On February 15, Kansas City, Missouri’s City Plan Commission in a three to two vote denied a proposed office building in the coveted Country Club Plaza, a 55-acre outdoor retail, residential, and office mixed-use district. The eight-story, $58 million, 192,000-square-foot building was proposed to go on top of an existing two-story parking deck and would have replaced the 100-unit Neptune Apartments. The project had been recommended for approval by the city’s Planning and Development Department and had the support of the local Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.
What the proposal did not have, however, was the support of the community. A coalition of activists from across the city formed the “Save the Plaza” group soon after the initial proposal, designed by Rule Joy Trammell + Rubio of Atlanta was released last summer. The city asked for revisions to this and a second proposal at which time the owner of the entire Plaza, Raleigh, NC-based Highwoods Properties—upon the urging of the primary tenant of the proposed building local law firm Polsinelli Shughart—brought in the local architecture firm 360 Architecture. Peter Sloan, principal of 360 and a board member of AIA Kansas City, explained, “We had to take something that went awry and make it as good as we could.”
The 360 proposal sought to preserve the integrity of the two-story Balcony Building, address the city’s Plaza Urban Design and Development Plan, and create a more integrated pedestrian experience. Architects 360 used materials to integrate the building with the Euro-styling of the Plaza and introduce a grand staircase from 47th Street up to a new public gathering space atop the existing parking structure that would act as an overlook and front entrance to the building. The firm also sought to break up the massing with glass and by angling the eastern side to match the curve of the irregular block.
The Plaza Plan, and the underlying zoning that is used to implement it, is at the center of the controversy. “The Plan is more of a wish list for the plaza,” staff planner Larry H. Stice, told the commission at the hearing. “The zoning supersedes the Plan.” To which the crowd booed. The proposal requested an amendment to the Plan and a rezoning. “The Focus Kansas City Plan, Westport Plan, and Plaza Plan all state that this site is to be residential, and specifically that there is no recommended rezoning,” said Vicki Noteis, President of Collins Noteis & Associates, the planning consultant for Save the Plaza and former commission member who originally approved the Plaza Plan then went on to implement it as first assistant director then director of city planning.
Save the Plaza’s legal counsel Dan Cofran, a former city councilman who championed the adoption of the Plan in 1989 explained to the Commission, “Putting the Plaza Plan aside, it is simply too big for this location.” The opposition made the argument that adding a left turn lane on Broadway to 47th Street simply does not do enough to mitigate the traffic impacts, and that the design creates a “Berlin Wall” of development given the anticipated 2,300 car trips generated per day and that it would be flanked on all three sides by two lane roads.
Originally developed in 1922 by revered real estate magnate, JC Nichols, the Plaza has been called the soul of Kansas City. The proposal can only move forward with the introduction of an ordinance by City Council within 90 days. This is unlikely to happen until at least after the March 22 elections. Save the Plaza has already threatened a citywide referendum to stop the project if the ordinance passes City Council.