No victory for Vantage: Apartment project proposal fails in final attempt before Shawnee council
The Vantage at Shawnee saga at City Hall ended Monday night as the City Council failed to pass a proposal for the $35 million apartment project.
The Vantage at Shawnee proposal included 312 units in 14 buildings when it was originally brought to the city several months ago. Following two Planning Commission meetings and a public hearing in front of the city’s governing body, the developers proposed several last-minute changes to appease some concerns of residents and council members.
The developers proposed removing one of the buildings to lower the unit count to 288, therefore lowering the density to 10 units per acre from 10.89. The developer also proposed moving some of the three-story buildings inward on the property to create 3 acres of green space on the west side of the land to buffer the neighborhoods from the buildings.
Despite the changes, the council voted 5-3 against passing the project in a quick vote with no discussion before the motion. Jeff Vaught, Stephanie Meyer and Brandon Kenig were the three council members to vote in favor of the project. After the motion failed, several council members weighed in with their thoughts on the project.
“I think it’s a quality project and I don’t think the density was out of line,” said Mickey Sandifer, who voted against the project. “I sided with the people and what they wanted.”
The apartments would’ve ranged from one to three bedrooms and would’ve rented between $750 and more than $1,200 per month based on the size of the apartment. The entire development would have been gated with a decorative fence using an electronic entry for residents. The two proposed entrances to the apartments would’ve be on Pflumm Road and 62nd Street.
The development proposal by America First MultiFamily Investors LP and Clermont LLC. required 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 medium-density residential development, between five and 10 units per acre, in the area and has suggested so since the creation city’s comprehensive plan in 1987. However, the land was zoned as single residential through 2014, when it was changed for the Cobblestone Village project.
Over the past couple of months, residents have organized to voice their opposition to the development of apartments on the land. Hundreds of area residents have turned out for Planning Commission meetings and two city council meetings since November.
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It was in November when the Planning Commission originally approved the rezoning and preliminary plan with an 8-2 vote. Before the proposal made it to a City Council vote, area residents collected enough signatures for a protest petition that forced a super-majority vote on the matter.
The major concerns raised by citizens were about population density, traffic on Pflumm Road and 62nd Street and effects the apartments would have on surrounding property values.
The City Council in December failed to reach a super-majority vote and remanded the issue back to the Planning Commission to reconsider traffic concerns. So, the developers and engineers with the city presented traffic study figures that they said showed that there would be no need for a traffic signal on Pflumm Road and that traffic numbers would actually be less than the previously proposed project — the Cobblestone Village retirement community.
Again, the Planning Commission approved the proposal with no required changes.
State law says the City Council, after the remand from the Planning Commission, would still need a super-majority vote to pass the proposal but only needed five votes to deny it. In the end, they were four votes away from passing the measure.
According to state law, governing bodies can reject rezoning proposals based on eight reasons. The reasons, called the Golden Factors, were established following the Kansas Supreme Court case Golden v. Overland Park in 1978. Those factors are: the character of the neighborhood, the zoning and uses of property nearby, the suitability of the property for the uses to which it has been restricted under its existing zoning, extent to which removal of the restrictions will detrimentally affect nearby property, length of time of any vacancy of the property, relative gain to the public health, safety and welfare by destruction of value of the applicant’s property as compared to the hardship on other individual landowners, recommendation of professional staff and conformance with the comprehensive plan. Each legally requires factual evidence to support the denial of a request.
The Golden case also established that governing bodies cannot deny a zoning request based on public sentiment alone. They must, it says, tie it to one of the eight Golden factors.
Shawn Stewart, a resident in the area and an attorney, spoke at Monday’s council meeting against Vantage and cited the Golden case in making his argument. He said the original density combined with the overall size of the development did not meet the city’s zoning requirements.
“Considering those factors, the evidence presented is plenty to lawfully deny this request,” Stewart said.
A group of other residents hired an attorney, John Roe, who said that the developer’s responsibility in requesting the zoning change and approval of the preliminary plan was to show that the zoning regulations were not reasonable.
"The applicant has not shown that the underlying zoning is not reasonable,” Roe said. “Instead, they want to change it because it does not fit what they want to do.”
City Councilman Vaught disagreed and said the staff report and Planning Commission determined that the proposal did meet the requirements. He said the city is putting itself at risk of a lawsuit by denying the request and project proposal because Vantage met all of the requirements set by the city in its comprehensive plan and land use guide in his mind.
“This is going to open up a can of worms,” Vaught said. “This is going to be a problem.”
Vaught said the problem with denying this project, which included no incentives or tax abatements, is that all future projects on the site are now jeopardized. He said that the city will have trouble using Tax Increment Financing, which had been approved for the Cobblestone project, in the future because the Vantage project proved the land could be developed without incentives.
“If we can’t make this work, then what will?” Vaught asked the council.
Curt Peterson, an attorney with Polsinelli Law Firm representing the Vantage at Shawnee developers, said he couldn’t say whether the developer intends to sue the city following the decision by the council. He did confirm his law firm is currently in a lawsuit against the city of Prairie Village over zoning change requests.
“At this point, we’re just really disappointed because we really wanted to be in this city,” Peterson said.