Published March 9th, 2023 at 12:30 PM3 minute read
By Kevin Collison
The proposed City Harvest apartment tower in the River Market likely will be revised to expand its garage at the cost of 15 affordable units following a contentious City Council committee meeting Wednesday.
And in an unusual open City Hall spat, committee members challenged City Manager Brian Platt and his staff’s decision to alter the original agreement to reduce the public parking requirement in exchange for more affordable housing without Council approval.
The $100 million project is proposed for a city parking lot at Fifth and Main.
“I don’t think he has the authority, in fact I know he doesn’t have the authority, to just amend something that’s within the ordinance,” said Councilman Lee Barnes Jr., chairman of the Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee.
Platt could not be reached immediately for comment. The city manager had previously championed the project as the kind of denser, less car dependent urban development needed downtown.
Committee members indicated they would support the 13-story, 300-unit apartment plan if it restored the 160 public spaces that would be lost at the development site. The issue is expected to return to the committee later this month.
The debate echoed one last month when City Plan Commission recommended against the plan. It pitted River Market merchants who want to maintain existing parking against supporters of transit-oriented development and more affordable housing.
“I’m concerned about losing parking for my employees and my customers as a result of the current plan for the City Harvest project,” said David Lindahl, a River Market resident and owner of HyperKC.
“The city manager, as far as I understand it, gave away millions of dollars of desperately needed parking in exchange for under a dozen affordable housing units.”
Most of the testimony came from business owners and residents expressing similar views. But there were some advocates for maintaining the smaller, 260-space garage and keeping the additional affordable housing units including the Downtown Neighborhood Association.
“I think the trade off has never been clearer,” said Matt Staub, a River Market resident.
“Do we want more affordable housing for people or do we want more affordable housing for cars? That is literally the decision that we’re making right now.”
The original RFP called for 45 units, 15 percent, of the project to be affordable to people making up to 70 percent of Area Median Income (AMI). The revised plan negotiated with the city manager’s office added another 15 units at 50 percent AMI.
“I believe the initial Council approval gave the city manager authority to sign off on any amendments,” said Ryan Cronk of Flaherty & Collins, the firm awarded development rights.
“The project changed at that time to include the 50 percent affordable housing. The only way to get to that was reduce public parking.”
Even if the 15 units at 50 percent AMI are dropped, the City Harvest project would still include the 45 affordable apartments renting at 70 percent of AMI as required under the original RFP.
The Metro Kansas City AMI for a one-person household per federal guideline is about $67,700 and about $77,500 for two people.
City planners made a presentation at the beginning of the session that stated a River Market parking study done in 2018 found there were approximately 3,000 available parking spots in the area. The City Harvest project also would be next to a streetcar stop.
But that didn’t persuade committee members.
Councilman Eric Bunch, who represents the City Market and is a transit-oriented development supporter, was unaware of the administrative change that reduced the requirement from 160 public spaces to 69 spaces in the development.
“I was a little surprised to learn the original deal had been changed,” he said. “I get it. We’re constantly faced with conflicting policy initiatives and goals.
“On one hand, there’s more demand than ever for affordable housing…On other hand, small businesses have unique needs. We’re also looking at how to maximize the impact of our transit investments.”
Councilwoman Katheryn Shields, who also represents the River Market, was sharply critical of how the RFP had changed to reduce the public parking.
“That was the agreement that was reached after numerous meetings with interested parties in the area,” she said. “I don’t think that’s how we should be doing business in Kansas City. We should not have these behind the scene changes.”
Cronk said his firm could change the design back to the original one with a 400-space garage that included the 160 public spaces relatively easily.
“We were perfectly fine with the original proposal and still are to this date,” he said.
“The original deal was the deal we made and we can move forward with that deal The only changes is the amount of parking vs affordable housing and we can move forward with either one.”
The committee voted to delay consideration on the project until March 22. Barnes indicated a project in line with the original RFP that replaced all the parking spaces would be acceptable.
“I don”t think anyone on the committee is pointing a finger at you in terms of what your response to additional inquiries was,” he told Cronk, referring to the changes requested by city staff.
“Just read the room on that.”