The city’s planning commission is grappling with how to plan future development in the downtown core. As they considered a preliminary development plan for a new office building in downtown Lee’s Summit, they found themselves asking much broader questions about maintaining the walkability of the downtown area, the city’s role in providing public parking and the logistics of parallel vs angled, short-term vs long-term spots.
The proposed Reece Nichols office would be a two-story building with 10,000 square feet of office space at the corner of Market and Main Streets, the former site of the old city hall building.
The application from the developer includes an adjacent surface parking lot. City staff recommended that the parking lot be removed from the plan, suggesting that it would not be the “highest and best use” of the property. The application was filed by Engineering Solutions, a local engineering and surveying firm, in conjunction with Dusty Dahmer, the developer.
The planning commission held a public hearing and a lengthy discussion of the project on August 28, voicing overarching concerns about the long-term planning for the downtown area, particularly when it comes to parking. Should parking availability be consistent with other areas of the city, which trend toward ample lots typical of suburban areas? Should it be the city’s responsibility to provide parking for those visiting the downtown core or should the onus be on business owners?
Commissioner Colene Roberts drew comparisons to the Country Club Plaza, where free parking is available to all — even if you have to drive around a bit to find an opening. Matt Schlicht, speaking on behalf of Engineering Solutions, felt that such a comparison to downtown Lee’s Summit was a stretch and maintained that the project — and all of downtown — would benefit from an additional lot, which would serve Reece Nichols agents and staff, their customers, and the public outside of regular business hours.
Roberts argued that her issues with the project went beyond parking, saying she didn’t feel that having such an office building — without a mixed-use component such as apartment units, dining, or retail — didn’t meet the standards the city wants to achieve with the district. She suggested that the building would look like a “missing tooth” when its lights go out at 5:00, just as the rest of the area starts to come alive.
Jason Norbury, the commission’s chair, didn’t mince words in his opinion of the project, saying, “all of you are wrong, in one form or another.” He said that the developer, the tenant, the city, staff (“to a lesser extent”) and others had missed the mark in determining what would be an appropriate development in downtown.
Arguing that the downtown area is different from any other section of the city and that the parking reflects that, he suggested that perhaps this project would be better suited for a different location. He said that Texas Roadhouse, who is opening a new restaurant (with a large parking lot) near Highway 50 and Chipman Road would never open downtown because it doesn’t match the services it needs.
“If you want to come downtown, Mr. Dumas, that’s part of the deal is that you should accept the fact that the parking situation is different.”
Norbury also expressed that he was “incredibly disappointed” that Downtown Lee’s Summit Main Street, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the revitalization of the downtown district, had not participated in the discussion with business owners, land owners and city staff. He said this is the kind of thing they should be intricately involved in to voice their opinion, whether in support or in opposition, and was unsure whether it was that they didn’t want to talk or make someone mad.
“That is a huge failure,” Norbury said, “and I hope they will correct that when this application gets to city council.”
In the end, Norbury said he would stand with the staff recommendation to approve the project (though without the parking lot). The commission voted in favor of recommending approval of the preliminary development plan. Commissioners Roberts, Jeff Sims and Dana Arth voted against. Commissioners Herman Watson and Jake Loveless were absent.