The vacant lot where Leawood Country Club used to sit is likely to remain so at least a while longer after the Leawood Planning Commission on Tuesday recommended against the landowner’s request to have part of the property rezoned from recreational to residential use.
Before a chamber crowded with area homeowners who had organized against Leawood Villa Devco LLC’s new plans for the property, four commissioners at Tuesday’s meeting voted unanimously against the rezoning request. Central to the controversy was the developer’s desire to turn land that had been set aside for tennis courts, a pool and cabanas that would have been accessible to the public through a membership program in a plan put forward in the mid-2000s into new home lots.
Polsinelli attorney John Petersen, who was on hand representing the developer, argued that the landowner’s efforts to make the 2004 plan work had proved futile, and blamed the pool and cabanas element of that proposal for part of its failure. People who were willing to invest more than $800,000 in a new home simply weren’t interested in having a semi-public pool facility right next to them. Moreover, Petersen said, the 2004 plan called for lot sizes that were too small to accommodate homes with features north Leawood buyers were looking for, like three-car garages and large first-floor master bedroom suites.
“[For 12 years] through good times, and bad times and back to good times, not one lot sold,” Petersen said. “There was marketing activity, a marketing trailer [on site]…Builders didn’t bite.”
The plan presented to the commission Tuesday called for part of the area currently approved for recreational use be rezoned to allow for four additional home lots to be included in the plan. The layout proposed by the developer had 24 home lots that were an average of 12,286 square feet. The 2004 plan had lots notably smaller at 9,535 square feet on average.
Petersen said the owners had sought a compromise with neighboring property owners by agreeing to keep 7.72 acres as green space and to include a trail that would connect the public sidewalk to a bridge over the creek to the east. But the neighbors largely balked at that idea, with several telling the commissioners during the public hearing Tuesday that changing the zoning of the land in question from recreational was unacceptable given the dearth of play space in the northern part of the city.
Flip and Janel LaMonica, who live nearby and have two young children, pointed out that while Leawood has more than 400 acres of park and public space south of I-435, there is just .51 acres of park space north of the highway — Brooke Beatty Park at 86th Street and Lee Boulevard.
“We’re watching our community go through a time of rebirth right now,” Janel said, saying that there were nearly a dozen kids living in her vicinity. “Those kids are playing in the streets right now. They have no where to go.”
Commission chair Mark Elkins pointed out that, because the land is privately owned, keeping it zoned for recreational use does not guarantee it would ever be made available for public use. Still, commissioners Stacey Belzer, Liz Hoyt, Kip Strauss and David Coleman sided with the neighbors and voted against the proposal. Commissioners Mike Levitan, Bill Ramsey, James Pateidl and Matt Block were not present at Tuesday’s meeting.