Lenexa City Council candidates on the issues: High-density multi-family developments

High-rise residential projects like the Copper Creek Apartments and Townhomes have been proposed in western Lenexa in recent years. File image courtesy city of Lenexa.

In August, we asked our readers about the issues you wanted to hear the candidates running for Lenexa City Council address. Based on your feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire touching on the most important issues to patrons of the district.

Each day this week, we will publish the candidates’ responses to one of five questions. Today, we are publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:

Like other growing parts of Johnson County, Lenexa has seen some homeowners push back against proposals for new residential projects, particularly multi-family developments. How should the city reconcile the desire for the continued development of western Lenexa with opposition from residents to higher-density multi-family projects? Are multi-family projects necessary for the healthy growth of Lenexa? Should the city prioritize attainable housing stock options?

Below are the answers the Post received from the candidates on this issue:

Ward 3

Melanie Arroyo

Our growing city needs housing types of all kinds, from single-family homes to duplexes to accessory dwelling units to multi-family homes. Multi-family apartments must be part of the mix, as they constitute essential housing for many young people as well as empty nesters looking to downsize.

In talking with residents, I believe a lot of the opposition stems from the incumbent’s habit of not regularly engaging with Lenexans on why certain projects are necessary or beneficial for the city. Listening to concerns and truly engaging with the community can also bring ideas that can make new development better, more sustainable, and more beneficial to the community.

Residents of Lenexa deserve to have a leader who truly listens to them with empathy, dignity, and respect. As a counselor and art therapist, I intend to bring these skills to the city council when working with the city, colleagues, and residents.

Corey Hunt (incumbent)

I believe there are two parts to this question – first, there is a sentiment from some residents that there are too many apartments in Lenexa with an estimated 37% of Lenexans residing in apartments. This percentage is typical of other cities in Johnson County. Apartments are part of Lenexa’s attainable housing stock and they are market-driven. In fact, there is a very high occupancy rate for Lenexa apartments. Apartments in Lenexa are allowed by land-use designation or (Zoning). When looking around Lenexa for the most part you find apartments next to highways and the City Center area where the densification of residents was very much planned from the beginning. This has been a function of effective zoning. Tracts of land next to our highways are better suited for higher density housing and commercial uses than single family housing in most situations.

Second, the push-back we have seen recently for multi-family housing projects is not due to the nature of the housing, it is because of the land-use designation where the housing would be built. Residents living in established neighborhoods generally do not want to have an apartment complex built next to or in their neighborhood, especially if the property was not previously zoned for that specific use. I do believe the city has an obligation to plan and prioritize housing types by land-use designations (Zoning) for the healthy growth of Lenexa. The last 3-5 years have shown historical trends in retail, office space and general commercial drastically change in large part because of on-line retail options for consumers and the changes the COVID pandemic brought to our region such as, work from home options for a larger workforce than ever before affecting how developers look at office and commercial space. What is now zoned for office space may not be a good land-use designation going forward based on market analysis and trends.

Yes, in my opinion we will need a healthy mix of all housing types as Lenexa continues to grow west. Critical to this is the Master Land Use Study, or Comp Plan. The Master Land-Use map illustrates exactly what each area of Lenexa is zoned for and is currently being studied for updates. The committee proposing changes to this important tool is made up of Lenexa city staff and residents from each of our four Wards.

Ward 4

Scott Callaway

Multifamily housing provides benefits to cities by giving options for persons who have a variety of lifestyles while also connecting our communities. With population growth also comes with additional tax revenues and new amenities for shared public spaces. Lenexa’s population is expected to continue to grow and for many young residents starting out in life, multifamily and multi-dwelling units provide a good starting place where they can work and live affordably in Lenexa.

Often rental housing is vital for persons working in teaching fields, police officers, fire fighters, health-care workers and public employees whom we depend on for prosperity, however these careers often do not provide salaries commensurate with supporting a middle-class lifestyle, so having a safe, attractive and affordable place to live is needed for the health of the community. Multifamily housing is often considered commercial property which is taxed at a higher tax rate than single family homes. They should be built with attractive designs, landscaping, and entrances, which add value to the communities in which they’re built.

Opposition to multifamily housing is often rooted in anecdotes that do not reflect the truth but are ground in bias with opposition believing renters do not care about the communities they live in and are only planning to stay for a while, and renters do not have a stake in the prosperity of the community. That is just not true. The best opportunities we have to sway residents who are nervous about these projects is to address their concerns openly and honestly, listen to the community, and show them the benefits of these projects to the city and our communities.

Craig Denny

The current Comprehensive Plan was last updated in 2016. Since that plan was updated, the city received and accepted Vision 2040. Earlier this summer, the city council approved the hiring of Houseal Lavigne for professional services to develop a new Comprehensive Plan for the City, which should consider Vision 2040 recommendations since the new comprehensive plan will guide future development and redevelopment in Lenexa, including higher density residential projects.

Thus far, a number of higher density apartment projects have been developed in and around City Center and elsewhere. Where push back has occurred, as evidenced by resident comments at City Council meetings, I have observed the governing body thoughtfully listen to resident concerns, particularly where rezoning is requested. From my perspective, council members have been receptive to those concerns.

Continuing development is necessary to grow Lenexa’s tax base. Multi-family development should be part of Lenexa’s growth strategy, along with increased commercial/industrial development, which helps lessen the property tax burden on Lenexa homeowners. The city should conduct a thorough review of the UCS Housing Study. Prioritization of attainable housing can be considered where consistent with Lenexa policy, goals and the comprehensive plan.

On Tuesday, we will publish the candidates’ responses to the following question:

With the departure of Old Town Hair & Nail and a change of ownership along the corner block at Santa Fe Trail and Pflumm, Old Town is going through some significant changes. What do you hope to see for this historic and special part of Lenexa?