Fairway council candidates on the issues: Managing teardown-rebuild trend in the city

Last month, we asked our readers what issues they wanted to hear the candidates running for local office address ahead of this fall’s local elections primary. Based on the input we received, we developed a three-item questionnaire for candidates running for city council in Fairway.

Today we publish the candidates’ responses to item one:

Fairway is among the cities that have continued to see older homes being torn down and replaced by new ones. Some residents in the older areas of the city have raised concerns about whether the new homes fit in with the surrounding neighborhoods. What’s your take on management of the teardown-rebuild trend in Fairway?

Ward 2

Tom Cotter

Fairway is often complimented on its large variety of homes. It’s something that most of us find quite charming, that we don’t look like some cookie cutter subdivision. I like that a homeowner can build whatever style of home they like as long as it is well balanced and designed. Where I see more of a problem is the size disparity. It has become most noticeable in Ward 4 and parts of Ward 2 recently. The smaller lots are putting new larger homes quite close to older smaller homes. I think if we increase the green space requirements/side and rear setbacks, it will give a little more of a buffer between the old and the new while still allowing for both. This change will also lessen the impact of added rainwater runoff that is being added by the increase of non-permeable surface.

Another important aspect to consider is that a number of the homes torn down recently had fallen into disrepair. Some were poorly maintained rentals, but others belonged to our senior neighbors living on fixed incomes who were no longer able to afford the upkeep on their homes. To assist their elderly citizens, Prairie Village has a grant program. I would like to explore a similar program in Fairway.

Gail Gregory (incumbent)

Did not respond.

Ward 3

Michele Kiehl

The City Visioning Survey, Mission Statement and Comprehensive Plan show maintaining the character and uniqueness of Fairway is a priority of residents. The first goal of the Comprehensive Plan is to, “Facilitate redevelopment that maintains and enhances Fairway’s character and quality.”

There are improvements that could be made to the current zoning ordinance and management of the teardown-rebuild process to ensure the new home remains harmonious with the character of the existing Fairway neighborhood. The current City Council recently recommended the Planning Commission consider eliminating their review of applications as long as they meet the code. This is a step in the wrong direction. It is possible to have new homes fit in with the character, patterns and scale of the these neighborhoods. It will take a partnership of residents, City Council and Planning Commission to identify the necessary improvements.

Joseph Levin (incumbent)

Fairway has a diverse inventory of homes ranging from modest two bedroom homes on relatively small lots to spacious upper bracket homes on large lots. In all cases, Fairway has been a desirable location for residency due to its charm, sense of personal safety, proximity to shopping, cultural, and sporting venues. Life styles have changed from the years in which many Fairway homes were built to the present time. In many cases it has been found that a teardown and rebuild is more economically sound, than remodeling or bringing properties up to current standards.

The Fairway Planning Commission is charged with the responsibility of passing building codes that, among other things, provide for safety, appearance, and relationship with surrounding properties. Examples of building code regulations include:

  • 1) Building height
  • 2) Setbacks
  • 3) Greenspace (% of total land in non-hard surface)
  • 4) Window area
  • 5) Stormwater run-off affecting neighbors
  • 6) Building materials

Public demand and needs regarding housing have changed significantly from when many Fairway homes were built as much as 50 to 60 years ago as compared to today. Homes that are two bedroom and single car garages are in less demand than three or more bedroom and multiple car garages. The supply and demand of currently desired homes vary from Ward to Ward.

I believe it is the responsibility of the Planning Commission with input from the Council and its constituents to promulgate building codes that reflect current needs and trends. A “one size fits all” approach is not necessarily the best solution because of the diversity between and within wards.

Ward 4

Adam Dolski (incumbent)

I’ve lived in Fairway and Ward 4 for 10+ years, I’ve seen this change first hand with 3 houses completely rebuilt within 100 feet of my 1938 English Tudor. Its a big change, and I fully recognize that, especially considering we only saw this happen sporadically before 5 or 6 years ago. The market, feasibility, desirability and homeowner-expectations all changed and that’s what is driving the trend. Fairway (Ward 4) was “discovered”…Wards 1 & 3 have been seeing what we’re now experiencing for many years and the trend for teardown-rebuilds crossed west of Mission Road. What alot of people don’t know (myself included previous to 4 years ago), is that Standards, Zoning Restrictions, Square-foot requirements, house height, width and size have all been maintained as they were previous to the trend starting. We (City Council) along with the Planning Commission (led by non-elected Fairway citizens and our neighbors) have maintained the high standards and practices that have “been on the books” for years and years. Very few variances or exceptions have been approved. I personally love many of the new homes (and residents) that have moved in and honestly, some of the new houses I do not stylistically like. I’m not planning to ever move from Ward 4 (nor tear my house down). I would encourage any/all citizens who are interested to help manage and provide input into our city and its housing character to contact City Hall and join either the Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals or Tree Board.

Jenna Brofsky

After knocking on every door in Ward 4 (and some multiple times), I know the residents of Ward 4 love the character of our neighborhood and don’t want those in smaller homes to feel out of place in the community they have lived in and committed to for many years, some 20+ years. I appreciate the regulations Fairway already has in its municipal code governing new construction, but I want to make sure those are being followed and modified if needed. I believe more training on the rules should be provided to those making decisions on new construction, including the Planning Commission and Council Members.