

“Attractive venues like the Plaza don’t happen by accident,” said Robert Martin, president of the Plaza Westport Neighborhood Association. “As you well know, it started with a vision by J.C. Nichols. And it’s not that we want to retain that vision for all time… but it must be a continuous vision; it must have coherence.”

Conversations about the Plaza Bowl plan sparked in December with the introduction of a plan to demolish the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist on 47th and Pennsylvania and replace it with a 12-story apartment building. Historic KC began the process of attempting to have the church declared a local landmark, but withdrew the application in favor of the Plaza Bowl plan.

Members of the church, however, do not support the ordinance. The new apartment building would also include space for the church, whose membership is much smaller than the current building's capacity. Speaking on their behalf, Pat Daniels said that the church’s present location could “realistically overwhelm our membership, saddle it with unbearable expenses, and ultimately force us to close.”

Sonia Schlesinger is a KCUR intern. Reach her at sonia@kcur.org.

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