By Paul Thompson
July 12, 2017
KANSAS CITY, Missouri – A petition has been started by Northland residents aiming to prevent the construction of a mixed-income development that would house up to 30 displaced residents of the Historic Northeast’s Chouteau Courts housing project.
By the afternoon of Wednesday, July 12, nearly 2,500 online signatures had been garnered for the petition, entitled “Stop Kansas City From Allowing Brinshore Development Housing to Build By North Platte Purchase Neighborhoods.” The groundswell of opposition to the proposed development comes on the heels of an acrimonious July 5 meeting between development partners and roughly 175 Northland residents. During that meeting, which was intended to serve as a project introduction for stakeholders along Platte Purchase Dr. (where the 80-85 unit development would be constructed), residents expressed displeasure with the notion of current and former Chouteau Courts residents being relocated to their neighborhood.
John Monroe of the Housing Authority of Kansas City said that he and his colleagues felt “shell-shocked” by the reception from Northland residents. The development team had hoped to present a preliminary plan to residents before breaking out into smaller groups to address particular questions or concerns. But Monroe said that once the meeting began, attendees weren’t looking for a constructive conversation.
“People were not in the mood to bargain,” Monroe said. “They just wanted to shut us down.”
Monroe added that many of the concerns voiced by residents were based off misinformation that had been disseminated on social media.
“The residents didn’t want to hear the concept, and were quite angry,” Monroe said. “Most people in the public have an old stereotype of what public housing is. What we’re proposing is mixed-income public housing, which we’ve managed successfully for the past 18 years.”
In 2015, the Housing Authority of Kansas City earned a $30 million Choice Neighborhoods Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant intended to spur the Paseo Gateway corridor. The plan is to increase traffic flow between the Historic Northeast and Downtown Kansas City, revitalizing the Paseo Gateway area in the process. The Paseo Gateway Project isn’t just a transportation plan, however: it also revolves around housing, with a particular focus on razing the Chouteau Courts complex (1220 Independence Avenue) and relocating its residents to newly-constructed mixed-income developments. The majority of those developments – which are largely located in the Paseo Gateway area where Chouteau Courts now stands – are proceeding along ahead of schedule.
The Rose Hill Town Homes (33 low-income units) at Admiral and Troost have already been completed, while the renovated Pendleton Flats complex (10 low-income units) at Independence Avenue and Brooklyn is expected to finish construction by the fall of 2017. Developments plans for the new Pendleton ArtsBlock apartments (14 low-income units) are well underway, while the Century Apartments and Townhomes (28 low-income units combined) – at 9th and Flora and 9th and Woodland respectively – are not far behind.
Another 25-30 low-income units were expected for the proposed 80-85 unit mixed-income development in the Northland, but those plans have since stalled. Initially, developers had eyed a site already owned by the Housing Authority at NE 48th St. and Randolph for the ‘Maple Corners’ complex. Public outcry against the proposal, however, led project leaders to withdraw a tax credit application for the site last fall.
In a letter dated October 24, 2017, City Manager Troy Schulte, Housing Authority of Kansas City Executive Director Edwin Lowndes, and David Brint of lead developer Brinshore Development, LLC withdrew the tax credit application for Maple Corners, citing “substantial community input and inquiries since the first community meeting was held prior to the application submission.” The letter further stated that a broader planning effort was currently being put together to evaluate potential replacement sites in North Kansas City.
“We originally looked at Maple Corners, because it was a property that the Housing Authority already owned,” said Scott Wagner, 1st District Councilman. “Based on the reaction there, the Housing Authority thought that maybe there were better spots.”
In the following months, the Paseo Gateway team looked at as many 13 additional sites in the Northland, eventually whittling the list down to four. North Platte Purchase emerged as the preferred location for the development, but when that news broke to Northland residents, resistance followed.
After the July 5 public input meeting devolved into a shouting match, according to attendees, prejudiced comments on a combative Facebook thread eventually caused the thread to be pulled down. Wagner expressed frustration with how Northland residents have handled the process.
“This is a reaction off of one presentation,” Wagner said. “All they ask is, ‘Can we talk to some people who are willing to engage with us?’ The answer they seem to get is not just no, but hell no.”
Wagner recounted reading inaccurate comments about how 150 Chouteau Courts residents would be relocated to the Northland. The 1st District Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem now feels compelled to defend a mixed-use development that hasn’t even submitted a formal plan.
“People aren’t even bothering to listen. They are immediately jumping to a conclusion and putting it out there, which gets everyone else going in the wrong direction,” Wagner said. “In my opinion, this reflects very badly on residents in the Northland.”
“The thing that disturbs me, quite honestly, is that people are jumping to the worst and they are categorizing the project incorrectly,” Wagner added.
Wagner acknowledged that both race and socioeconomic standing appear to play a role in the opposition to the low-income residents being relocated from Chouteau Courts. He did note, however, that there are less nefarious reasons why the project has been met icily by Northland residents.
“Along Independence Avenue and within that Choice Neighborhood area, you have a more realized vision. You don’t have that more rigorously-created vision in the Northland, or anywhere else,” Wagner said. “If the fatal flaw is that this was kind of looked at as a one-off without really giving it the same level of planning and scrutiny that the original Choice Neighborhood got, then you’re going to have this same level of animosity anywhere you go.”
Monroe acknowledged that the planning process was significantly more rigorous along the Paseo Gateway corridor. That being said, he also suggested that the work in that area was far more substantial than what’s being planned in the Northland.
“Obviously we don’t have the staff resources or money to do a full transformation plan like we did for Paseo Gateway,” Monroe said. “We shouldn’t have to go through that, though. We shouldn’t get any more resistance to this than we would for any other development.”
For now, the Paseo Gateway team is going back to the drawing board to come up with a solution that might appease Northland residents who are uncomfortable with the mixed-income development. That could include a promise of future amenities around the project site, or even the donation of land for another entity to develop. Monroe said that during a meeting with business leaders and non-profit groups that preceded the July 5 meeting with residents, both the Mid-Continent Public Library and the Platte County R-3 School District expressed an interest in building new facilities near the North Platte Purchase. For now, though, Monroe stresses that all options are open and all plans are preliminary.
“It’s emotional, and it doesn’t have to be that emotional,” Monroe said. “We haven’t even submitted a development proposal; this is early in the process.”
As the drama unfolds in the Northland, progress continues in the Historic Northeast. The tentative plan is to vacate the Chouteau Courts complex before the 2017 holiday season, and to demolish the apartments by next spring or summer. As it stands today, Monroe says that Chouteau Courts only has 32 families left on the site, out of 132 total units. The Chouteau Courts families will be moved into temporary housing as they wait for the mixed-income developments to be completed. Every family will have the option of moving into those new developments, if they so choose, but none are obligated.
Though Wagner wonders whether those residents will even want to move to the Northland, he stated his belief that it is their right to have affordable housing options. Wagner suggested that the Northland, which encompasses roughly 150 square miles (or about 40% of the surface area of Kansas City), has plenty of space for 30 low-income housing units.
“To me, these folks that are at Chouteau Courts are Kansas City residents too, and they deserve good housing,” Wagner said.