KC council suspends decision on faith-based housing

Kansas City, Mo. — The City Council here agreed Thursday that parishioners and developers of a highly contested Kansas City site need to meet once again before the project is brought to a final vote Aug. 20.

The disputed proposal – the construction of a faith-based dormitory in place of an abandoned school building – was unanimously rejected three times before the City Plan Commission due to lack of community engagement on behalf of the project’s developers, Domus Development.

But when presented to the Planning, Zoning and Economic Development committee July 15, the project was approved to move forward to the full council after a 4-1 vote.

In the final meeting of the council’s current term, Councilman Ed Ford explained Thursday that, though the committee may not have liked neither the project nor how its neighbors have been treated throughout the process, “we still have rules to go by,” and found no legal ground to reject the plan as is.

Councilman John Sharp, the sole vote against the project July 15, argued that not only does the council have the legal authority to reject the plan as is, but that controversial plans require real dialog, “and this is a situation that just begs for that kind of real dialog.”

“The neighborhood groups in this area are some of the most progressive neighbors we have in the city,” he said. “They’re not the ‘not in my backyard!’ folks, but they’re folks that care very deeply about their community, and we should place great value on that care.”

Mayor Sly James called for a resolution requiring an impartial third-party member to engage in the meetings between developers and parishioners, so as to get past the “he-said-she-said” disagreements that have hijacked previous hearings. The council unanimously agreed on this resolution.

Developers argue that faith-based student housing is the most viable option in place of the abandoned St. Francis Xavier School building, which straddles two college campuses in Kansas City – Rockhurst University and the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Neighbors, however, argue that this project – advocated by recently resigned Kansas City-St. Joseph Bishop Robert Finn – should await approval of their pending bishop. Details of the design also concern the neighborhood coalition, as they said it is inflexible should it fail as a dorm, impedes on the area’s limited parking space, and fails to provide a promised parish hall for the neighboring St. Francis Xavier Church.

Ford said that one goal of the upcoming mediation will be to establish the legitimate from the illegitimate concerns: parking, design and setback hold weight in this argument, he said, while concerns regarding the bishop’s role do not.

James said that either a lawyer or member of the planning staff is to engage in the mediation process so as to report back and keep the discussion “in bounds of a legal standpoint.” The final vote is scheduled for Aug. 20 before the new council.

[Soli Salgado is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is ssalgado@ncronline.org.]

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