Opponents of a plan to build senior housing and a new community center on the site of Roeland Park’s existing community center can rest easy — for now.
After the city council reversed itself Monday by rejecting the project, developer David Dean told The Kansas City Star he would abandon his efforts and start the process over in hopes of building it next year.
The proposal has angered Roeland Park residents since it first came to light Jan. 22, when the city council approved an agreement for Dean to raze the community center at 4850 Rosewood Ave., and replace it with low- to moderate-income senior housing and a new community center.
Residents, however, were outraged that the plan had not had any public input or a bidding process. Three city council members who opposed the plan — Becky Fast, Bill Art and Marick Gliniecki — called a special meeting last Thursday to rescind the original agreement.
The vote failed 3-5.
But Monday, after 11 Roeland Park current and former residents spoke out against the development, the council voted 2-5 against the project.
Councilwomen Betsy Mellor and Megan England reversed themselves and joined Fast, Art, and Gliniecki in rejecting the project. Council members Jennifer Gunby and Robert Meyers remained in support of the project. Mayor Adrienne Foster and council member Mark Kohls, who had supported the project previously, did not attend the meeting Monday.
“I am elated,” 28-year resident Linda Mau said. “For once the council may have heard the people speaking.”
Developer Dean said he would try again, with a goal of getting approval in time for a February 2014 deadline for state approval for tax credits he is seeking.
Dean said he would withdraw the application and begin the process all over again this summer — next time, working to get citizen support first.
“I think I was caught in a crossfire between the council and the residents,” Dean said. “The takeaway was that the residents just didn’t know enough about the plan.”
Dean, who grew up in Roeland Park, first approached Foster in July with his plan. Foster did not return phone calls seeking comment.
“I was driving around, trying to find an area to build some senior housing, and I found the Roeland Park community center,” a more than 50-year-old building that city officials say has fallen into disrepair.
Dean proposed building a 63-unit senior housing complex for low- to moderate-income earners with some Section 8 housing for the elderly poor. According to the state housing application, the complex could include some living units for the homeless.
Dean also proposed tearing down the old community center and building a new one on the site.
But most members of the council didn’t learn about the plan until several months later, at the Jan. 22 meeting.
That’s when Dean came to the city council meeting and broadly outlined his proposal. He said federal law required him to seek approval for the project through the state of Kansas because he was applying to get low-income tax credits from the federal government, anywhere from 4 to 9 percent.
He would tear down the original community center and rebuild it at his own cost. He had to get council approval by Feb. 1 to begin the process to apply for the federal tax credits. No one, from Dean to city officials, knew how much money the tax credits would be worth or the total cost of the proposed project.
State officials said a proposed development that has citizen input and support stands a greater chance of getting state and federal officials’ approval.
But some citizens weren’t about to support the proposal. “The process hasn’t been transparent,” said Mau. “There’s been no input from the community.”
Councilwoman Fast said she’d received “tons of calls” from residents concerned about the details of the plan.
“People are outraged,” Fast said.
Opponents were concerned the senior apartment building and community center would be adjacent to another apartment complex, which they feared could lead to an increase in neighborhood crime.
“That is a lot of multi-family housing so close together,” Fast said.
But Dean, who has built other senior housing in Osawatomie, Kan., and Grandview and Peculiar, Mo., said crime had not been a problem.
“We have no crime in our senior developments,” he said. To suggest otherwise “is degrading to the citizens of Roeland Park.”
Councilman Art was concerned there had been no bidding process among other potential developers.
“It just doesn’t look like it’s an open process,” Art said. “And appearances are everything.”