Planning commission resists lobbying effort by builders, recommends new design guidelines for Prairie Village homes

Jay Senter - September 12, 2018 11:06 am
The new design guidelines would address concerns about garage massing and lack of window on the sides of houses.

For more than an hour on Tuesday, an organized group of home building professionals approached the podium in the Prairie Village council chambers and railed against a set of proposed design standards for new homes in the city.

They would discourage people from investing in their homes and the community, the builders said. They would stifle regreening of aging neighborhoods. They would put an onerous burden on the businesses trying to meet demand for modern houses. Builders should have been more involved in the process.

It was a standing room only crowd in the council chambers for the hearing on Tuesday.

But in the end, the planning commissioners unanimously sided with the group of long-time residents who made clear it was time for the city to take more action to preserve the character of the neighborhoods where they’ve lived for decades.

At the conclusion of a nearly four hour public hearing on the standards, which have been making their way through the city administration and council for preliminary development since late last year, the planning commission voted 7-0 in favor of recommending the guidelines for final approval by the city council. The council is expected to take up the planning commission’s recommendation at its October 1 meeting.

Ahead of voting to advance the guidelines, the planning commission made seven tweaks to the initial language presented by consultant Chris Brewster at the start of the meeting — though the bulk of the effect, which would regulate building massing and frontage design and set limits on the amount of impervious surface on a lot, remained intact.

Prairie Village approved an initial set of home design standards in 2016 that set restrictions on home height and increased the minimum setback requirements. But residents continued to express concerns that the wave of teardown-rebuild projects in the city was reshaping the character of their neighborhoods. The city’s recent citizens survey found that more than half of respondents were concerned with the teardown-rebuild trend.

Planning commission chair Nancy Wallerstein chided a home builder for trying to “circumvent the public hearing process” by emailing planning commission members at home and at work.

The second set of standards were developed to encourage aesthetic cohesiveness by requiring a minimum percentage of windows, breaking up massing on wall planes, and requiring minimum amounts of greenspace and street trees. More than 80 percent of the Prairie Village residents who participated in input sessions on the proposed guidelines said they supported them as written. Fairway adopted similar home design standards a few years ago to address the concerns of its residents.

But the proposals elicited strong pushback from some home builders, who have been lobbying members of the city council and planning commission the past weeks. When Lynneah Gregory, the owner of Reconstruct KC, approached the podium to voice her objections to the proposals, Planning Commission Chair Nancy Wallerstein made no secret with her distaste for Gregory’s aggressive efforts in recent days against the standards.

“Miss Gregory. It’s nice to put a face with many emails that we have received spamming our personal and our private and our professional email boxes,” Wallerstein said to Gregory before she began speaking. “You have circumvented the public hearing process. I give you three minutes.”

Angela Schieferecke was among the residents who spoke in favor of the new guidelines on Tuesday. She said the teardown phenomenon had adversely affected her in a number of ways, including stormwater problems on her property that didn’t exist a few years ago. She also said that the high prices of the newly constructed homes had sent property values in her neighborhood shooting sharply up over the past few years, putting financial pressure on her through rising property taxes.

“I appreciate the fact that the Prairie Village council has recognized the fact that something is happening in our community and I appreciate the attempts to deal with that,” she said.

Michael LaMonica, a design professional and Prairie Village resident, told the commissioners that creatives must work within guidelines and standards all the time, and that such standards don’t inhibit a good end result.

“A good designer and a good team will be able to work within those guidelines that will fit well into the neighborhood and will be aesthetically pleasing,” LaMonica said.

Following the conclusion of the public hearing on the standards, Wallerstein said “Go city council.”

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