Diocese dorm project – and controversy – are back

untitled-(2-of-2)A bitter zoning fight that erupted again Wednesday over plans for religious student apartments on Troost Avenue will continue.

Ed Ford, chair of the city council planning and zoning committee, delayed it until July 15.

He said he wants to meet with Archbishop Joseph Naumann and others to try to resolve what has split the Catholic Diocese of Kansas-City St. Joseph and St. Francis Xavier Parish.

The church would remain on the northern edge of the five-acre site at Troost and 53rd, but the diocese plans to demolish the former St. Francis Xavier school there.

Parishioners want the school renovated for another use or even as a school. The diocese says that would cost too much.

Ford told the diocese, “If this was my parish, what you’ve done would be extremely offensive.”

The City Plan Commission, an advisory board, has rejected the housing three times since 2012.

But city planning staff say the development meshes with plans for residential hubs along Troost to help draw other development.

On Wednesday, the diocese presented the plan to council members for the first time.

Opponents at the plan commission hearings – area neighborhood residents, parishioners or both – again spoke against it.

The plan commission repeatedly criticized the diocese for not working with the neighbors, who said Wednesday they did not even learn about the council action until days ago.

“That’s the kind of process it has been,” said Kenneth Spare. “I’ve never seen such an abysmal process used on people.”

The diocese notes that the project has been scaled down from more than 100 units to 85 and provides more than twice the required parking.

Mike White, attorney for the diocese, said, “We submit to you that student housing located between two college campuses is inherently reasonable.”

Opponents say former Bishop Robert Finn and the diocese in 2009 took over the school the parish had leased to a charter school from 2004 to 2009.

They say the project with 237 bedrooms is too dense for the site and parking in the area is already a crisis.

Students from Rockhurst and UMKC colleges park on the streets and “the neighborhood has some of the worst if not the worst parking problems in the city,” said Vincent Gauthier, a developer and parishioner.

He noted that the diocese plan to provide 260 parking spaces includes about 85 that would be taken from the church, which is already short of parking.

Ford asked White, “What are we going to do on Sunday morning (for church parking)?”

White said, “No matter what we do, if we have 300 people showing up for mass, they’re going to be short of parking.”

Ford replied, “They don’t want to be any more short of parking.”

Ford also asked whether a new bishop yet to be appointed would support the project.

Finn resigned in April following a 2012 conviction for failing to report suspected child abuse.

Lois Skogerson, a project opponent, said, “the people who are in power now want to ramrod this through before the new leadership is in place.”

Austin Marsh, a Rockhurst graduate, spoke in support of the project.

“When you have people of faith coming and living together, ideas will flow,” he said.

White also issued a legal threat. To deny the project would invite a state lawsuit against an unreasonable act, he said, and violate a federal religious land law by forbidding the diocese from using its property to serve its religious mission.

Councilman Jim Glover said he would ask for a review from city attorneys.

Councilman John Sharp said, “I can’t support this plan – I think it’s clear the parishioners don’t feel they’ve been listened to yet.”

Ford said he shares the frustration of the parishioners but “I may end up voting for this – I just can’t do that today.”

So after three years, the mix of religion, politics, law and city zoning continues to hang fire.


  1. BIG BABY says:

    I question Xavier Parish motive, is it the dorms by developer or is it Bishop Finn that has made them mad. I attend a church in the city with 4000 members and we park on side streets and church parking lot. Hello, street parking is part of the urban setting, if you want more parking spaces, use Rockhurst College parking garage on Troost Ave. I didn’t see a big protest when they built the garage on eastside of Troost. Oh, maybe I stepped on some toes,

  2. BIGBABY says:

    I noticed this area of residents said the developer would not be a good neighbor for their community. I rode around Troostwood Area and I noticed the entry way had a lot of weeds that need to be pulled. The island on Troost with the shrubs in the median are dying. It makes me wonder where is the stewardship when coming to maintaining your property in our city. Practice what you preach.

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