Lenexa gives cautious approval for sprawling Watercrest South residential project near K-7

Watercrest South

The Lenexa City Council has given cautious approval of rezoning and concept plans for Watercrest South and Copper Creek, a large-scale residential project spanning nearly 190 acres near K-7 Highway between 83rd and Prairie Star Parkway. Neighboring homeowners in Watercrest Landing came out for a third time to oppose the higher-density apartments that will be adjacent to their homes near 89th Street. Above, a design rendering of the apartments.

After hours of deliberation Tuesday night, the Lenexa City Council gave its hesitant approval for the much-debated Watercrest South and Copper Creek residential project, a sprawling development planned near K-7 Highway just north of Prairie Star Parkway.

Located on about 187 acres of farmland at the southwest corner of Monticello Road and 90th Street, the proposed Watercrest South and Copper Creek project consists of plans for a mix of multi-story apartments and townhomes, single-family homes, another multi-family apartment as well as a townhome subdivision, senior housing and commercial developments.

The city council approved concept plans on the site as well as rezoning to allow a mix of low-, medium- and high-density residential development. Tuesday’s meeting marked the third time the city council has considered the projects.

“I regret where we are tonight, to be honest with you,” said Mayor Mike Boehm, who expressed frustrations that the project had been stalled since August 2020 to appease concerns with high-density apartments on the site.

Mayor Mike Boehm set the tone for the evening by expressing frustrations with the back-and-forth between the city and the developers on the project out of concern for the neighboring homes in Watercrest Landing.

“I regret where we are tonight, to be honest with you,” he said. “Our goal has always been to serve the citizens of Lenexa, not let a specific neighborhood or adjacency drive us left and right and back and forth every time we have an application.”

Boehm also noted that the character of the surrounding area will continue to change as developers in Lenexa build on undeveloped farmland on the western side of the city. He expressed alarm that neighbors in the nearby Watercrest Landing subdivision were becoming territorial over Black Hoof Park.

Density remains top issue for city council, neighboring homeowners

Homeowners in Watercrest Landing came out in opposition to the higher-density apartments proposed between their subdivision and K-7 Highway.

In the latest iteration of the plan, the developers — Q.C. Development, P and L Development LLC and Watercrest South LLC —  have moved planned multi-family units away from existing single-family homes in Watercrest Landing.

Some high density remains in the proposed apartments in Copper Creek, which would abut K-7 Highway in an area near the neighboring single-family homes in Watercrest Landing. Those 6 acres of proposed “urban density” — a tiny portion of the overall development — remained central to Tuesday’s conversation.

At least a dozen homeowners from Watercrest Landing attended the meeting, some with signs urging the council to reject the high-density apartments at Copper Creek. They brought a lawyer, Mark Epstein, to give supporting arguments for their concerns.

Epstein cited the city’s future land use plan for the area next to Watercrest Landing. It has been designated for office uses.

Mark Epstein, an attorney who said he represented the homeowners in Watercrest Landing, said high-density apartments are a “radical departure” from the city’s future land use plans, which had called for office uses on the site of Copper Creek.

“This was originally intended to be office; that’s what my folks thought they were going to get,” Epstein said. “Imagine their surprise when they buy their lots from this developer expecting one thing and it’s replaced with this. And that’s a radical departure from office to high-density residential. Nobody could have seen that coming.”

Some councilmembers took issue with this latest iteration of Copper Creek Apartments because the developers still proposed the highest level of density allowed in the city.

The densest part of the project lies on about 6 acres between K-7 Highway and Watercrest Landing.

Councilmembers Courtney Eiterich, Joe Karlin and Bill Nicks voted against rezoning and concept plans for the sections of Copper Creek that had urban-level density.

Eiterich and Nicks also voted against rezoning and concept plans for another multi-family proposal near the southwest corner of 90th Street and Monticello Road.

Eiterich said those apartments were proposed to be too far from Prairie Star Parkway, a main collector road in Lenexa. Nicks said he opposed any projects on the site that would allow high-density or urban-density.

The council briefly considered asking the developers to drop the density of Copper Creek by removing 132 multi-family units to another site.

The overall density of Copper Creek is about 20 units per acre.

A brief history of the project

The planning commission first approved the proposal in August 2020.

Neighboring homeowners and members of the Lenexa City Council later raised concerns and some opposition to the project due to the high density of the Copper Creek Apartments being located next to the existing single-family homes in Watercrest Landing.

After the city council remanded the project to the planning commission, and the planning commission again approved the project, the city council in October deferred consideration of the applications to December.

Shortly afterward, the developers withdrew their application and resubmitted new plans, which were considered Tuesday.

Completion of Woodsonia Drive

Curtis Holland, an attorney representing the developers, said completion of Woodsonia hinges on the financial support that higher-density apartments in Copper Creek will provide.

Most of the project  — particularly the multi-family, senior living and commercial sections that will abut K-7 Highway — still hinges on the developers’ entire completion of Woodsonia Drive from 83rd to Prairie Star Parkway.

Originally, the developers had brought forward a large-scale master plan with phasing that the city could approve or deny in one fell swoop. However, the project is now parceled into sections the city council will consider individually.

The mayor was also concerned the city now has “nothing” but concept plans to consider when paired with rezoning.

In other words, he feared the city could have a “long-term problem” in which developers could leave the city with an unfinished project, forcing Lenexa to handle completion of Woodsonia Drive on the backs of taxpayers.

Curtis Holland, an attorney at Polsinelli representing the developers, estimated the entirety of Woodsonia Drive from 83rd to Prairie Star Parkway would cost about $6.5 million — and the developers would be unable to afford it without high-density apartments to financially support it.

Holland said the developers decided to put forth concept plans instead of more detailed preliminary plans out of concern the city council would reject them, ultimately wasting developers’ money.

“We’re trying to make everybody happy, and I’m starting to feel a little bit like a ping-pong ball,” Holland said. “We’re not trying to do anything other than what we had planned to do from the get-go: high-quality development, set the densities and let’s move forward.”

Components of the development

Once built out, the development could consist of more than 1,400 residential units.

The Lenexa City Council unanimously approved the following items:

  • Rezoning and concept plans for 103 townhome units on about 8 acres on the southern end of Copper Creek just west of 89th and Woodsonia Drive
  • 192 single-family homes on about 94 acres of land — part of Watercrest Landing — on the southwest corner of Monticello Road and 90th Street
  • About 10 acres of commercial site, possibly for two four-story hotel buildings and a retail building, on the northeast corner of K-7 Highway and Prairie Star Parkway

The council voted 5-3, with Eiterich, Karlin and Nicks in dissent, to approve:

  • 531 units in a mix of apartment buildings and “Big Home” manor-style buildings in Copper Creek Apartments on about 26 acres just west of 89th and Woodsonia Drive

The city council voted 7-1, with Nicks in dissent, to approve:

  • 230 apartment units in three-story buildings on about 14 acres near the southwest corner of 90th Street and Monticello Road.

The city council voted 6-2, with Eiterich and Nicks in dissent, to approve:

  • 206 apartment units for a senior housing project on about 5 acres near the southwest corner of 90th Street and Monticello Road.

One application — a concept plan and related rezoning for townhomes totaling 143 units on the northwest corner of 95th and Monticello — remains behind for further consideration by the Lenexa Planning Commission to designate the proper level of density.

Rezoning and concept plans are just the beginning. The developers must have approval of preliminary plans and final design plans before any construction can begin.