City of Shawnee prevails in lawsuit regarding council denial of Vantage apartment complex project

A developer's rendering of the Vantage apartment complex project proposal.
A developer’s rendering of the Vantage apartment complex project proposal.

A Johnson County District Court judge has absolved the city of Shawnee of any wrongdoing in its council’s decision to deny a controversial development plan last year that neighbors said was a poor fit for the neighborhood.

In a ruling released this week, Judge Paul Gurney sided with the city in a court challenge brought by the owners of an undeveloped 28.66-acre piece of land at 62nd Street and Pflumm. After an initial project plan for the land called “Cobblestone,” that would have included a senior living community as well as some retail or office space, fell through, a new developer, America First Real Estate Group, LLC, proposed a 14-building, 312 unit apartment complex with a swimming pool and clubhouse.

A group of neighborhood residents organized to oppose the plan, saying that its density exceeded city guidelines and questioning the developer’s record. In January 2016, the Shawnee City Council voted 3-5 against the proposal, with the dissenting councilmembers citing concerns about density and that there was not appropriate transition between the single family homes on the south and west of the property to a multi-family project.

The following month, the landowner sued the city, saying the council had no legal basis for denying the rezoning request that would have been required to move the project forward.

On Tuesday, District Court Judge Paul Gurney said those allegations were baseless, saying councilmembers’ justifications for voting the project down were reasonable.

“The City did not act in an unreasonable, arbitrary or capricious manner in denying the Vantage application,” Gurney wrote.

Additionally, the judge ruled that the council’s concerns over density and aesthetics were justifiable.

“The surrounding property is a mature neighborhood, and a high density in-fill (with a density higher than the recommended range) is not appropriate for the area,” he said. “The buildings’ proposed heights, in conjunction with significantly higher elevations, among other aesthetic issues, were properly considered.”

Shawnee City Manager Carol Gonzales issued a brief statement in regards to the ruling.

“We are happy to have it resolved,” she said.

The full ruling is embedded below:

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