After hours of discussion, Prairie Village narrowly changes housing recommendations

After several hours of public comment and debate, the Prairie Village City Council narrowly voted Monday night to make a minor change to its affordable housing recommendations.

The council voted 6-5 to review R-1 single family zoning, which makes up the majority of the city’s housing, rather than having recommendations in that zone considered first by the planning commission. The planning commission will still review recommendations affecting all other housing districts.

Originally, the council met to potentially remove R-1 single family zoning, R-2 duplex zoning and by-right housing, but members amended the motion several times throughout their discussion.

Councilmembers Cole Robinson, Lauren Wolf, Dave Robinson, Piper Reimer, Terrence Gallagher and Courtney McFaddan voted for the measure, while Councilmembers Ian Graves, Inga Selders, Ron Nelson, Bonnie Limbird and Chad Herring voted against it. Councilman Greg Shelton was absent.

The vote comes after a months-long push by a group of more than 600 residents who are part of Stop Neighborhood Rezoning PV Kansas on Facebook to pack council meetings and push back on recommendations that affect R-1 and R-2 zones.

Members also took issue with by-right housing, a kind of development that strictly follows zoning and building codes and thus can move forward without discretionary approval. Stop rezoning members have said that by-right development would be approved without meaningful consideration from city officials on whether or not the proposal fit “the character of the neighborhood” or if it would have a detrimental impact on the neighborhood.

Prairie Village for All, a group that pushes for the city to consider all the housing recommendations, says the stop rezoning community members have spread misinformation and created fear among their followers. The recommendations, they say, could help increase housing options in the city and lower costs, allowing a more diverse community to move in and enjoy Prairie Village.

In a frequently asked questions page dedicated to the issue, the city said the recommendations would include potential revisions to standards for accessory living quarters and neighborhood-scaled housing, which would allow for more housing in single-family zones.

Following Monday’s vote, recommendations involving R-1 will be discussed by the city council instead of the planning commission. The commission will still discuss recommendations that affect R-2 zoning and by-right housing.

Public comments divided

More than 50 people spoke during the public comment portion of Monday night’s meeting, split about evenly on their thoughts as to whether or not the city should remove single family and duplex zoning and by-right housing from its affordable housing considerations.

Jacob Wagner, an associate professor of urban planning and design at the University of Missouri-Kansas City, said the city needs to increase housing options to diversify the community and create more attainable options.

Currently, developers are focused on building large single-family homes, which Wagner said increase density without making some housing more affordable. If the city doesn’t add more housing options, he said its population will continue to decline.

“Diversifying our housing stock,” he said, “is an important strategy in terms of economic, social and climate sustainability.”

Jori Nelson, a leader in the stop rezoning group and a former city council member, said the ad-hoc housing committee didn’t seek enough public input before making its recommendations to the planning commission.

“The process was flawed,” she said. “It led to where we are today.”

McFadden, who represents Ward 5, said the council needs to continue working toward attainable housing. Those who believe there was a lack of communication and discussion surrounding the housing recommendations can blame her, she said.

She and Robinson brought forward the initial discussion to remove single-family homes, duplexes and by-right housing from the recommendations to stop heated debates in the community. The council later amended that motion so that only R-1 housing districts would be removed from recommendations to the planning commission.

“We were trying to bring the temperature down,” Robinson said, “get the discussion off the table, hit pause for the time being until we could readdress it.”

The council, he said, needs to talk with community members and take the time to clarify some of the misinformation that has spread. Then, they can determine the best path forward. Some council members said they believe the city can still make tangible change in terms of affordable housing in the city’s other housing districts.

By removing some of the recommendations before they’re considered, Selders, who represents Ward 2, said the council is dismissing the work of the ad-hoc housing committee. Instead, the council needs to work on communicating with constituents to clear up misinformation about the recommendations and allow the planning commission to consider all potential options.

Graves, who represents Ward 6, said he would want to talk with the planning commission before deciding whether or not to pull R-1 from their considerations. Still, he said no matter what council members voted, he expected the issue to return back to council for further discussion.