Revised plan for former Wonderscope site in downtown Shawnee ditches apartments for smaller townhomes

After neighboring residents opposed a plan for a multi-story apartment complex on the former site of the Wonderscope Children's Museum, developers returned Wednesday with an entirely new plan for two-story townhomes. The city's planning commission and residents all spoke in support of the revised plan, and the commission advanced the project.

After Shawnee rejected plans for five-story apartments on the old Wonderscope museum site downtown, the developer has now received preliminary approval for townhomes there instead.

Jason Swords with Sunflower Development Group has proposed to build 26 two-story townhomes over four buildings at 5700 King Street in downtown Shawnee. The site is bordered by the frontages of King, Flint and West 57th streets.

Swords said they believe the townhome concept is more compatible with the requests from neighboring residents, who led a vocal campaign against the apartments previously proposed for the site.

“We realized that we were never going to get anything above a two-story height limit approved,” Swords said. “We feel like we’ve come up with a great design. Even though we’ve taken the project down from a density standpoint, we are not going to build something that’s not quality.”

Here are some additional design renderings of the project.

Commissioners, neighboring homeowners show support

On Tuesday, the townhome proposal appeared to be well-received by a group of neighboring residents who had banded together in opposition to the apartments last year.

In the midst of that campaign, United Neighbors of Shawnee put out yard signs opposing the 5700 King apartments around the downtown area.

“While the general consensus of the people was still that they would have loved to have seen this area of town that we do all of our socializing in be something that more unified between [the] Nieman Now project and the downtown and Old Shawnee Town,” said Cindy Hayth, a neighbor speaking on behalf of the group, “however, we are not going to oppose this.”

Meanwhile, the Shawnee Planning Commission on Wednesday had positive remarks for the townhomes.

After some discussion and hearing public comments from three neighboring residents, the commission voted 8-0 to approve a preliminary plan and plat for the project as well as rezoning the site from single-family residential to townsquare.

Commissioners Genise Luecke, Carol Norman and Steven Wise were absent.

Most of the townhomes will have three bedrooms, but a few will have two. Additionally, with the planning commission’s approval, the project is allowed a reduced side yard setback at the south property line.

The project still requires city approvals for the final site plan and final plat before construction can begin.

Additionally, the old Wonderscope Children’s Museum building, which was formerly Flint Elementary, will also need to be torn down.

Parking and traffic debate

“I think this developer has gone out of their way to bring us a completely different project, self contained the parking,” said Commissioner Leo Nunnink. “And I think any discussion that should be negative or seen as questionable with this project is misplaced and very unfortunate.”

A total of 59 parking spaces are provided on site, with 20 attached garages, 12 detached garages and 27 surface parking spaces, according to city documents.

Seven parking spaces are dedicated for guests. There are no minimum parking requirements in the newly rezoned townsquare district.

Swords said they worked to make sure that parking is self-contained on the site. To make room for parking, the project lost some of the original site amenities that were contemplated, such as the dog park, swimming pool, fire pit and greenhouse.

Nonetheless, residents, businesses and city leaders have continued to debate the need to address public parking in the near future as the city works to make downtown Shawnee more of a destination.

Two of the neighbors who spoke shared some favorable comments for the project, but they were largely concerned with parking and traffic congestion in the area.

“How many people know any family at all that has the money to have a place like this and has only one vehicle?” said Brian Belanger, a neighboring resident. “Great job, huge improvement over the last time, but I really think it needs to remain self-contained with a ring of parking around it like it always has been.”

A handful of commissioners debated among themselves whether the proposed parking is adequate for the site — and also whether downtown Shawnee has enough public parking in general.

Some commissioners said public parking should be up for a separate discussion instead of in connection to the townhomes project.

“I think we’re trying to find a problem with this property when we’re having this discussion,” said Commissioner Leo Nunnink. “I think this developer has gone out of their way to bring us a completely different project, self contained the parking. And I think any discussion that should be negative or seen as questionable with this project is misplaced and very unfortunate.”

Kevin Manning, the city’s transportation manager, said that once the townhomes would be built, then city staff would review parking and traffic patterns before making any changes.