As hard as I rooted for Mayor Mark Funkhouser not to be re-elected, I never thought I’d be cheering him on his last weekend in office.
But today, two days before he likely will pass forever from Kansas City’s political scene, I’m shouting from my rooftop for his veto of Thursday’s ordinance that would allow for razing of the Neptune Apartments and construction of an eight-story office building.
With this action, the mayor is leaving office on a high note. He’s standing up for the average citizen against the vested interests, and he’s defending the integrity of Kansas City’s crown jewel, the Country Club Plaza.
Opponents of the rezoning cheered this afternoon’s announcement of the veto.
“I’m a sailor, so I would say it’s sort of a freshening breeze,” said Michael L. Koon, a lawyer who is a volunteer leader of opposition group, Friends of the Plaza.
The new council, which will be sworn in Sunday, will have two weeks, Koon said, to override the rezoning ordinance, or it will die.
The outgoing council on Thursday approved the rezoning on an 8-3 vote, and it takes eight votes to override the mayor’s veto. However, seven new members are coming on board. That could greatly change the equation. Five of the six who are staying on voted in favor of the rezoning, so they need to pick up three more votes, if they are determined to push ahead.
The new members are Mayor Sly James and council members Jim Glover, Scott Wagner, Scott Taylor, Dick Davis, Jermaine Reed and Michael Brooks.
Asked how he thought the new council would approach the issue, Koon said, “I have to say we are cautiously optimistic that this group will be more receptive to the concerns that we’ve tried to raise.”
One of those incoming council members, Jim Glover, who previously served three terms on the council, strongly opposes the rezoning, mainly because he does not want to see the Plaza lose existing residential space.
“I just don’t like losing the bodies,” he told me in a telephone interview.
In its high-handed, sandpaper-rubbing way, Highwoods has already stopped renewing the leases of Neptune residents, and the building could be empty in a couple of months, unless Highwoods changes its tune.
Glover said it was important to keep a good balance of residential, office and retail on the Plaza, just as in other parts of town. He cited Quality Hill, the River Market and Crown Center as examples of a good balance of mixed use.
When a mixed-use area starts to tilt too heavily toward office buildings, he said, “it deteriorates.”
Glover pointed out, as other opponents have, that there are several other possible sites on the Plaza, already zoned for office space, where a new office building could go up. One of those is the West Edge, the aborted office building that auto dealer extraordinaire Cecil Van Tuyl recently picked up for less than $10 million. It has 900 below-ground parking spaces.
In the development business, parking is golden, and the West Edge runneth over. Even if it meant “scraping” the main existing, unused office structure at the site, the first order of business on the Plaza should be to make the West Edge viable.
Along with other opponents of the Neptune site, I would urge the new council to turn its attention to the West Edge — by far the worst example of blight we have ever had on the Plaza — and do whatever it can do to spur reclamation of that project.
Yes, Cecil Van Tuyl is a fat cat, just like a lot of the people who want to rezone the Neptune site, but his building is already there, and that eyesore needs to be fixed.
Correction: The council has until next Thursday, May 5, to override the veto, not two weeks.