Westwood Hills drive for historic status ruffles some neighbors across the street

The shops at State Line Road and 50th Street contribute to the architecture for the Westwood Hills historic district application.

If its application is approved later this summer, the entire city of Westwood Hills could be included on both the Kansas and the National Register of Historic Places. The city’s 175 homes and its few businesses are all included in an application, which is now being reviewed by staff at the State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO).

The move has caused some angst among its neighbors because Kansas law now requires that any building permit for work in an historic district or within 500 feet of one is reviewed by the SHPO. That means a big chunk of Westwood and parts of Mission Woods would fall under the environs review provisions, a possibility that was not received well by the Westwood Planning Commission.

A bill pending in the Kansas Legislature would strip out the 500-foot environs review and ease much of the Westwood concern. The Senate passed the language Wednesday, but it still needs House consent, according to Sen. Kay Wolf. Under current Kansas law, a building permit in the historic district or 500-foot zone must get a ruling from the historic preservation office. Even if that office advises the permit should not be issued, the city can determine no feasible alternative exists and approve the permit anyway.

The concern, from Westwood’s perspective, is that the law also provides for judicial review by an aggrieved party. It is interpreted that Westwood Hills or a property owner in the historic district could go to court to stop a Westwood building permit. A Westwood Hills FAQabout the application says it will give the city “standing” to oppose nearby negative development.

The Westwood Village development would be affected by the 500-foot rule if it is allowed to stand.

The 500-foot boundary puts several Westwood commercial properties on Rainbow Blvd. in the review zone, which could be a deterrent to redevelopment, Westwood officials fear. Mayor John Yé told his council last week that the plan commission’s reaction was “visceral” and its members felt the review could “hurt the path” Westwood is on. Yé said the environs review encroaches on Westwood with a cumbersome process.

Westwood Hills Mayor Paula Schwach said the 500-foot zone is “not inconsequential.”  Her city prefers it remain in the law, although it was not the only reason for the application, which is designed to “preserve the nature and character of the city.” Westwood Hills is so small, though, that it can be affected by what happens on its borders, she said. More than 150 Westwood Hills residents signed petitions in favor of the application.

The historic district would include 199 taxable parcels in Westwood Hills, but also affect 187 in Westwood with the 500-foot zone and others in Mission Woods. It does not affect the Missouri side of State Line Road.

Sarah Martin, the National Register coordinator at the state historic office, said most building permit reviews are done within a few days. However, the office can hold a hearing which would extend the process. “We are overturned a lot,” Martin said, meaning local governing bodies approve a permit even when the historic office recommends against it.

The Westwood Hills application, which details each property, will be heard by the state review board in August. If approved for the state register, the application will be forwarded for national review. Martin said the Westwood Hills application for an entire city is “unique.”
Westwood Hills was platted by the J.C. Nichols Company in 1923 and incorporated in 1949. The application lists 177 primary buildings for preservation. The application is based on both the “architecture” of the city and the “community planning and development.” State and federal tax credits for remodeling work are available to property owners in the district.

A map showing the proposed Westwood Hills historic district outlined in blue — and the 500-foot buffer area that would be impacted by creation of the district outlined in red.