Concerns over tentative Westwood master plan prompt formation of neighborhood association

Westwood residents gather at the gym of Olivet Baptist Church to learn about their new neighborhood association.
Westwood residents gather at the gym of Olivet Baptist Church to learn about their new neighborhood association.

Westwood has been without a neighborhood association for 20 years, but concerns over a new city master plan in the works that includes identifying areas for potential medium-density housing has prompted creation of a revived group.

“The forging moment for us was the master plan consideration,” said Gabrielle Favreau, the new president of the Westwood Neighborhood Association, “but it’s about all of us as residents and what we want to be engaged with.”

Favreau was speaking last week to a about 60 people who came to Olivet Baptist Church for the first meeting of the new association. They gathered to listen to what makes a successful neighborhood group and prioritize their concerns with sticky notes.

High on the list, opposition to multi-family housing and anything other than single-family homes being built in their community.

In a separate interview, Westwood City Administrator Fred Sherman welcomed the discussion about the city’s future. He said that’s one of the reasons Westwood has embarked on updating its master plan, something that hasn’t occurred since 1997.

“The future land use plan is not a rezoning, but a policy guidance,” Sherman said. “Any developer would still need to seek rezoning and nobody is talking about that right now. It’s good to have a community debate.”

The debate over the tentative master plan has sparked yard signs along Rainbow and other nearby streets in recent weeks saying “No Medium Density Housing.” It also prompted people to show up for the organizing meeting of the new neighborhood association.

Among the guests were two leaders of the West Plaza Neighborhood Association, one of the stronger residential groups in Kansas City. They praised the large turnout for the meeting in the Olivet gymnasium.

“There’s a lot of power in this room,” said Joe Montanari, president of the West Plaza group. “When dealing with city officials, all they care about is votes. There’s 60 of you here and I’ll bet you all are registered to vote.”

The first unveiling of the draft master plan was at the Westwood Planning Commission meeting Nov. 7. More public hearings and workshops are expected before a final document is presented to the City Council, Sherman said.

City officials decided it was time to update the plan following the rezoning decision in 2011 that led to the construction of the Woodside Village apartment project. Until then, all Westwood was zoned for single-family houses.

Sherman said officials believe there will be continued development interest in Westwood and it was time for a new look at its master plan.

Potential redevelopment sites identified include the eight-acre Entercom property, parts of the 47th Street corridor, the former Westwood Christian Church property at 5050 Rainbow, Westwood View Elementary school and City Hall itself.

No Medium Density yard signs have popped up in Westwood in response to a draft city master plan.
No Medium Density yard signs have popped up in Westwood in response to a draft city master plan.

The tentative master plan identifies those areas and the Westport Annex section of the city, a two-block area between Rainbow and State Line Road from 47th Terrace to 48th Street, as locations where redevelopment could occur, although not all are identified as medium density housing.

Sherman said the Westport Annex area already meets the definition of medium density housing, 6- to 15 units per acre. The area is characterized by small, single-family lots and homes built before World War II.

“The plan was to recognize the density that already exists there,” he said.

As for the Entercom and Westwood View properties, much depends on how the Shawnee Mission School District plans to move forward. The district owns most of the Entercom land and may build a new elementary school there. If that were to happen, the old school property could be redeveloped.

It was apparent however, at the first meeting of the revived Westwood Neighborhood Association, the draft master plan has significant opposition.

“The proposed master plan is a lot to consume and I want to consume this with neighbors and discuss it,” Favreau said.

There were other topics discussed too.

Favreau told the audience she hopes the revived neighborhood association will help people become more engaged in the community. Among the ideas suggested: senior helpers, a tech forum, welcoming new residents, a coffee klatch, newsletter and clean-up events.

“I was thrilled at the turnout,” Favreau said after the meeting. “I knew Westwood would come together.”