Today’s action, May 25th, 2023, by the City Council marks the end of a five-year battle to prevent the demolition of the 7th Church of Christ, Scientist located at the corner of 47th and Pennsylvania. There really is no consolation for that loss — a very significant scenic and historic feature on the Plaza will disappear. Regrettably, the legal means are not available to save it.
The original Cocina47 NINE-story plan peaked at 160 feet tall. The revised THREE-story proposal reaches a little over 71 feet at the top of an ornamental tower. The building itself would reach a maximum of 57 feet. Of the building’s four corners, two would sit slightly below the Plaza Bowl Overlay District’s 45-foot height restriction. Two corners would slightly exceed it, based on an 11-foot grade change.
Since 2017, HKC has aggressively fought against threats to the 7th Church of Christ, Scientist. HKC filed an application to locally designate the structure. The local register offers demolition protection, of a sort, but we were promptly sued by the Church congregation. HKC settled the issue and withdrew the application for designation. As the property owner, the Church objected to the application. A development proposal by RED Development was withdrawn in 2019 following Historic Kansas City’s success in securing the adoption of the Plaza Bowl Overlay District along 47th Street. Later in 2020, the church was purchased by DRAKE Development, associated with the Jack Henry Building and Cocina47 development.
Our secondary role has been to advocate for an infill development that followed the guidance of the Midtown/Plaza Plan and the Plaza Bowl overlay – work that had been done in 2016 and 2019 —-that developers since then and prior to this project had all adhered to. There are good reasons to comply with the plan – it is most fair to developers who have already invested millions, “assuming those who follow will also comply” – therefore protecting everyone and assuring that the whole stays better than the sum of its parts.
HKC plays a positive role in working with developers of both new infill projects and existing renovations to help them with design decisions. We have worked with many developers on the Plaza and all over KC to offer assistance and background knowledge. We are a volunteer organization whose members are dedicated and willing to put in the hours to help KC grow in a smart and effective way.
Our involvement in this case enabled the developer, property owners, and the concerned neighborhoods to work together.
Since 2017, HKC has aggressively fought against threats to the 7th Church of Christ, Scientist, located at the corner of 47th and Pennsylvania. HKC filed an application to locally designate the structure. The local register offers demolition protection, of a sort, but we were promptly sued by the Church congregation. HKC settled the issue and withdrew the application for designation. As the property owner, the Church objected to the application. In Kansas City, you just can’t get something locally designated over owner objection. It’s not a requirement, but a political reality. At that time, the only exception is the City Council approved the designation of Union Station over the owner’s objection.
A development proposal by RED Development was withdrawn in 2019 following Historic Kansas City’s success in securing adoption of the Plaza Bowl Overlay District along 47th Street. Later in 2020, the church was purchased by DRAKE Development, associated with the Jack Henry Building.
In 2021, Drake Development shared with HKC plans for Cocina47, a three-story restaurant development, at the corner of 47th and Pennsylvania. The proposal directly violated the Midtown Plaza Area Plan and Plaza Bowl Overlay District ordinance. Both were designed to preserve the character and integrity of the Country Club Plaza and to preclude demolition of the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist. HKC worked extensively with Councilwoman Shields, met with the developer and key stakeholders several times, expressed the importance of following adopted ordinances, enforcing adopted area plans, and saving the Romanesque Revival church building.
In April 2022, the developer instead applied with the city for a nine-story project on the site. Drake Development’s plans would build six floors of luxury condominiums above three levels of restaurant space, with no parking. Because of its height, the project would need a variance from the city to get around the Plaza Overlay District zoning standards. HKC and a broad coalition of neighborhood leaders, the Country Club Plaza landlord, property owners, and tenants joined together in opposition to the Cocina47 proposal. In June of 2022 the City Plan Commission rejected the project saying the height of the nine-story proposal was an insult to years of planning and community meetings that created policies to guide development at the Country Club Plaza. [see background below]
REVISED THREE-STORY PROPOSAL
On Monday, March 20, 2023, Overland Park-based Drake Development LLC shared details on its plans for a three-story, three-restaurant building in place of The Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist at 604 W. 47th St. at a neighborhood meeting at Unity Temple on the Plaza. About 35 people attended the meeting to learn more about Drake’s revision, which marks the first public meeting on Cocina 47 since June of 2022 when the City Plan Commission recommended against a nine-story version with six full-floor condos. The tenor of Monday’s meeting about the three-story iteration seemed mostly receptive in contrast to the nine-story project last year.
On May 23, 2023, almost one year later, Historic Kansas City and our Plaza advocates, Friends of the Plaza, acknowledge a settlement regarding the site of the Christian Science Church at 47th and Pennsylvania on the Country Club Plaza. Two developer-owners previously deeply at odds appear to have reached a compromise and now look to City government to take action regarding the site consistent with that agreement. Councilmember Katheryn Shields has been in consultation with the parties, and we greatly appreciate her effort and commitment to a best achievable outcome consistent with long established planning, zoning and approval process standards. We believe the public interest and that of nearby owners and neighbors are probably best served by this result. With a slight refinement to the Plaza Bowl Concept set forth in the Midtown Plaza Plan (which updated in 2016 the predecessor Plaza Plan of 1989), we believe stable, reliable planning for this critical civic asset — the Plaza — has been maintained and will be in good stead for many years to come.
As has been the case with a number of other projects over the years, HKC agrees that a deviation from the Bowl Concept height requirement of 45 feet at this location is an acceptable aberration to accommodate this new structure. An unfortunate negative is the loss of the historic building on the site. There really is no consolation for that loss — a very significant scenic and historic feature on the Plaza will disappear. Regrettably, the legal means are not available to save it.
The new structure will exceed in places the 45-foot height limit that applies to the site, but there is a crucial setback on 47th Street which will diminish height of much of that facade well below 45 feet. The Bowl Concept is preserved after a lengthy controversy which does not invite repetition. It should be recognized as well that the site has a grade change not found elsewhere within the 45 foot zone on the Plaza. There are anomalies of height measurement with grade variation and other details that have complicated the dispute.
Accessibility being a critical aspect of Plaza history and design, and convenient parking being critical to accessibility, we cannot support an outcome that lacks a definite plan for convenient off-street parking. It appears that the necessary parking spaces for the uses proposed can be provided by surrounding office buildings. The City’s standards require those off-site parking spaces to be leased in perpetuity and signed by the specific property owner that is providing them. Still, there is critical need for a parking and traffic study, comprehensive in scope, for the entire Plaza-Westport area. This study should be funded and undertaken ASAP.
We are highly optimistic about the future of the Plaza. With good stewardship and curation, this priceless legacy so important to this city will prosper and retain its place among our most important scenic, historic and design assets. Dear to the hearts of so many Kansas Citians. Further, we believe the Plaza will continue to be a vital economic force in our city, highly attractive to growth and investment, thanks to stable, reliable and well-articulated planning.
The saga of redevelopment at this location has spanned several years in which at least two proposals emerged from different developers hugely out of sync with Plaza planning. After much effort, we can see a better outcome ahead, in addition to growth, investment and tourism revenue.
[Images from Red Development application, Drake Development application CD-CPC-2021-00193 and TR,I ARCHITECTS]
NINE-STORY BACKGROUND HISTORY
‘Ridiculous’ and ‘egregious’:
Kansas City panel rejects nine-story Plaza high-rise!
On June 7th, 2022, the City Plan Commission unanimously rejected the development plan for Cocina 47. The developer, Overland Park-based Drake Development LLC, proposes building three restaurant levels under six full-floor condominiums for sale. The Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist at 604 W. 47th St. would be razed to make way for the building.
The City Plan Commissions’ decision considered 132 letters of opposition and followed more than two hours of public testimony from 15 groups in organized opposition with HKC. Most were business executives and members of neighborhood associations in the Plaza area, whose objections centered on building height and parking.
“Approval of something this egregious would leave every subsequent developer no incentive to follow the same rules that every other investor in the Plaza has,” Historic Kansas City President Vicki Noteis said during Tuesday’s plan meeting. “Small, necessary deviations can always be accommodated and negotiated, but approving the very first deviation from this plan for over 100 feet is ridiculous. This is a 100-year decision.”
Plan Commission member Ashley Sadowski stressed the importance of providing reliable development ground rules, including through the Plaza Bowl overlay, which she said arguably involved one of the city’s most thoughtful planning processes. Cocina 47 “seems like it’s a slap in the face” to those efforts, she said.
Another Commission member, Cokethea Hill, said she appreciates innovation in development, but also the architectural integrity and fabric of a community like the Plaza. “It’s always easy to see, on the front end, the vacancies, but you can’t see what are the repercussions or impact of a proposed development that has had so much pushback,” she said.
COCINA47 NINE STORY PROPOSAL– MAY 19TH PUBLIC MEETING
Come listen and learn about the Cocina47 proposal – Thursday, May 19, 2022 at 6:00 p.m. at Unity Temple, 707 W. 47th Street, the developer will meet with area residents and the broader community to present the Cocina47 proposal.
WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.
Threat to the Historic Church
Since 2017, HKC has sought to protect the 7th Church of Christ Scientist from demolition. RED Development withdrew its development proposal following HKC’s success in advocating for the adoption of the Plaza Bowl Overlay District.
HKC also filed an application to locally designate the structure. The local register offers demolition protection, of a sort, but we were promptly sued by the Church congregation. HKC settled the issue and withdrew the application for designation. As the property owner, the Church objected to the application. In Kansas City, you just can’t get something locally designated over owner objection. It’s not a requirement, but a political reality. The only exception is the City Council approved the designation of Union Station over the owner’s objection.
JH Investors purchased the church in 2020.
Cocina47 Application CD-CPC-2021-00193
What originally was a three-story restaurant proposal has taken a surprise twist with the developer now pursuing a NINE-STORY project there. Drake Development has submitted plans to the city for a “Cocina47” development that would build six floors of luxury condominiums above three levels of restaurant space. The developer plans to demolish the Seventh Church of Christ, Scientist, a 1942-era structure, to make way for the new structure. Because of its height, the project would need a variance from City Hall to get around the Plaza Overlay District zoning standards the city has implemented on buildings in and around the Plaza. Parking remains an issue.
Historic Kansas City, Plaza neighborhood groups, Block Real Estate, and Taubman Realty Group, which owns and operates the Country Club Plaza shops and restaurants, all opposed the nine-story building, which exceeds the city’s 45-foot height requirement. [Image from Application CD-CPC-2021-00193]
LATEST NEWS ARTICLES:
WHAT’S AT ISSUE:
What is fundamentally at issue here is rules-based, citizen-informed development . . . in this case, the mandatory maximum heights allowed, not recommended, under the Plaza Bowl Overlay District Ordinance unanimously passed by the Mayor and City Council in 2019.
Mayors, city managers and city councils come and go but all of us in the community who make investments — and that includes our homes — need reliable rules on which to base reasonable and enduring decisions. The issue is far larger than the Plaza and the risk is that politics — not carefully considered and durable policies — will govern throughout our community.
With the Plaza Plan and other area plans; the FOCUS plan; zoning overlays and the like, we have tried to elevate durable rules and policy over fad, fashion and the politics of the moment. That is the fundamental issue.
It is not a proposition of freezing the development of the city — far from it, as experience shows. It has to do with enabling synergistic and compatible development, harmonizing neighborhoods and other built amenities and spaces into a community worthy of the special claims we all like to make for Kansas City.
How could something like the Plaza ever have “happened” without guiding insights, practice and pattern that transcend this or next year’s elections? Without a Plaza Plan as developed over 30 years ago and re-confirmed unanimously by City Council only six years ago?
This season’s follies are no substitute for stable, citizen-based AND CITY-ENFORCED planning. That’s what creates and sustains desirable venues for development, which is why we have controversy on the Plaza now. Someone wants the benefit of 100 years of careful and sound development but is unwilling to conform to what makes the Plaza great.
It’s as simple as “Follow the Rules.” It’s an ordinance, not a guide. Enforce it.
What You Can Do
Contact the Mayor, your City Council representatives and those on the Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee. Send an email or letter stating your organizations’ opposition to the Cocina47 project and its implications for neighborhoods and area planning in Kansas City.
The goal of the Plaza Overlay District is to preserve the character and integrity of the Plaza, maintain the Plaza Bowl concept, and protect the property values and expectations of Plaza property owners, residents and visitors. The Overlay restricts heights and land uses at this location to 45 feet. The developer bought it fully knowledgeable of the Plaza Bowl Overlay District Ordinance. The 9 – story proposal grossly exceeds that. This would require a deviation authorized by the City Council, for which there are no standards for evaluation.
Please require the development plan for the Church Site to comply with the height regulations of the Plaza Overlay District. It’s as simple as “Follow the Rules.” It’s an ordinance, not a guide. Enforce it.
Please encourage the Director of City Planning and Development not to approve an alternative parking arrangement that doesn’t adequately consider the negative impact on the surrounding residential neighborhood to the north, east and west of Pennsylvania, or the traffic congestion that will result on narrow residential streets.
Please refuse to approve a development plan for the Church Site without written assurance that the parking requirements of both the Jack Henry Building redevelopment and the Church Site development are met without causing encroachment into the surrounding residential neighborhood or the poaching of existing Plaza parking to the detriment of Plaza tenants and businesses.
SEE THE EXAMPLE TEMPLATE BELOW
Send an email of opposition by no later than NOON on Tuesday, June 21st to email@example.com.
Also, copy your email to the Mayor and City Council members listed below.
Subject: Cocina47 CD-CPC-2021-00193 – Opposition
Dear Members of the City Plan Commission:
The [NAME OF GROUP] is writing to strongly urge you to OPPOSE the proposed plans for Cocina47 on the Country Club Plaza.
The goal of the Plaza Overlay District is to preserve the character and integrity of the Plaza, maintain the Plaza Bowl concept, and protect the property values and expectations of Plaza property owners, residents and visitors. The Overlay restricts heights and land uses at this location to 45 feet. The developer bought it fully knowledgeable of the Plaza Bowl Overlay District Ordinance. The 9 – story proposal grossly exceeds that.
• The developer’s proposed plan directly violates the Midtown Plaza Area Plan and Plaza Bowl overlay ordinance. Both were designed to preserve the character and integrity of the Plaza. A lot of public engagement, over several years, went into these decisions to codify these height restrictions that impact a number of Plaza stakeholders.
• Allowing one developer to exceed the height limits set by the Plaza Bowl Overlay opens up the floodgates for other developers to ignore other overlay district ordinances and area plans created by neighborhoods and other stakeholders. Require the development plan to comply with the height regulations of the Plaza Overlay District. It’s as simple as “Follow the Rules.” It’s an ordinance, not a guide. Enforce it.
• We are also concerned that the developer’s parking plan poaches parking spaces that have been paid for and maintained by Plaza businesses, and/or it forces its patrons to seek on-street parking in the nearby neighborhoods.
• Please refuse to approve a development plan for the Church Site without written assurance that the parking requirements of both the Jack Henry Building redevelopment and the Church Site development are met without causing encroachment into the surrounding residential neighborhood or the poaching of existing Plaza parking to the detriment of Plaza tenants and businesses.
[ADD PERSONAL COMMENTS]
The Plaza is an iconic and irreplaceable district in Kansas City. Years ago citizens, businesspersons, and city officials hammered out a plan to preserve and protect the unique character and quality of the Plaza; that agreement is embodied in the Midtown Plaza Area Plan, and the Plaza Bowl Overlay District. Upholding that agreement will help preserve the character of our community.
The [NAME OF GROUP] urge you to REJECT the Cocina47 proposal, CD-CPC-2021-00193.
[NAME OF GROUP]
Mayor Quinton Lucas
1st District Councilman Kevin O’Neill
1st District Councilwoman Heather Hall (In-District)
2nd District Councilwoman Teresa Loar (At-Large) Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee
2nd District Councilman Dan Fowler (In-District) Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee
3rd District-at-Large Councilman Brandon Ellington Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee
3rd District Councilwoman Melissa Robinson
4th District Councilman Eric Bunch
4th District at Large Councilwoman Katheryn Shields
5th District Councilman Lee Barnes, Jr. (At-Large) Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee
5th District Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw
6th District-at-Large Councilwoman Andrea Bough Neighborhood Planning and Development Committee
6th District Councilman Kevin McManus (In-District)
ORIGINAL 3 – 4 STORY PROPOSAL
The anticipated development proposal by JH Investors is real!
The Plaza’s historic nature is immediately threatened by the demolition of the 7th Church of Christ Scientist at the corner of 47th and Pennsylvania to be replaced with a 3 – 4 – story project.
The goal of the Plaza Overlay District is to preserve the character and integrity of the Plaza, maintain the Plaza Bowl concept, and protect the property values and expectations of Plaza property owners, residents and visitors. The Overlay restricts heights and land uses at this location to 45 feet. The Overlay does NOT protect the church from demolition.
The developer bought it fully knowledgeable of the Plaza Bowl Overlay District Ordinance. HKC estimates they exceed the height by 18 or more feet. This would require a deviation authorized by the City Council, for which there are no standards for evaluation.
Below, see HKCs letter to the Director of City Planning and Development, the Mayor, the City Council, and the City Manager.
Key Message: Allowing one developer to exceed the height limits set by the Plaza Bowl Overlay opens up the floodgates for other developers to ignore other overlay district ordinances and area plans created by neighborhoods and other stakeholders.
- Ignores planning already in place: The proposed new building is 18 feet or more higher than allowed by the Plaza Bowl Overlay. If this were to be approved, it would be a threat to all who spent many hours developing areas plans and the Plaza Bowl Overlay and could lead to other developers trying to test the limits of the overlay. This should be of concern to all of the neighborhoods which have helped to shape those plans and would like to see the planning already in place adhered to by the city.
- No parking included in plan: The developer says parking on the site is not needed because there is already plenty of parking on the Plaza.
- Erosion of historic fabric: The 7th Church of Christ Scientist is eligible for listing on both the national or local register; HKC considers it an important part of the historic fabric of the Plaza.
See attached Fact Sheet.
ORIGINAL 3 – 4 STORY PROPOSAL: Our Position on Cocina47 Proposal
The following is taken from HKCs letter to the Director of City Planning and Development, the Mayor, the City Council, and the City Manager.
HKC has met with the developer and his architect and attorney and reviewed the most recent plans. We have indicated that height is excessive and that we would want to see floor dimensions; an 8 foot parapet; and a tower on the southeast corner modified to meet Plaza Plan and zoning requirements.
What we see presented most recently, though as yet unfiled with the City, is a structure that would rival the height and massing of the former Jack Henry building next door plus a tower on the southeast corner. Oddly, what is supposed to be a 45 foot zone property would host a structure that rises as high as Jack Henry — which sits in a 65 foot zone – and has a substantially higher grade elevation than the site of the Cocina47 project. Eight feet of the proposed height is an empty parapet. The tower has no purpose other than an aesthetic gesture (perhaps?). There is no parking provision on-site and suggestions that parking is arranged with neighboring owners we are told and believe are questionable. Those neighbors, of course, have invested mightily in parking, a hallmark of the Plaza historically and functionally, required by existing City regulation and utterly essential to the commercial well-being and vitality of the Plaza.
What we’re seeing proposed is flatly incompatible with the Midtown Plaza Area Plan and the Plaza Bowl Overlay. The departures are not minor and cannot be accommodated with minor tweaks to the Plan and zoning. There is clearly a risk of Pandora effect and no end of wrangle on the part of all involved if thoughtful standards carefully put in place are not followed. The serious violations of the Plaza Bowl Overlay District Ordinance are summarized on the Table and Comments section. (see HKC Fact Sheet)
Clearly a compliant design should be at least 20 feet less than we’re seeing. Unlike the existing Jack Henry building incorporated in that project, this is a NEW building which can readily comply. The site was acquired by the current owner with full notice of the City’s requirements. Is there any point of the grade of the church site that is higher than the Jack Henry site? NO. When you look at the 47th street elevation, you should see a 20 ft difference in height, between Jack Henry and the proposed project, if not more — in fact, the grade is rising to the west. It’s that simple.
We have heard that the church group that sold the property to the current owner has retained a right to occupancy requiring space with a 22 foot vertical dimension. While, again, that shouldn’t negate City requirements, it has been cited for a need for more height for the building generally. However, we have information that the church does not need more than 16 feet for their space. We are told the church’s’ priority is to get this project underway.
What we are provided and told is submitted to the City Planning & Development Department is not in compliance with adopted city policy. We are also very willing to have further discussion with the developer in search of solutions that will both preserve the Plaza Bowl and integrity of Plaza planning while also optimize commercial and experiential enhancements on this site — notwithstanding potential loss of the historic church building which itself is greatly against the grain of Plaza planning.
Area stakeholders have invested millions of dollars based upon approved zoning and adopted plans. To vary height upward by 20 feet is a big deal and a rather breathtaking ask, to say the least.
Previous HKC Actions
HKC has worked extensively with City Councilwoman Shields on this effort. We have met with the developer and key stakeholders several times and expressed the importance of following adopted ordinances, enforcing adopted area plans, and saving the building. HKC has also written a letter to the city urging planners to follow the existing planning documents and the Plaza Bowl Overlay. HKC has continued to work with area property owners so to leverage their personal interest in this matter, secure letters of opposition, and their participation in city council briefings. HKC has met with 16 neighborhood organizations and also prepared an aggressive outreach campaign to be launched on social media and other media channels upon project submission. HKC is now moving to the “informational phase” where we will meet with City Council members.
We need your help! Join HKC and FOP in the fight to Save the Plaza.