New Overland Park Taco Bell approved for 76th and Metcalf, despite some reservations

A Taco Bell franchise has been approved for the lot at the southeast corner of 76th and Metcalf, though some city planning commissioners raised concerns that the project doesn't totally conform to downtown form codes or the Vision Metcalf plan, which emphasizes walkability and a more urban feel. Photo credit Leah Wankum.

A Taco Bell proposed for the southeast corner of 76th Street and Metcalf Avenue meets the pedestrian-friendly design requirements for Overland Park’s downtown district, the city council decided Monday.

The council gave approval to the fast-food drive-thru restaurant without discussion, although the development will make several significant deviations from the rules that encourage pedestrian traffic and buildings adaptable to a variety of uses.

Currently, a vacant used car lot sits on the site.

In general, the downtown’s form-based code and the Vision Metcalf long-range plan discourage automobile-centric development.

The code encourages a more urban feel by requiring shallow setbacks that put store facades close to sidewalks rather than behind parking lots, and by setting a maximum number of surface parking spaces, for example.

But because of the nature of a drive-thru fast-food restaurant, Taco Bell’s developer, First Street Development, asked for and got an exception to the façade requirement. The restaurant will also exceed by 19 spaces the maximum of seven parking spaces it would be allowed based on square footage.

Concessions to downtown code

The developer has worked with city staff to come up with ways to make the drive-thru restaurant more acceptable to the downtown code.

For instance, the one-story, 2,200-square-foot purple-accented Taco Bell will have a covered area at the drive-thru windows screened by a “living wall” covered with plants.

The plan also calls for an art-decorated wall built to the required building line, which will screen the parking lot from Metcalf. That art wall would be decorated with the help of the InterUrban ArtHouse, an Overland Park-based nonprofit.

Developers told city planners that although they don’t strictly meet the code requirements, their design matches its spirit.

The stricter requirements have deterred development on that property, they said.

The location is a five-minute walk from the heart of downtown and would not expect much pedestrian traffic from that area, the developer said in written comments to the city planning commission.

City planning staff members agreed in giving their recommendation.

“This portion of Metcalf is different from some redevelopment on Santa Fe Drive or 80th Street,” said planner Aaron DuBois. “It is much more car-oriented than the highly pedestrian area such as Avenue 80, Avenue 81 or The Vue. Staff would not support this use in a different part of the (downtown) district.”

However the staff notes from the earlier planning commission meeting also said it was not the most desirable use of the property. The council gave tacit approval to the development on Monday, which was listed as a consent item and garnered no discussion.

Although the plan also got unanimous approval from the planning commission last month, the reception there was less than enthusiastic. Several commissioners said they voted for it with reservations.

“My initial impression on seeing this in the agenda was, ‘Gosh, not another fast-food restaurant on Metcalf,’” said Commissioner Edward Reitzes.

But he added there was no guarantee that something better would come down the pipeline.

Commissioner Holly Streeter-Schaefer also expressed mixed feelings last month.

“I’m not a huge fan of this use,” she said, but added that the restaurant seems like a good change from the many car dealerships along Metcalf.

Commissioner Steve Troester admitted development in that area of Metcalf is a challenge.

“Although we have tried to make it this special walkable place, the car’s not gone yet and I don’t think it’s going anywhere soon. So this is a reasonable compromise.”