Historic places face threats every day. Those threats vastly exceed Historic Kansas City’s resources, which is why Historic Kansas City works with historic neighborhoods that take the lead and seek our help to preserve the history and character that is important to them. Saving a historic structure takes months to build a coalition, work with city planning and gain the support of councilmembers.

 

The Southmoreland Neighborhood, with the support of HKC and others, secured the local designation of the house at 4526 Warwick Blvd to the Kansas City
Register of Historic Places.

The City Council on Thursday, September 28th, 2023, took the nearly unprecedented move of going against the wishes of a home’s owners and placing their 110-year-old mansion on the local register. The 9-3 vote effectively saves what is known as the George B. Richards mansion from demolition for at least three years. Before this vote, only two properties in Kansas City had ever been placed on the city’s historic register without the owner’s permission: Union Station in 1986 and the 31st and Main Streets historic district in 2022. Neither were residential properties.

The victory was short-lived. The owners immediately filed an application with the Historic Preservation Commission requesting the right to demolish the historic home and garage. Voting 5-0, the commission refused to grant the property owners a “certificate of appropriateness” to demolish their 110-year-old mansion. They aim to tear down the house and possibly sell the nearly 1-acre lot so that apartments can be built on it. (They do not have the necessary zoning secured to build apartments)

The owners then filed an application with the Historic Preservation Commission claiming “economic hardship” to argue that the home should be demolished
because the cost to renovate it is far beyond its worth. Voting 5-0, the commission refused to grant the property owners a “certificate of economic hardship” to demolish the historic structure.

The designation does not prohibit the owners from demolishing the house in
perpetuity. Three years from the date of the final denial, the owners will be free to tear down the house at will. In March of 2024, the owners filed a civil lawsuit against the City of Kansas City and the Historic Preservation Commission.

The future of this historic structure remains uncertain.

 

 

DEMOLITION HEARING(S) BACKGROUND

On Friday, November 17th, 2023, the property at 4526 Warwick Blvd once again went before the Kansas City Historic Preservation Commission. This time the property owners sought permission to demolish the house.

On September 28, 2023, the City Council agreed with the neighbors and Historic Kansas City to place the home on the Kansas City Register of Historic Places. (ORDINANCE NO. 230705)  Per the Historic Preservation Commission Ordinance, the property owner has the right to file an application requesting approval to make exterior material changes, including demolition, that can be seen from the public right-of-way.

If the owners are granted a “certificate of appropriateness,” they may tear the house down immediately. If the certificate is denied, the property owners would need to wait three years to raze the house.

The property owners say they’ll knock the house down, either now or three years from now. Convinced that the empty land is worth more than the house, they want to raze the structure, get the 0.9-acre plot rezoned to commercial use, and then sell the property for maximum value for a commercial development, such as an apartment building.

The Southmoreland Neighborhood continues to urge the owners to try to sell the house on the residential market, as is, for an alternative use. A previous offer by a local owner of two bed-and-breakfast boutique hotels of $1.25 million for the house was rejected by the owners.

 

SEE THE PROCESS AND OUTCOMES BELOW.

 

APPLICATION – Certificate of Appropriateness for Demolition

An application was filed with the Historic Preservation Commission by the property owners to demolish the historic home and garage at 4526 WARWICK BLVD., THE “GEORGE B. RICHARDS RESIDENCE.” Case #CH-DR-2023-00079 will be heard by the Historic Preservation Commission at 9:00 a.m. Friday, November 17th, at City Hall, 414 E. 12th St., 26th Floor, and via video conferencing.

View the applicants’ statement HERE

In past cases, the commission reviews the demolition of a historic structure by determining if it retains its historic integrity for which it was initially designated. The National Register of Historic Places defines historic integrity as the ability of a property to convey its significance. There are seven aspects to integrity, location, design, setting, materials, workmanship, feeling, and association.

See the purpose for which the property was designated HERE.

 This application will likely involve a two-step hearing process:

  1. The purpose of the November 17th hearing is for the Historic Preservation Commission to determine if the historic property retains historic integrity for which it was designated; therefore not warranting demolition.

  2. If the Historic Preservation Commission denies the applicant’s request to demolish, the applicant has the opportunity to claim economic hardship within 30 days of that denial. A separate hearing would then be held by the Commission to hear that case. Only with the denial of that application would the 36-month wait period go into effect.

WHAT CAN YOU DO!

Historic Kansas City opposes the request to demolish and encourages its members and supporters to testify in opposition. Options include;

  • Send written comments to the City Historic Preservation Officer at kchp@kcmo.org by Wednesday, November 15th

  • Speak at the public hearing: 9:00 a.m. Friday, November 17th, at City Hall, 414 E. 12th, 26th Floor

  • Register to speak remotely via zoom HERE.

 

OUTCOME – Certificate of Appropriateness for Demolition Hearing on November 17, 2023

The Kansas City Historic Preservation Commission told the Vawter brothers no.

Voting 5-0 on Friday, the commission refused to grant the property owners a “certificate of appropriateness” that would have allowed them to demolish their 7,400-square-foot, 110-year-old mansion, about a block west of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in the Southmoreland neighborhood. They aim to tear down the house at 4526 Warwick Blvd. and possibly sell the nearly 1-acre lot so that apartments can be built on it.

During the meeting, the owner said that denying the certificate would likely mean the vacant property will continue to deteriorate and become an even greater nuisance, as rehabbing the home is economically unfeasible. “This property will become exactly what the Southmoreland Neighborhood Association does not want. They don’t want a vacant lot for homeless encampments. But by having a home on this property, the foregone conclusion is that will continue to be a magnet for vehicles, vandals, vagrants, and thieves well into the future.”

But commissioners said they had a duty to deny the request due to the house’s historic designation. As noted in a commission staff report, the owner’s proposal to tear down the house violated one of the 10 “standards of rehabilitation” outlined by the U.S. Department of the Interior, which says that the historic character of historically designated properties “shall be retained and preserved.” Commissioner Sean Owens said the owners’ predictions of further deterioration amounted to a threat. “I have a really simple solution for that,” Owens said, “sell your property.”

The designation does not prohibit the Vawters from demolishing the house in perpetuity. Three years from now, they will be free to tear down the house at will. If they choose, they can now apply for a “certificate of economic hardship” to again argue, as early as December, that the home should be demolished because the cost to renovate it is far beyond its worth. Friday’s denial also opens a path for the brothers to challenge any subsequent denials before a judge.

See HKC Letter/Testimony HERE.

 

APPLICATION – Certificate of Economic Hardship Hearing on January 26th, 2024

The property owners applied for a “certificate of economic hardship” to argue on January 26th before the Historic Preservation Commission that the home at 4526 Warwick Blvd should be demolished because the cost to renovate it is far beyond its worth. The Commission’s denial would open a path for the owners to challenge any subsequent denials before a judge.

Testimony lasted three hours and included two closed sessions to allow commission members to confer with legal counsel. Testimony was led by the Vawter’s legal counsel and included both Vawter brothers and the appraiser. The applicant spent time proving that Ryan Hiser, whose two offers were rejected, could not possibly receive a return on his investment. The Vawters were forthright about their intentions to redevelop the land as multi-family for a higher return. The Historic Preservation Commissioners understand that the Vawters do not have the necessary zoning in place.

Historic Kansas City and Southmoreland representatives testified in opposition. The matter was continued to Friday, February 23rd to allow the Commission time to consider the evidence. In addition, the Commission requested the submission of additional evidence in advance of that hearing and that Mr. George Birt, developer, attend and outline his development intentions.

See HKC Letter/Testimony HERE.

 

OUTCOME – Certificate of Economic Hardship Hearing on February 23rd, 2024

In a 5-0 vote on Friday, February 23rd, 2024, the city’s Historic Preservation Commission denied the Vawter brothers, from being able to demolish the George B. Richards Residence they own at 45th Street and Warwick Boulevard, stating that the evidence had not risen to the level of economic hardship as outline in the ordinance.

The Vawters want to demolish the home they don’t live in, so developer George Birt could build at least 125 apartments on site. But because the home has been added to the city’s Register of Historic Places, they needed the approval of the commission before that could happen.

Both brothers attended Friday’s meeting and were represented by attorney Leonard Rose.

Historic Kansas City and Southmoreland Neighborhood testified in opposition. “As we learned today, there are no concrete plans for this. It’s a concept,” neighborhood association president Laura Burkhalter said of the Vawters’ proposal. “It would require some amount of rezoning, which is up to a lot of parties to get that in place, so it’s not a sure thing.”

Rose, who represents the brothers, said his clients aren’t done fighting and will take this case to the Jackson County Circuit Court.