Neighbors of Troost Catholic dorms says developer hasn’t engaged community

Photo from a Community Vision for St. Francis Xavier School, June 3, 2013.

Photo from a Community Vision for St. Francis Xavier School, June 3, 2013.

The developer of a proposed Catholic student dorm at 52nd and Troost met with neighbors this week, but many left saying they didn’t get the answers they were hoping to hear.

Les Cline, president of the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition, said the biggest problem is that the developer has not followed well-established guidelines for engaging stakeholders before a project is presented to the city.

“There are reasons why the community needs to be valued. It can improve the viability and sustainability of a project,” Cline said. But in this case, he said, the community does not feel like it has had input into the process.

Discussion of the project began in 2012, when the Kansas City Catholic diocese proposed having a Domus, a developer that has built Catholic residence halls, tear down the former St. Francis Xavier School at 5220 Troost and replace it with a five-story building providing dormitory-style student housing. Neighbors and church members of the Saint Francis Xavier Church next door objected to the scale of the building and said it would create additional parking problems in the neighborhood. A needs assessment of the neighborhood also suggested a number of other uses for the site which residents said would better serve the immediate community.

See Proposal for student housing on Troost is back

John Flynn of Domus Development.

John Flynn of Domus Development.

This week, John Flynn of Domus Development was invited by the 43/63 neighborhood and parishioners of next-door St. Francis Xavier Church to explain the new plan. The developer will ask the city plan commission for a change in zoning from commercial to residential on Feb. 18, and it was the first chance neighbors had to ask questions about the newly-revived project.

“The bishop wants to use the space to develop a strong Catholic community of students at UMKC,” Flynn said.

The new proposal is scaled back from the previous one. Flynn said developers had not yet decided on the scope and size of the project, but would still revolve around about 175 dorm-style housing units on 4-5 floors, and would be intended as living space for Catholic students.

Parishioners and neighbors expressed concerns about the viability of the building, saying that they were not convinced students would want to live in a Catholic dorm.

“It’s like the field of dreams,” Flynn said. “We’re building it and hopefully they will come.”

Flynn said he could not tell those at the meeting what the cost of renting the dorm rooms would be and also could not give several other details such as exactly how many beds were being proposed, saying that plans have not yet been finalized.

UMKC Associate Vice Chancellor of Administration Bob Simmons said the university has concerns about parking which is already tight in the area. He said the university follows the industry parking standard, allowing .8 parking spaces for each bed in apartment-style housing. Flynn said his proposal was for 1 parking space per unit, with units ranging from 1 to 4 beds.

Parishioners are concerned about a large project right next to their historic church. “If the project fails, the church can’t expand. We are locked in by an unadaptable building next to an architecturally significant church,” Bruce Palmer said.

Others said that although Bishop Robert Finn has the final decision on what happens on the property, he has not met with stakeholders or the parish council to hear their concerns.

The zoning change goes to the City Plan Commission and then to the city council.

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