The fourth time was the charm for developers who proposed a U-Haul climate-controlled storage building and retail store on Silverheel Street in western Shawnee.
With Mayor Michelle Distler casting the deciding vote, a divided City Council will allow the development in the Zarda Business Park, which neighbors have been protesting since August.
The proposal has made two trips through the planning commission and was stalled in August when the council could not reach a decision whether to approve, deny or remand the plan. A revised version was approved by the planning commission in November.
Neighbors widely oppose plan: Eight neighbors of the planned buildings at 7020 Silverheel Street turned out to speak Monday, with many others filling the council chambers during discussion. They repeated many of the arguments from previous planning and council meetings against the development, which they feared could ruin the residential, “Norman Rockwell” feel of the Willow Ridge neighborhood and any others close by.
“This is how cities decline. They listen to special interests and power from money. Soon instead of Bedford Falls, they’re living in Pottersville or maybe Zardaville,” said Dennis All, referencing the Christmas movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
“Please do not impose a dangerous eyesore on our lovely community,” he said.
Residents have objected to the project for several reasons. They feared trucks driven by inexperienced renters would endanger pedestrians and students at several schools in the neighborhood. Some said the U-Haul facility would be too urban and industrial a use and would be a magnet for crime.
What’s being built: The proposal was for a final site plan and a special use permit to allow the self-storage aspect of the U-Haul project. The storage facility is indoors and would have 1,000 storage units in 123,630 square feet. The U-Haul retail portion, in a smaller structure, could be built without the permit.
Joan Zarda Davila, partner in BBT Zarda LLC and daughter of developer Tom Zarda read a statement to the council pointing out that the developer has proved he wants to be a good neighbor by listening to the residents’ concerns.
The developer reduced the height of the largest building substantially, from 44 feet to 27 feet, she said. The exterior also was modified to be in closer harmony with nearby Maranatha Christian Academy.
What the developer is saying: Zarda Davila said that as Shawnee residents, it has always been the Zarda family’s policy to do what is in the best interest of Shawnee.
“I’ve never brought a proposed development to this council that I did not truly believe to be in the best interests of the city and the area it would serve,” she said. In the past decade the lot has been vacant, she said their company has declined other uses, including a used car lot with a service area and an extended stay hotel/motel.
City councilmember’s concerns with project: The neighbors’ argument held sway with half the council members. Councilmember Tammy Thomas said she was particularly concerned that no other schools in the area have a similar type of “industrial” use nearby. She questioned whether the facility would lure young drivers and become a hangout after football games.
“It’s inappropriate for the character of where you’re asking,” she said. “There’s a place, but I’m not convinced this is the best.”
The council vote was 5-4, with Thomas and Councilmembers Tony Gillette, Kurt Knappen and Jacklynn Walters voting against. Distler broke the tie with a vote in favor.
Roxie Hammill is a freelance journalist who reports frequently for the Post and other Kansas City area publications. You can reach her at email@example.com.