After long debate, Prairie Village takes first step toward clarifying home design standards

Debate over the issue was long, and its presence on the agenda controversial, but with a 7-5 vote on Monday night the Prairie Village city council took the first step toward establishing a test location for an “overlay district” that would help bring legal clarification to home association design standards that have been deemed too vague.

The motion came about after several years of legal wrangling that resulted from questions over whether a local builder had violated the story-and-a-half height regulation written into the design guidelines of the Prairie Village Homes Association. The overlay district approach will provide guidance from the city intended to alleviate ambiguity about building regulations as they pertain to size, mass and form of homes in a defined area. The motion that passed on Monday will have Assistant City Administrator Dennis Enslinger write legislation to create a “Beta test” location for an overlay district in the Countryside East neighborhood.

Despite the fact that the motion had the support of the majority of the council members — and the representatives of four homes associations who came to offer their public comments — council members engaged in considerable sparring about whether the motion should have even been on the agenda. Council members Diana Ewy Sharp and David Belz, both of Ward 6, lodged vocal complaints that the council had recently gone through a process in which it identified its top priorities, and that the overlay district issue was not one of them. And council member Ruth Hopkins, Ward 2, stressed that the initiative was likely to put additional burden on city staff whose time is already short.

Council member Al Herrera, Ward 1, went so far as to accuse Michael Kelly, Ward 3, who put the item on the agenda and introduced the motion for a vote, of grandstanding — an assertion to which Kelly replied that he “took offense.”

But there appeared to be a general consensus from all parties that it would be in the city’s best interests in the long term to start identifying how it would address building standards in the area as the housing stock ages and more people consider making major home renovations.

As Chris Holmes, of the Corinth Hills Homes Association, put it: “This is coming. So we ought to start figuring out how to deal with it.”