Residents who live near the long-awaited Westbrooke Green project in Shawnee want to know why the project is taking so long, why it’s now scaled down from the original plans submitted two years ago, and why the revised plans no longer include a grocery store — oh, and they don’t want to see any more shoddy apartment complexes or greasy fast-food restaurants with drive-thrus.
Those were some of the key points residents made at a public meeting Wednesday evening, with the developers, Mission Peak Capital and NorthPoint Development. The developers said the project taking longer than expected because they are working to modify the plan to ensure it will be economically viable. That’s why it’s scaled down from a $113 million project to $90.2 million (and they’re asking for $14 million in tax increment financing, down from $21.5 million).
The project area of Westbrooke Green at 75th Street and Quivira Road is the former site of a derelict and defunct shopping center, Westbrooke Village, that is mostly demolished except for a few buildings that still have leases on them.
P.J. Ventola, managing director of development at Mission Peak Capital, said they ran into obstacles and “endured a number of setbacks” over the past two years. After a year-long process, they couldn’t convince a grocery store company to lease a space: Construction costs to rebuild anew came at much too high a price for the size of the space that would allow a grocery store.
The revised plan is also scaled back to make sure it will be economically viable and also comfortable for the city and neighboring residents to accept, the developers added. That’s why they removed the proposed parking garage and reduced the number of apartment units from 530 to 343 — and increased the setbacks from neighboring single-family homes (150 feet, up from 40 to 50 feet).
“Understandably, it has taken longer than we thought it was going to take,” Ventola said. “That’s just a fact. It’s gone slower than what we’d expected. But there are some very good things that have come out of this process.”
Some neighbors were frustrated that the developers were not “keeping the promises” they made in December 2017.
“We were told one thing two years ago,” said Ray Erlichman, a resident who has raised concerns about the project in the past. He and other residents wanted to know why the developers are making changes to the plan.
Ventola said their goal is to find business tenants that can thrive in the new spaces. In the former grocery store space, they are intending to nail down a possible tenant offering “some type of experience,” such as fitness or entertainment.
Here’s a rendering of part of the housing component of Westbrooke Green:
Councilmember Lindsey Constance asked what type of restaurants will the project include. The developers said up to seven restaurant spaces will be available. These could include a building dedicated for a coffee shop, a spot for a possible bar and grill restaurant and a few buildings that could offer fast-casual and drive-thru service for growing businesses like GrubHub and UberEats, which require a drive-thru to operate.
As such, the revised plans call for renovating the remaining buildings instead of tearing down and building new. Ventola said this will keep project costs down.
“Instead of saying this is too hard, throw it in the trash, we kept at it because we believe in the site,” Ventola said. “Some things are too expensive, so let’s find a way to use what we have and make it nice. We believe that with the proper renovation, with the proper investment… we can make these things work if the bones are there.”
Mark Pomerenke with NorthPoint Development, the developer leading the $60 million housing component of the project, said they plan for the apartments to be a “catalyst for new retail businesses on the site.
NorthPoint developers believe the target market for the apartments will be young professionals who work downtown and/or establishing roots in Johnson County. Rental rates will be anywhere from $800 to $2,000 a month. Developers said the housing component will be the first to get built.
The apartments will mostly be four stories but some sections of the apartment buildings will be five stories. In lieu of the parking garage, there will be tuck-under and detached garages as well as carports.
The revised plan still includes a privacy fence, and pedestrian and bike connectivity, including a trail connecting to the eastern edge of the site.
The Shawnee planning commission approved the revised and scaled-down plan for Westbrooke Green earlier this month. The city council will consider a revised TIF plan for the project Dec. 9.
One neighbor clutching a copy of The Pitch magazine that had an article about the Lenexa Public Market, a successful public incubator for restaurants without drive-thru service in Lenexa City Center, said Shawnee is frequently compared to its neighboring city, and not in a good way.
“This article says Shawnee is lagging behind in future thinking,” he said. “What’s going to draw people to this?”
The developers said that once they renovate the remaining buildings, they will become attractive for entertainment uses like what people see at the Lenexa Public Market.
Other residents said they appreciate understanding the process more, and the challenges of the economy today that is increasingly becoming a mobile and online commerce, one that is challenging for brick-and-mortar retail. One resident said she appreciates the developers sharing their revised project. She is also glad the housing density has decreased.
“I think it’s great that you’ve got them further away from the folks that already live there,” she said. “Of course, wish you had known how the economics would be or whatever it is so you’d know you couldn’t promise the kind of things you did. And I would guess that having people moving there is going to be more incentive to businesses to come. I appreciate you taking the time to explain what you’re doing, and I like it that you include the neighborhood.”
Brad Haymond with NorthPoint Development said their projects typically result in an increase of five to eight school-age children who will enroll in neighboring schools.
The project will require final development plan approvals before they can proceed with construction.