By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — The Kansas City Plan Commission March 17 once again unanimously rejected a scaled-down plan to rezone land now occupied by the vacant St. Francis Xavier School for construction of an 85-unit, 237-bed Bellarmino dormitory targeted for Catholic university students.
The site, at 53rd Street and Troost Avenue, is located between the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Rockhurst University.
The issue can now advance to the full city council for action, but Bishop Robert W. Finn said after the four-hour marathon hearing that no immediate decision on proceeding had been made.
Plan commissioners heard hours of testimony from people both supporting and opposing the project, but in the end, cited concerns over the lack of proposed “setback” from the sidewalk, as well as parking, even though the city’s professional planning staff said the building plan met all city requirements and recommended approval.
Commision Chair Babbette Macy also said that the plan “did not have the support” of either UMKC or Rockhurst, which have remained officially neutral and said they would consider the dormitory as off-campus housing.
“That is a real red flag for me,” Macy said.
Commissioner the Rev. Stan Archie said his concern was with the set back. The proposed four story project would be built up to the sidewalk.
“That setback, I don’t think I can live with that,” he said.
Opponents of the project, who included residents of the neighborhood, as well as property owners living elsewhere and some parishioners of St. Francis Xavier Parish also cited concerns over parking, traffic, as well as the impact on the community should the project fail to attract students and close.
They also urged the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph to “re-purpose” the school building for an unspecified community use, even though Diocesan Chancellor Father Ken Riley testified that the building, constructed in 1961 and vacant for five years is deteriorating.
Father Riley said that the diocese has looked at options, but when the non-profit Domus corporation approached diocesan officials with a plan to demolish the school and build the dormitory there, the Diocesan Finance Council overwhelmingly approved the idea.
“It is clearly in keeping with the mission of the diocese,” Father Riley said. “All of the alternatives we have heard, such as an early childhood education center or a business incubator, nobody has approached us with a plan.”
Les Cline, president of the 49/63 Neighborhood Coalition, acknowledged that the plan before the commission was smaller than a plan rejected by the commission a year earlier after a series of meetings between the diocese and community leaders.
“The community engagement by the diocese was to offer us less of what we don’t want in the first place,” he said.
Supporters included Catholic students attending UMKC who said they have no place to even meet.
“On campus, we have no way to let people know we (Catholic students) are even there,” said Janey Lawson. “I need that support from my Catholic family.”
But other neighbors said the diocese should be using the property to serve the poor, not university students.
“If you can afford to go to college, you’re not poor,” said Kenneth Spare.