Commission unanimously rejects KC bishop's plan for faith-based dormitory

Ken Spare, a St. Francis Xavier parishioner, speaks to the City Plan Commission on Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo. (NCR photo/Soli Salgado)
Ken Spare, a St. Francis Xavier parishioner, speaks to the City Plan Commission on Tuesday in Kansas City, Mo. (NCR photo/Soli Salgado)

by Soli Salgado

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The City Plan Commission of Kansas City, Mo., on Tuesday unanimously voted against the construction of a faith-based dormitory, a project Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn had supported and neighbors of the site overwhelmingly opposed.

More than 100 people attended the hearing, with more than 80 representing the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition. Eleven women religious and one priest attended alongside Finn after he sent a letter inviting diocesan clergy to attend the hearing in support of his plan.

Testimonies lasted more than four hours and began with White Goss, the Kansas City law firm representing the project's developers. They outlined how the project had been scaled down since it was first proposed in 2012 and said parking would not be an issue for neighbors and parishioners of St. Francis Xavier. They said the property, located between the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Rockhurst University, would draw sufficient demand to fill what would have been the Bellarmino Catholic Center.

The City Plan Commission expressed concern after learning that neither UMKC nor Rockhurst expressed a need or interest in additional housing for their students, referring to it several times as a "red flag." The design also came into question, as the building walls would extend to the edge of the sidewalk.

The rebuttal from the neighborhood coalition mentioned that community engagement in designing this project was minimal and that the information they were given over the years has been intentionally vague, particularly regarding the parish hall they were promised. They also expressed concern that this building would not be adaptable should it fail as a faith-based dorm and that parking -- already a challenge in that area -- would discourage parish events and affect the church's viability.

St. Francis Xavier parishioner Ken Spare began his testimony with an apology to the commission, saying "there's no reason we should even be back here" after several failed attempts to find common ground on this same proposal.

Despite testimonies by both UMKC and Rockhurst students and alumni who said there was a need for an organized Catholic community close to their campuses, the project was denied.

The commission unanimously agreed that community engagement was done poorly despite having been a firm condition for future proposals, the long-term viability of this project was questionable, and the building's design and parking availability was not favorable to the neighborhood.

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