Westwood has chance to control its own destiny with new plans, panel tells city

One of the ULI concepts shows new housing on the Entercom property in Westwood and a new school on Rainbow.
One of the ULI concepts shows new housing on the Entercom property in Westwood and a new school on Rainbow.

“Control your own destiny” was one of the catch phrases heard during a presentation on future development in Westwood last week. That also defined the difference in two approaches that the group of advisors sketched out for the city.

One option would wait for the school district to act first, building a new Westwood View Elementary School on the eight-acre Entercom property that sits across the street from the current school site. The second option would encourage the Entercom property to be developed for new housing. More housing, in theory, means more students which means a greater potential that the district will want to rebuild Westwood View.

When a technical advisory panel (TAP) from the Urban Land Institute assembled Thursday to review the potential development for the Entercom property, Dennis Park, Westwood View and the former Christian Church now owned by the city, it laid out those two primary options and said it understood that keeping Westwood View open is a key driver. The panel review was the first TAP provided by the Kansas City chapter of ULI and included professionals across a number of disciplines that affect real estate development. The panel members interviewed a number of stakeholders, including developers, county library staff, school district representatives and city staff in developing the plans.

Here are a number of points made by panel members during the presentation of their findings and suggestions:

  • Park space is an integral part of any plan, but safety and security concerns have been raised about the present Dennis Park because of its proximity to Rainbow Blvd. and the fact it is not ADA compliant. Each of the plans contains green space and allows for play areas to be developed. The park areas can be jointly developed with the school and with the new housing.
  • City zoning codes will need to be changed to allow multi-family housing. “The numbers work,” said panelist Melanie Mann of Mann Development, if higher density is allowed on the Entercom site to include town homes. The best insurance for keeping the school is to enhance the community so it is an attractive location for families, she said.
  • The housing options in a more dense configuration not only can attract younger families who don’t want a single-family house, but also might attract empty-nesters who live in Westwood, opening their houses to new families. The town homes could be higher market options.
  • The panel did not feel commercial development is appropriate at the Entercom property or the current park site. Members did believe the city could leverage commercial development on the current three-acre city hall property.
  • Panelists estimated that the current city hall land could bring at least a $2 million price tag and be developed into a commercial or mixed-use venture that could also generate $100,000 per year in property tax and $80,000 per year in sales tax. One option showed city hall moving to 50th and Rainbow and another option showed it being part of a mixed-use development at its current site.
  • “Doing nothing is really not an option,” said Chris Cline a principal at Confluence. The city’s purchase of the church property has already put it on a path of controlling its destiny.
  • The economy is moving once again after the recession, said Tim Schaffer of RED Brokerage. “Anything is possible again.” The next few years will be critical for action while the economy is still favorable, he said.
  • A huge demand exists for the type of housing – with greater density – that is being suggested for the Entercom property, said Lynn Carlton of HOK.
  • A new school could be designed to provide community space that could be secured from the rest of the building and used after hours. The school district told the panel it is not opposed to shared space utilization.
  • A walkable, urban community is a goal and the city needs to marry to the two concepts of its historic charming walkable community and the new development that is occurring which makes it a more modern urban community.

The panel is expected to issue a written report on its findings in the next few weeks.

The former Westwood Christian Church property was purchased by the city and now is an integral part of planning for the future.
The former Westwood Christian Church property was purchased by the city and now is an integral part of planning for the future.