Apr. 20, 2019

Mallory Herrmann

The city council has approved the preliminary development plan for the DTLS Apartments project, a 276-unit multi-family development at the site formerly home to Lee’s Summit United Methodist Church at Second and Douglas Streets.

They also voted to approve tax increment financing (TIF), an economic development incentive that will provide tax revenue reimbursements to the developer in order to cover the costs of 441 structured parking spaces.

CityScape, the developer, has said throughout the year-long development application process that the project will require funding help in order to move forward. The structured parking was identified early on as a necessity for any residential density downtown, as parking is already at a premium in the area. But the developer is unable to raise rents above market rates in order to offset those added costs. The TIF will provide about $8 million in incremental property tax increases, over a period of up to 23 years, to pay for the structured parking.

After lengthy public hearings in front of the planning commission, the TIF commission and the city council, the council heard from 14 members of the public in support of the TIF and only 2 opposed at their Apr. 16 meeting.

Supporters say the project will provide the residential density that many have sought for Lee’s Summit’s downtown core – while simultaneously preserving the 1920s sanctuary that has been the cornerstone of the church. They also point to the unique situation this project offers given that the property is currently owned by the church (and therefore not subject to any property taxes). The moment that ownership is transferred to the developer, the base tax that will be assessed will be a bump to the city’s revenue. That amount is expected to be about $87,000 annually, with the property value currently assessed at about $1 million.

But those who oppose the project are concerned about an influx of new residents that could further stress an already strained infrastructure, including an antiquated sewer system and heavy traffic in and out of the downtown area. There is also concern about the precedent that could be set with approving TIF funding for a residential-only project. Unlike past TIF projects, this one does not include any retail, dining or commercial elements.

The planning commission voted to recommend approval of the project in February, but the TIF commission voted against use of the incentive in a residential context in March.

In the end, the project seemed too good to pass up for many of the councilmembers. The property has sat on the market for more than five years and would be a difficult redevelopment project for any prospective developer. Adding residential density while preserving an historic structure seemed to tip the scales.

“I think this is a good thing for Lee’s Summit,” Councilmember Craig Faith said.

Mayor Bill Baird agreed: “We need to keep betting on the greatness of the downtown.”

Councilmembers Fred DeMoro, Phyllis Edson and Bob Johnson voted against the TIF. Councilmember Edson was the only vote against the preliminary development plan itself. All councilmembers were present.