A proposal to restrict the height of new buildings in the core of Kansas City's Country Club Plaza, the so-called Plaza Bowl plan, was rejected unanimously Tuesday by the City Plan Commission as arbitrary and "political."
Championed by councilwoman Kathryn Shields and backed by Friends of the Plaza, preservationists and nearby neighborhood associations, the plan is intended to make mandatory what is now recommended height restrictions.
"The Plaza is the essential example of what creates a sense of place in Kansas City," said Jim Wanser, president of Historic KC. "We believe 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 restrictions would reduce the value of their property.
"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 heights of development to 45 feet along 47th Street between Pennsylvania and Roanoke. But the boundary and its height limit veer north on Broadway to include 46th Terrace east to Wyandotte.
The proposed mandatory height restrictions now go to the full city council accompanied by the plan commission's negative recommendation. Shields, who attended Tuesday's meeting with supporters, was optimistic about its prospects.
"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 legally binding gained urgency in December when a plan was introduced to demolish the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist, at the northwest corner of 47th and Pennsylvania, and replace it with a 12-story apartment project.
In an 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 withdrew its application earlier this month, opting instead to support the Plaza Bowl plan.
Charles Spaulding, a member of the church, noted that it is 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 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 residential 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. Objections were particularly strong for properties at the corner of 46th Terrace and Wyandotte.
Commerce Bank owns a building at 4635 S. Wyandotte, formerly used as a drive-through, that it's considering redeveloping into a six-story office location, according to attorney Aaron March. A 45-foot height restriction, he said, "would make it impossible to develop."
Although no plans are in the works to redevelop the site of the Plaza Medical Building (foreground) and a building owned by Commerce Bank at 4635 Wyandotte (background), attorneys argued that proposed height restrictions would prevent them from fully developing those properties.Credit Kevin Collison / KCUR 89.3Edit | Remove
Patricia Jensen, the attorney representing the owner of the Plaza Medical Building at the northeast corner of 46th Terrace and Wyandotte, noted that a 1989 version of the Plaza Bowl plan said a building up to 10 stories could go there.
"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 said they were uncomfortable with the boundaries used for Plaza Bowl height restrictions, and noted that the council could override restrictions if it chose for individual projects.
"I'm worried that people will think it this passes, these projects won't be built," said Babette Macy, the commission's chairwoman. "I think some of what's been picked is political, with this jagged line."
Kevin Collison, a freelance contributor to KCUR 89.3, writes about downtown Kansas City for his website CityScene KC.