Luxury apartment complex proposal draws opposition from surrounding community
Residents in the area off Pflumm Road between 62nd Street and Johnson Drive came out in force to Monday’s Planning Commission meeting to fight a zoning change and preliminary plan that would allow a developer to build a large luxury apartment complex in the vacant 28-acre field just west of Pflumm Road.
Citizens voiced concern over another apartment complex in the area and what it would do to the surrounding neighborhoods. Voice after voice spoke about traffic concerns, safety concerns and concerns about overall property value in the area despite city staff recommending the project and the developer insisting that the gated apartment complex, called Vantage at Shawnee, would be Class A, market rate, luxury apartments.
Planning commissioner Randy Braley, after hearing the residents’ concerns, also reminded them of the potential positive impact on the area. The gated apartment complex, he said, would bring in new families who could be potential future home buyers in Shawnee.
“By adding 600 people in that one-mile radius, it could have a very positive economic impact,” Braley said.
The apartments are not currently seeking any tax incentives such as a tax increment financing, which has been requested for previous projects on the site. The project does qualify for a property tax abatement but has not requested that fee be waived yet.
After about two hours of heated discussion, the Planning Commission recommended 8-2 that the City Council approve the rezoning and preliminary development plan for Vantage at Shawnee at the Monday, Nov. 23, council meeting. Planning commissioners Alan Willoughby and Doug Hill voted against the recommendation.
The developer, America First MultiFamily Investors, LP and Clermont, LLC., presented its preliminary plan Monday, which requires that the city rezone the area from Planned Unit Development Planned Mixed Residential and Planned Unit Development Mixed Use to just Planned Unit Development Mixed Residential.
The city’s land-use guide suggests residential development in the area other than single-family homes, and has suggested so for years through the city’s comprehensive plan. Even so, residents in the area are opposing this development because of what it might mean for their area.
“These families do not want apartments that increase levels of traffic, noise and safety concerns,” said Roger Chalk, a resident who lives on Widmer Road and whose property in on the western border of the proposed apartment development.
Commissioner Dennis Busby and the commission also agreed to add a stipulation for consideration by the City Council. The stimulation addressed concerns from residents about the public having access to the storm drainage pond on the north end of the development.
Busby suggested that the fence around the apartment be extended north past Widmer Road to discourage more people from accessing the pond from the west. The only part of the development not gated would be the pond area, which is surrounded by heavy vegetation.
History of property and traffic concerns
Last year, the city approved incentives and the site plan for a retirement community, the Cobblestone development, for this site but that development did not move forward.
Residents in the area who spoke against the new Vantage at Shawnee apartments said they would’ve been in favor of the Cobblestone project because it added a walking path and other amenities that the general public could’ve benefited from. Gerry Starr, who owns one of the duplexes on the west side of Pflumm Road adjacent to the site, said the last project involved purchasing the older duplexes in the area and razing them, along with other upgrades to the general infrastructure around the site.
“It seemed like the other plan actually had some benefit to the community,” Starr said.
Cobblestone was a mostly residential project intended for seniors 55 and older on land formerly owned by Jerry Bichelmeyer's late father, on the west side of Pflumm Road in the 6100 block. The plan included 70,000 square feet of commercial space along Pflumm Road, and to the west, 110 maintenance-provided villas along with an 80-bed senior independent living apartment building.
The proposed Vantage at Shawnee design includes 312 units in 14 buildings. The apartments would range from one to three bedrooms and would cost between $750 and more than $1,200 based on the size of the apartment. The development would include 624 parking spaces for residents. The buildings would be constructed using four different building elevations, and the materials would include stone and high-quality cement board siding, the developer says. The entire development will be gated with a decorative fence using an electronic entry for residents. Residents will not have access through a fire-access-only entrance at the northwest corner of the development at the Widmer Road cul-de-sac. Two entrances to the apartments would be on Pflumm Road and 62nd Street.
The developer said the community will also feature a small dog park, a clubhouse, pool and pond that will double as a storm water drainage feature. The developer would also plant 186 trees to blend in with the surrounding community.
City staff said it estimates that traffic in the area will be impacted less by the Vantage at Shawnee project than the Cobblestone project, even though the Cobblestone project had less than 200 planned residential units, because the Cobblestone project also featured commercial development.
According to the traffic study prepared for Cobblestone, the peak morning hours would generate 213 trips (113 in, 100 out) and peak evening hour trips were estimated to be 365 trips (151 in, 214 out). According to the Institute of Transportation Engineers Trip Generation Manual, an apartment the size of Vantage at Shawnee would generate 171 trips (50 in, 121 out) in the weekday morning peak hours and 202 trips (123 in, 79 out) in the weekday evening peak hours.
City staff also said traffic studies did not warrant to installation of a traffic signal at the entrance to the community.
Residents in the area took issue with the traffic numbers and cited the already high traffic on 62nd Street to the other area apartments and the dangerous access to Pflumm Road.
Brandon Grimm, a member of the Bichelmeyer family who lives in one of the duplexes on Pflumm Road, said turning onto Pflumm Road in current traffic conditions is already dangerous.
“It’s almost impossible to turn into the driveway, let alone turn out,” Grimm said.
Population density and quality of development
Several Planning Commission members expressed concern over the population density of the apartments because the proposed density would be 10.1 people per acre, just above the recommended density of 10 in current zoning suggestions.
Planning Commission Chairman Augie Bogina said that the preliminary plan meets all the legal requirements through the city’s land-use guide for medium-density residential zoning and denying it would send the wrong message to developers. Commissioner Bruce Bienhoff agreed and voted in favor of the preliminary plan.
“If plans fit those requirements then we have to have a very good reason to deny those requests,” Bienhoff said.
Bienhoff did say he was concerned that there were no safeguards in the city's or developer’s plan to protect the apartments from becoming Section 8, or subsidized housing. Commissioner Willoughby said that half of the developer’s properties around the country are Section 8 housing. Willoughby also expressed frustration with the developer who held a neighborhood meeting on Sept. 30 with local area residents but didn’t mail out notice of the meeting until less than a week before.
Dave Vaccaro, a representative of the developer, tried to calm any worries about Section 8 housing by saying that the company has no intentions of changing the luxury apartments to low-income apartments. He said his company has long-term investments in their properties and know how to manage all types of housing from luxury to senior and student housing.
“We are solely proposing it as a market rate community,” Vaccaro said. “Our long-term focus in this project is to make it successful with the rates we are targeting. Our financial interest is aligned with your concerns about keeping this market rate.”