Mayor urges swift action on design guidelines as Prairie Village tear downs continue apace

An excavator felled the chimney of a Prairie Village Cape Cod on 74th Street Monday. The city has seen 58 tear downs since 2010.
An excavator felled the chimney of a Prairie Village Cape Cod on 74th Street Monday. The city has seen 58 tear downs since 2010.

The Prairie Village City Council got its first look at a set of design guidelines that would limit the size and scope of new homes built on the sites of torn down originals, guidelines that Mayor Laura Wassmer said were desperately needed as the city sees more and more houses fall.

“We’re hearing from a lot of very upset residents and rightly so,” Wassmer said of the trend of new home projects that can tower over neighbors’ existing properties. “We don’t have time to waste on this. Every day we wait, we end up with more tear down requests.”

Since 2010, the city has seen 65 new homes built in the city, 58 of them on the site of tear downs. While many of those homes seem to conform to the aesthetics of the neighborhood, a handful have used starkly different design elements or tower over a neighboring structure. The new houses appear to be poised to completely remake the city’s housing market. A new project on 71st Terrace, for example, recently went under contract after being listed for $677,000. Neighboring properties are valued at around $250,000 to $300,000.

After a group of Prairie Village Homes Association members’ efforts to come up with design guidelines for those neighborhoods stalled last year, the city assembled a task force including architects and builders to draft guidelines for the entire city. Assistant City Administrator Wes Jordan helped present the group’s work on Monday, noting that the goal was to create guidelines that ensured new homes adhered to the scope of surrounding properties while not requiring the city to have an architectural review board, like in Mission Hills. Jordan noted that under existing guidelines, there was nothing to prevent someone from putting a 43-foot high house in the Prairie Village Homes Association neighborhoods. That would amount to a four-story home.

Among the guidelines proposed by the task force are:

  • Requiring minimum side setbacks of 10 percent of lot width
  • Requiring rear setbacks of 25 percent of lot depth or more, with a required minimum of 25 feet to 35 feet
  • Restricting garage door square footage to no more than 45 percent of the width of the front of the house

Wassmer noted that the feedback the city had received from architects and developers working in the area was that the new guidelines would allow them to design and build properties that meet the current demands of the market. The proposal was met with generally favorable reaction from the council members, as well.

“It seems to be done in a very thoughtful, meaningful way that addresses all of our concerns,” said Ward 1 representative Jori Nelson.

But some members of the council expressed a desire to take a deliberate pace in considering the proposal, in contrast to the swift action Wassmer implored them to take. Prairie Village Building Offical Mitch Dringman noted during the proceedings that only a very small percentage of the new homes built in the area over the past five years would not have passed muster under the proposed guidelines. Councilor Terrence Gallagher asked whether, if almost all of the new homes conform to the proposed guidelines, there really was any urgent time pressure to get the guidelines codified.

“Is this really a big deal if they say most of the houses would have passed muster?” Gallagher asked.

Jordan told the council that the plan was to hold three public information sessions on the proposal before making changes and bringing an updated proposal to the planning commission.