A proposal to build a three-story apartment complex near 21st and Maize Road has homeowners in the area upset.
“Three-story apartments looking down into your backyard? What kind of privacy is that?” said Sandra Whittmore, one of the homeowners leading the protest against the project.
City Council member Jeff Longwell, whose district includes the area, has met with the developers. He said they have agreed to some concessions that he thinks will address the homeowners’ concerns, although reducing it to a two-story complex isn’t one of them.
Longwell will give the homeowners an update on what those concessions are at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the fire station at 21st and 135th West. The council is scheduled to vote Jan. 10 on changes in an established plan that would determine whether the complex can be built.
“I don’t know that anyone is going to walk away happy,” Longwell said, “but I think it’s going to work out.”
Developers Mike Brand and Steve Clark are part of an investment group trying to build Bennington Place, a 130-unit executive apartment complex, behind McDonald’s on a vacant 6-acre lot on the southeast corner of 21st and Maize Road.
The Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the District Advisory Board have already approved the project. It was slated to go before the council in early December, but Longwell pushed it back because he knew area homeowners still had some concerns.
Chief among those concerns is that the complex would be three stories. Nothing else in the area is that tall, Whittmore said.
“Three stories are like putting the Eiffel Tower in the neighborhood,” she added.
Twelve houses would abut the complex on the south side.
After discussions with Longwell, the developers have agreed to address other concerns, such as increasing the masonry wall around the complex to 8 feet — 2 feet above code — and having 60 percent of the apartments’ exterior walls covered in brick or stone. Trees would be 27½ feet apart instead of the required 40 feet.
“The developers and I have gone round and round,” Longwell said. “But even though it’s been tense at times, they’re trying to help and do the right thing.”
Greg Ferris, a former City Council member who is assisting the investors through the process, said it’s not financially feasible to cut the complex to two stories.
“There wouldn’t be enough density to make it cost-effective,” he said, adding that the investors are putting in $12 million to $13 million. “The developers feel they’ve given quite a bit. But they’re OK with that because they’re going to build a really upper-scale development. The fact they have to make it a little nicer isn’t that big a deal.”
One of the homeowners’ objections is that the complex will create more traffic congestion. Maize Road and 21st, the fifth-busiest intersection in Wichita, is scheduled to undergo a $2.9 million upgrade in 2012.
The apartments would create less additional traffic than commercial use of the property, said John Schlegel, director of the Metropolitan Area Planning Department
Whittmore said she and others gathered 300 signatures on a petition objecting to the complex. The homeowners’ protests have resulted in the project being put out for further review by city officials.
The acreage is zoned for limited commercial, which includes multi-family residential units. But the area also is controlled by a community unit plan, which is more restrictive than the regular zoning and allows a developer to customize the use of the property. When the area was being developed about 20 years ago, multi-family wasn’t part of the plan, Schlegel said.
Normally, it would have required Schlegel’s signature to include the multi-family use in a revised community unit plan.
“But because neighbors … were opposed to apartments going in there, the fairest thing to do was to do an amendment, which meant a public review,” he said.
That included getting approval from the planning commission and advisory board. Now the council must sign off on the amendment to make the project happen.