Prairie Village council approves new Mission Chateau plan — but Morrison threatens challenge

Demolition of Mission Valley Middle School is set to begin before the end of the year after the passage of a new plan for the site Monday.
Demolition of Mission Valley Middle School is set to begin before the end of the year after the passage of a new plan for the site Monday.

The three-years-in-the-making Mission Chateau saga is finally over. At least probably.

On an 11-2 vote Monday, the Prairie Village governing body gave approval to the revised senior living community plan brokered over several months between the Tutera Group and representatives of the Mission Valley Neighbors Association, whose legal maneuverings in the wake of the council’s passage of a larger plan in January 2014 had stymied Tutera’s ability to move the project forward.

The new plan calls for 285,948 square feet of development spread across an assisted and independent living facility and 11 “villas.” First unveiled in April, the plan represents a significant reduction from the 374,202 square feet of development in the previously approved version, which included a controversial skilled nursing facility in addition to the assisted and independent living facility and several single family homes.

After the vote, The Tutera Group chief Joe Tutera said he was grateful to Mayor Laura Wassmer and Councilor Ted Odell for helping facilitate the negotiations with the neighbors that led to the approved plan.

“We are very pleased with the plan that was just approved,” Tutera said. “We set forth to develop the highest quality senior living facility in the community, and the plan represents such a facility in the heart of Prairie Village.”

But the drawn out process that led to the rejection of Tutera’s first submission in September 2013, the narrow passage of a slightly revised plan in January 2014, and more than a year of wrangling in the courts that followed left plenty of bruised feelings between the company and neighboring homeowners. Asked why it had taken three years to get to the a point of neighborhood buy in, Tutera said the prospect of change to property that housed a neighborhood school proved difficult to stomach for many in the area.

“There was, I think, a lot of emotion, a lot head butting, a lot of misinformation about what could or couldn’t be [built],” Tutera said.

When the Shawnee Mission School Board voted in 2010 to shutter Mission Valley, the district said it faced dire financial circumstances that necessitated the reduction of costs wherever possible. But five years later, district demographers predict a significant regreening in the area that has many chattering about the possibility that Shawnee Mission will ultimately need to add another middle school in the coming years. That potentiality prompted Councilor David Morrison to speak up before the vote, saying he felt that the Mission Chateau plan wasn’t in the best interests of the city.

“Before we go rushing to pat ourselves on the back for bringing two sides together, in my view, this is the better of two very bad alternatives for Prairie Village,” he said. “We don’t need any more senior living in Prairie Village — we need it like we need a hole in the head…We need a school in that area.”

Morrison hammered on the point for more than five minutes before a clearly frustrated Wassmer asked him to wrap his comments up, pointing out that the Tutera Group was the property owner and the city had limited jurisdiction over how it could dictate the property was used.

“Your comments have no bearing on where we are tonight,” she said.

Morrison continued in the same vein for another couple of minutes before Wassmer declared him out of order and called for a vote. Morrison and fellow Ward 5 Councilor Dan Runion both voted against the measure. (Runion said after the meeting he voted against the plan because he wasn’t satisfied with the way some of the language in the ordinance attempted to incorporate aspects of the agreement between Tutera and the MVNA).

At the conclusion of the meeting, Morrison said he would be investigating whether Wassmer’s use of the “out of order” provision to cut off his comments was a violation of proper procedure.

“I am going to look into seeing if your action, if you created a basis for the challenge to the [Special Use Permit] now,” he said.

“Go for it, David,” Wassmer responded. “You’re a breathe of fresh air every time you’re here.”

Tutera said the company plans to begin demolition of Mission Valley before the end of the year with vertical construction to begin in the spring of 2016. Tutera said the company hoped to have the facility open by early 2017.