Overland Park learns from Country Club Plaza


Philip Langdon

New Urban Network

The City Council in Overland Park, Kansas, a 175,000-person community that ranks as Kansas City’s largest suburb and the second-largest municipality in Kansas, adopted a form-based code this January for its half-square-mile downtown core.

Now that the Downtown Form District is in place, the next step is to rezone properties in conformance with the code, says Jason Beske, senior planner for the municipality just west of Kansas City, Missouri.

The code, written with help from Ferrell Madden Lewis LLC of Washington, DC, and paid for by a $300,000 federal Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant, will make way for somewhat taller buildings and a more pedestrian-oriented atmosphere, Beske says.

Buildings will be allowed to rise as high as five stories, up from the previous three-story limit. “Future development will model principles of the Country Club Plaza,” the Kansas City shopping district begun in 1922 by J.C. Nichols, Beske notes. It should include “pedestrian-friendly, walkable, transit-connected, buildings up to the street,” he says, with “parking behind, increased densities …. We wanted to use a local example that people would understand.”

Ground-floor retail will be encouraged. West 80th Street, where an existing theater stands along a thoroughfare lacking strong street-walls, is envisioned as filling in with traditional buildings along the sidewalks.

A Farmers Market pavilion, built as a result of downtown improvement efforts in the 1990s, is expected to play an important role as other development coalesces around it.

The centerpiece of downtown, it’s hoped, will be Market Street — a new street that will link the Farmers Market to a major thoroughfare, Metcalf Avenue.

The cost of constructing the approximately three-block-long Market Street, including clay brick pavers, street trees, and parallel parking, has been estimated at $2.2 million. “There are two potential paths for development of Market Street,” Beske says. One is a private-public partnership. The other is a federal sustainability grant that would pay for about half of the streets’ development. Beske is working to add Market Street to the city’s five-year Capital Improvements Program.

The new code, which establishes a unified district in what had been 10 separate zoning districts, is expected to give developers more predictable guidance from the city and cut the time spent in the review process by half to two-thirds. Most applications will be handled through administrative review by city staff.

Although no plans have been officially submitted by developers, “I have spoken to at least three developers that are interested in developing in the core of downtown,” Beske says. “There are also a number of individuals consolidating land for what is assumed to be future development.” He notes that “downtown Overland Park is developing a great foodie niche, and the form-based code should really help to capitalize on that momentum.”

In the region, he adds, “There are several other communities that are looking to do something similar. The form-based code is a major step for Overland Park and suburban Kansas City.”

The redevelopment is part of a plan known as Vision Metcalf, which was adopted in 2008 to help the Metcalf Avenue evolve from strip shopping centers and car dealerships into a denser, better-looking, more pedestrian-oriented corridor. There have been predictions that as many as 2,000 housing units could be added in the downtown.

R. Geoffrey Ferrell of Ferrell Madden Lewis says the coding of two additional, “totally sub-urban” intersections farther out” has been postponed, but “this gets the ‘infrastructure for FBC [form-based coding] into the core of their system.”