Plans for a 210-unit apartment building just south of the Ranch Mart South shopping center were sent back to the planning commission Monday night after city councilmembers agreed that more work was needed to make the height compatible with the neighborhood.
The decision came at the end of a nearly seven-hour council meeting at which two other lengthy discussions were had. But Ranch Mart neighbors gamely waited until after 1 a.m. to have their say. Many of them held bright red yard signs urging the council to put a stop to a project they say will loom over their back yards, end privacy and bring property values down.
“In this day and age it’s nearly impossible to get a cohesive group of people to agree on anything,” said Eric Hernandez, whose back yard would abut the project at its highest point. “Apparently all it takes is a seven-story apartment building being proposed right on top of you to accomplish that.”
The apartment complex, targeted at “active adults” of over 55 living independently, is the main part of a $55 million project on about 11 acres directly south of the 60-year-old center. Developer EPC Real Estate Group proposed that the building, which varies in height, be erected over the parking garage. An existing street separating the rear of Ranch Mart from the neighborhood would also be eliminated along with a block of mostly unoccupied duplexes in order to make way for the apartments.
The neighborhood of mostly one-story homes lies on the downslope of a hill, which augments the 77-foot highest point of the apartment building. Around 20 neighbors attended the meeting, but comments were limited to a few representatives. Those speakers presented drone pictures they said were taken from the height of the complex looking down into their yards.
They also presented statements from neighbors of Overland Parks Avenue 80 and Avenue 81 projects who were unhappy with those projects. “They are living our out greatest fears,” Hernandez said.
Neighbors were also critical of the lack of transition between the single-family homes and the density of the apartments, saying city planning guidelines call for a buffer zone between those two types of buildings. “This is not the Metcalf corridor,” said neighbor Ted Beer.
Others said they are not anti-change or anti-development, but simply object to this project.
The project aims to bolster the shopping center while also filling a housing niche for a growing older population in the area, said Austin Bradley, vice president of development with EPC. Bradley said the architects tried to mitigate the height and mass of the project by setting the top floors back and placing green space along the tines of the E-shaped design.
Monday he said developers also would be committed to saving 15 mature trees of 60 or 70 feet and adding more at the property lines along with a decorative privacy fence.
That did little to assuage neighbors who had launched an organized opposition that includes a 600-signature on-line petition as well as a valid protest petition. “How can you think a few trees will hide this? It is just too big,” said neighbor Tony Medina.
Councilmembers would have needed a majority of nine votes to deny the project or 10 to approve it because of the protest petition. But it never got that far. Instead, Councilmember Fred Spears suggested it be sent back to the planning commission, which had narrowly approved it with some reservations about the height.
The vote was unanimous, although councilmembers Faris Farassati and Scott Hamblin said they might have voted to deny it altogether.
The next time the measure can come up at the council is Jan. 11.