Midtown area plan and Plaza restrictions move forward



For three years, civic, neighborhood and business people worked with city planners to create the Midtown/Plaza area plan.

On Wednesday, a council committee sent it to the full city council, along with its recommended height and use code restrictions for the Country Club Plaza.

The planning and zoning committee also voted to recommend full council approval for creation and support of a committee to implement the plan.

The plan effort had bogged down for weeks as city officials talked with Highwoods Properties, which owns the Plaza and has put it up for sale.

On Wednesday, attorneys for Highwoods supported it, but also asked for a height exception for a planned project.

A lawyer for owner of another property also wanted it exempted from proposed new lower height restrictions.

The committee discussed what to do about projects already in the pipeline, and agreed those that have already filed for rezoning would be grandfathered in under the old code.

The new heights would vary from three to ten stories.

Patricia Jensen, an attorney for Highwoods, said, “We can agree with use and height restrictions, but we need flexibility.”

The draw of the Plaza is not mainly history and charm, but powerful retail businesses, which are struggling in an Internet age, she said.

Joe Montanari, president of the West Plaza neighborhood, asked the committee to avoid making last minute changes for specific projects, “out of respect for (city) staff and the citizens” who shaped the plan.

“It’s a great thing for Kansas City if we can get it going,” he said of the plan.

Councilman Quinton Lucas asked for response to the notion that the new plan and codes are turning backs on future progress, bigger buildings, more money and more jobs – “freezing everything.”

Councilwoman Heather Hall said the historic Plaza pulls people to it with a feeling that must be preserved.

“So much of the future,” she said, “will be because of what we have done in the past.”

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said citizens want to keep the mix of history, housing, retail and commercial in a unique area.

The lower heights – three to ten stories – also work for historic preservation by limiting vast profits from demolition, she said.

Councilman Scott Taylor, committee chairman, said he favored the grandfather provision for developers who have applied for rezoning under the old codes, just as an issue of fairness.

City officials are not obligated to approve such projects, just not to hold the new height limits against projects if they meet the old criteria.

Shields, who was involved in the planning process, said it worked out well, finally.

Developers in the Plaza will no longer have to spend millions to propose a giant building that neighbors rally to kill, she said.

“I think the argument that swayed a lot of development people is we really do need clarity,” she said.

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