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River Market Parking Woes Prompt Plan Commission to Oppose Apartment Tower

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3 minute read

By Kevin Collison

The proposed City Harvest apartment tower by the City Market, a City Hall priority for three years, stumbled over the ongoing challenge of parking in the area this week at the City Plan Commission.

The Plan Commission voted 4-3 to recommend denial of the 300-unit project after hearing from River Market merchants and residents who said the 110 public parking spaces that would be lost at the site would exacerbate an already difficult situation.

“City parking is one of our most valued and important community assets,” said Arthur Leduc, owner of KC Taco Co. at 520 Walnut.

“The community and its surrounding businesses must have ample parking in order to survive. It’s basic.”

The Plan Commission recommendation will now go to the City Council which has the final say on the proposal.

City officials and Port KC have sought to develop what’s now a public parking lot just west of the City Market at Fifth and Main since early 2020. Flaherty & Collins, an Indianapolis developer with local experience, was chosen following a request for proposals (RFP).

The original RFP required the developer to replace the 160 spaces that would be lost due to the project, but that requirement was dropped during negotiations. The plan now calls for a 260-space garage with 20 spaces open to the public.

The City Harvest project would be built on this city-owned 160-space parking lot west of the City Market.

Another 28 spaces will be available on Main Street which would be reopened between Third and Fifth streets as part of the development.

City officials, including City Manager Brian Platt and the city planning staff, advocated for the project, saying it was the kind of density needed downtown. They noted the development would be next to the current River Market streetcar stop.

But River Market business owners and residents said their area needs parking to remain vibrant. They pointed out that not only their customers, but their employees needed to be able to park. Most drive to the City Market from outlying areas.

“There’s been limited conversation with the neighborhood that would be radically affected by this and other planned developments,” said James Freeman, an attorney representing property owners.

“The staff report, rather than addressing parking, simply glosses over the potential devastating impact of the project.”

There are also concerns that other River Market apartment projects being contemplated for what are currently public parking lots at Third and Grand, and on the south side of Fifth and Main will further aggravate the situation.

“We’ve always looked to have the three parking lots in City Market developed as long you weren’t losing parking,” said Scott Tanos, a resident.

“We’re not looking to increase parking, but to maintain the public parking for the residents and workers there.”

A view of the City Harvest project looking south from the small park in the City Market. (Rendering by KEM STUDIO)

For their part, the developers said the 13-story City Harvest project was designed in response to the specifications set out by the city. The development also is required to reserve 20 percent of the units as affordable.

They pointed out the parking situation in the River Market was a larger issue than their proposed $95.6 million project.

“We’re obviously surprised and a little disappointed,” said Ryan Cronk, vice president of Flaherty & Collins.

“We didn’t create this plan overnight. It’s aligned with a lot of the city’s goals. I think the response was more of a global issue and not our project specific.

“There’s a lot of varying opinions about the long-term parking strategy on the riverfront.”

For the City Plan Commission, the fierce debate over parking was a bit of deja vú.

In early December, the commission unanimously endorsed a plan by Mac Properties for a 300-unit development at Main and Armour that was opposed by the neighborhood over parking. It also would be next to a planned streetcar stop.

The 1 West Armour project had 193 parking spaces, and neighbors said it it would be make the competition for street parking even more difficult. The Mac plan ultimately was approved by the City Council last month.

This time however, the commercial parking challenges of the River Market tipped the recommendation the other way.

Commissioner Tyler Enders, who owns a Made in KC café at Fifth and Delaware, said parking in the area already was a huge problem. He voted to deny the plan.

The proposed apartment tower would be located on a city-owned parking lot just west of the City Market. (Image from developer presentation)

“In my opinion, at least five local businesses would not survive the construction because 160 spots for two years, that’s just a ton of customers,” he said.

Another opponent, Commissioner Ashley Sadowski said that while the streetcar is an asset, it doesn’t address the needs of most people coming to the River Market.

“This particular site is already a regional destination so you’re already assuming somebody is coming by car,” she said.

“We’ve never heard how people are moved from a car across the region to another mode of transportation to get to a more walkable neighborhood.”

James Baker, who supported the City Harvest plan, noted the developers had presented a proposal that met the city’s description and included 60 affordable apartments.

“We don’t want to lose affordable housing,” he said.

“That’s the trade off we have to struggle with, garage parking is $30,000 to $40,000 a stall. With a couple of those, you get an affordable housing unit.

“We as a commission and community as a whole need to understand the cost of parking, it’s not free. It costs a lot to build and maintain garages, and a lot of those garages take the place of where new residents can be.”

Commissioners voting to deny the City Harvest plan were Sadowski, Enders, Forestine Beasley and Bruce Allender. Voting in favor were Baker, Coby Crowl and Paul Rojas.

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