Catholic student housing loses in plan commission

untitled-(1-of-6)Today it was nuns vs. Midtown neighbors, Catholics vs. Catholics, in a long clash in a packed city hall meeting room.

The City Plan Commission heard public testimony for about five hours on whether to build religiously oriented student housing on Troost.

Then came the unanimous vote: Recommended denial for the project that the Catholic Diocese has promoted for three years.

untitled-(4-of-6)Twice before, the commission had told the diocese to work with the neighborhoods on a compromise for the project that would start with demolition of the abandoned St. Francis Xavier School at 5220 Troost.

The diocese cut the number of apartment units from more than 100 to 85, added parking spaces and cut the height from five stories in front to four.

Neighbors still turned out in mass to oppose it, as did many members of the St. Francis Xavier Church, which would remain on the northern edge of the five-acre site.

The dorm project would wipe out many parking places used by the church and take over more than 60 others it uses, officials said.

Commission Chair Babette Macy said the lack of parking would be a problem for the church to neighborhoods that already face major parking problems.

She also told diocese officials, “I don’t feel you have engaged with the community.”

She and other commissioners also said they did not like the lack of a road setback for the project, which city staff recommended be approved.

Commissioner Coby Crowl said the project met city criteria but, “I think the process of getting there is not one supported by the church parish itself and the residents around it.”

Neighbors had suggested the old school building be used for community things, like a charter school or a culinary center.

Mike White, attorney for the diocese, said the school building abandoned since 2009 was in too bad of shape to be reused.

“If the zoning for this project is turned down, what’s left to do with that building?” he asked.

But Bruce Palmer, a St. Francis parish member, said the school building dating from about 1960 is sturdy and flexible and could be reused as a Catholic center for students at UMKC and at Rockhurst and also provide a little dorm space.

But Sister Connie Boulch said the proposed new apartments are needed in an area surrounded by the two colleges.

“It will allow them to live in an environment where Catholic values are encouraged and live,” she said.

“I view this project as a project of hope, hope for the students, hope for the church, hope for the world,” she said.

Eric Wombwell said that Catholic students have a need for community and relationships and the apartments would be “a win-win for everyone.”

Les Cline, president of the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition, said the diocese had never deviated from its project and paid little attention to neighborhoods.

The slightly smaller scale offering, he said, “is less of what we never said we wanted in the first place.”

Vincent Gauthier, a developer against the project, said the new proposal calls for a reduction from 283 beds to 237 beds.

“It’s still a big pig,” he said.

After the vote, people pointed their stiff limbs toward elevators and someone said, “Democracy is hard work.”

And the politics are probably not over. The diocese can still take the project and its rezoning before the city council in spite of the plan commission vote.


  1. Michael Fears says:

    I believe the dorms will be a great asset for redeveloping Troost Ave. I see this mass number who do not want the dorms, but where was the group when they put that ugly Family Dollar on 46th Troost Ave. and Dollar General on 56th Troost Ave.

  2. Carol Grimaldi says:

    Student housing on Troost is not a potential asset if it’s not supported by two adjacent universities as they both require first year students not living at home to reside in their own dorms. These are small apartments in which unrelated young adults will be assigned to live at above market rate prices. Great potential for concentrated Section 8 housing exists with the failure of this scheme, and Troost doesn’t need that.
    We didn’t have the chance to oppose the ugly 56th Street Dollar General and the even more offensive 46th Street Family Dollar along Troost because they didn’t require zoning changes or have anything in their plans that required variances to be approved. All they had to do was pull the necessary permits and build, as that’s what the city allows. However, the community fought very hard against the Dollar General at 42nd Street on Troost. While the variances were approved by the Board of Zoning Adjustment, the look of that store is superior to what happened with those other two retail blights further south.

  3. Becca says:

    I’m a neighbor and I find it very sad that this project can’t move forward. I have attended events hosted by the diocese to engage neighbors, and I would argue that it’s the neighbors who are unwilling to compromise. They suggest that it should be a community center or charter school, but there is no plan to enact these visions. This project would mean hundreds of responsible students living on Troost, bringing density, market and visibility to an area that is generally dead at night. Parking might be a growing pain of this development, but it would be a good problem to have, and perhaps some solution could be found with the surrounding universities and newly constructed parking garages. I continue to hope that a solution can be found, bringing investment and activity to this part of our city that is currently a vacuum.

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