In the end, the difference between approval and rejection for the controversial 325,000 square foot Mission Chateau senior living and skilled nursing facility came down to the 1 inch between the property lines to the south of Mission Valley, and the 200 foot buffer zone around the second proposed development site.
After hours of discussions and presentations Monday, the Prairie Village city council voted split down the middle at 6-6. Mayor Ron Shaffer broke the tie in favor of the Tutera Group, making the final tally 7-6. The difference from consideration of the proposal in September was that, without a valid protest petition on file, the three-fourths supermajority requirement that had scuttled the first application was not in place, meaning the straight majority was enough to give Tutera the victory the company has been seeking for months.
The evening was, predictably, not without heated discussion. John Duggan, the attorney representing the neighbors who opposed the plan, spent the bulk of his remarks lambasting the Tutera group’s move to shift the boundary of the area under consideration for the Special Use Permit 200 feet to the north, just enough to eliminate the houses along the south of the Mission Valley property from eligibility to participate in the protest petition. Without those homeowners participating, the protest petition represented 18.31 percent of the property in the 200 foot buffer zone. To be valid, a protest petition much have signatures representing 20 percent of the area — a threshold easily met before consideration of the first petition, when the homeowners to the south were able to sign on.
“This is an end run around the due process rights of your constituents,” Duggan said.
Just before the vote, councilor Laura Wassmer began an impassioned speech against the proposal by echoing Duggan’s concerns about the disenfranchisement of the homeowners to the south, and then expressing her disappointment with Tutera’s refusal to bring the proposal more closely in line with the tenants of Village Vision (the city’s comprehensive plan adopted in 2005) or even scale it down substantially from the original proposal.
“The fact that this came back not smaller, but taller, frankly, it pisses me off,” Wassmer said.
When the vote finally came around 11:30 p.m., there wasn’t any movement among the councilors from their previous positions. Councilors Dale Warman, Ruth Hopkins, Steve Noll, Andrew Wang , Charles Clark and David Belz all voted in favor of the proposal. Ashley Weaver, Laura Wassmer, Brooke Morehead and Ted Odell again voted against the proposal, as did new councilor Courtney McFadden, Shaffer’s appointee to the Ward 5 seat vacated by David Morrison. (Councilor Michael Kelly has moved to Canada and was absent from the meeting, but his non-vote counted as a no).
Prior to the vote, Warman told the audience that he felt the bitterly hostile environment surrounding the proposal had been difficult to watch.
“I’ve seen friends turn against friends and neighbors turn against neighbors,” he said. “We had two sides that dug in, and neither one wanted to move an inch.”
In the aftermath of the decision, Duggan said the opponents of the plan were likely to take legal action against the council’s decision.
“Most likely we will appeal or ask some higher authority to evaluate what happened,” Duggan said.
Joe Tutera, on the other hand, was at long last making plans to move forward.
“The next step is working on construction documents and permits, and we’ll start that immediately,” Tutera said. He suggested the best-case-scenario would have groundbreaking on the site in six months. Tutera predicts the project will take 24 to 30 months to build.