Posted on Tue, Jun. 17, 2008
The Kansas City Star

Bad Year for Platte County Development

Though Platte County is unquestionably growing - with urbanization moving deeper into the area's rural swathes - it's been a bad and litigious year so far for proposed development.

Three of the bigger projects put before county leaders this year have hit significant hurdles. One, the nearly 700 homes of the Lake at Tomahawke Ridge, was withdrawn after facing significant neighborhood opposition, though the developers promise it will return.

And two, Beverly Plaza's commercial development and the Brentwood Parc neighborhood, were outright shot down by the county commission. The developers of both have filed lawsuits against the county.

Though Platte County Commissioners stressed that the three projects all raise unique concerns and can't be lumped together, two conflict with the county's master plan for land use and the Beverly Plaza plan conflicts with the city of Weston's vision for the area.

"Each one of them has a little bit of different characteristics," presiding commissioner Betty Knight said.

"I think the people are paying a little bit more attention now," she said of the neighborhood response to two of the developments, "and I think our commission is paying a lot of attention to the land use plan."

The Tomahawke Ridge development, for example, which drew heavy neighborhood opposition, would sit on 300 acres the county envisions as a lower-density rural estate-type neighborhood. The developers there initially intended to seek a special designation that would allow somewhat smaller lots. They eventually pulled that request in favor of one that the county may have a harder time denying.

Chris Byrd, an attorney for the Tomahawke Ridge development, said the denials of Beverly Plaza and Brentwood Parc did not influence the decision to submit a new plan. Though the denials have been noticed, and Byrd likened them to the county's growing pains.

"Ours is totally separate," he said. "Platte County has kind of gotten into this situation where they've denied a lot of projects - they're going through a time where they are growing, and they're going from a rural county to an urban county."

And though the land use plan has been cited by opponents of the developments, in two cases - Beverly Plaza and Tomahawke Ridge - the existing zoning on the land would permit the kinds of projects proposed. Existing zoning provides a prime jumping-off point for any developer whose compliant plans are spurned by the County Commission.

County Commissioner Jim Plunkett said county leaders are now dealing with what some consider errors approved by past county leaders looking to capitalize on development booms KCI was supposed to bring in.

The land for Beverly Plaza "was part of spot zoning throughout Platte County," Plunkett said. "They went through and said, 'we think this should be this and this should be that." Forty years later, very few of the areas developed that they thought would."

Plunkett said the spot zoning raises a host of issues for commissioners.

He said many property owners and new home buyers aren't checking to see what might go in next door when they buy a house in Platte County.

But on the other hand, "If you bought that land with the intent of using these zonings, you wouldn't be happy if I changed it," Plunkett said. "But the county commission does have that authority."

In their denials, though, county leaders offered up other justifications beyond the land use plan.

Beverly Plaza, Plunkett said, left open questions about what kind of businesses would move in, and county planners had concerns about the feasibility of a proposed lagoon system on the site. Brentwood Parc, which has met with county disapproval in previous incarnations, needed a full re-zoning for a much denser neighborhood, and raised questions about whether nearby streets such as Mace Road could handle the increase in traffic.

Attorney Jim Bowers, who filed both of the lawsuits, could not be reached for comment.

Daniel Erickson, the county's planning director, said leapfrogging development - projects that get out ahead of suitable infrastructure - are a concern.

"Infrastructure's always going to be a challenge for an urban fringe county where there's a demand for growth," he said. "You have to make good planning where it's concerned."

Even if infrastructure needs are met, convincing the neighbors can also be a challenge.

An earlier poll taken by the county also showed some resistance locally to new development. A recent citizen satisfaction survey - part of the county's Platte Profile project - found that about a third of respondents thought the county needed no new residential, commercial or industrial development.

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