Tear downs increasing as Prairie Village moves to quickly get design guidelines in place

The increasing number of tear downs in Prairie Village  has led the city to try to develop better design guidelines for new construction.
The increasing number of tear downs in Prairie Village has led the city to try to develop better design guidelines for new construction.

In 2013, nine residents submitted plans to the city of Prairie Village for new home construction.

So far in 2015, 21 residents have filed such plans — and seven more are preparing to do so in the coming months.

The sharp uptick in tear down-rebuild projects in Prairie Village is one of the chief motivators behind the city’s move to devise and put up for city council adoption a set of design guidelines that would address mounting concerns about the size and scale of large new homes being put on sometimes small lots.

Assistant City Administrator Wes Jordan said the goal of the group working to put the design guidelines in place was to keep a consistent scope to they city’s neighborhoods. Some of the new houses being built are so large they run to within four feet of the neighboring property. Jordan recalled hearing from a homeowner who was upset that workers painting a newly built house next door had to put their ladder in her yard because the edge of the house was so close to the property that the ladder couldn’t safely be mounted if they’d kept it on the proper side of the line.

“This is probably one of the most difficult conversations I have with residents whose homes association does not have covenants to control building and they’re looking to the city to defend them,” Jordan said, noting that the existing city guidelines do little to address the size and scale issues that are of most concern. “To really boil it down, it’s like on Sesame Street where you saw the thing that said, ‘Which one of these doesn’t go with the others?'”

Jordan and City Planner Chris Brewster on Monday laid out what they categorized as an ambitious timeline for development of new citywide guidelines that would put them before the council for approval in January or February. Jordan and Brewster plan to hold public input sessions and meetings with stakeholders like architects and homebuilders between the end of this month and the end of November. After that, a set of proposed guidelines would go to the Planning Commission for a public hearing in December.

Among the items the city plans to include in the guidelines are:

  • Limits on height and guidelines about the elevation of first stories
  • Roof forms
  • Footprint sizes limited to 30 percent of the lot
  • Creating a consistent formula for setbacks
  • Limiting the size and location of garages
  • Requiring windows to cover a certain portion of the facade.

The city intends to stay away from issues like aesthetics, building materials and architectural style in hopes of allowing homes associations with design covenants to maintain their influence.

But Jordan cautioned that the city’s proposal — whatever it may end up being — was almost certain to cause conflict. The intense reaction to a group of Prairie Village Homes Association members’ attempt to develop an overlay district there is in part what prompted the city to take up the effort to develop citywide guidelines. There’s no getting around the fact, said Jordan, that the interests of homeowners and homebuilders will often be at odds.

“We’re not going to get consensus on this,” Jordan said. “Because every time [we make the guidelines for house size] smaller, we’re pulling dollars out of the developers’ pockets.”