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Neighbors Praise Nelson-Atkins for Listening to Their Concerns

June 6, 2017
City plan commissioners on Tuesday heard kudos upon kudos from officials of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art and residents from the adjacent Rockhill and Southmoreland neighborhoods.

Plan commissioners unanimously approved a phased expansion plan for the museum seven months after neighbors’ criticisms dominated an earlier meeting. No one spoke against the plan.

The new Master Planned Development document next goes to the Kansas City Council’s Planning, Zoning & Economic Development Committee for what is expected to be a similar reception.

The plan calls for the Kirkwood residence immediately east of the museum — built by museum founder William Rockhill Nelson for his daughter — to be sold and maintained as a historically protected private home in the Rockhill neighborhood.

The museum-owned property had been the former clubhouse of the Rockhill Tennis Club. It previously was suggested as expansion space for the museum, an idea Rockhill neighbors vigorously fought.

The club’s former tennis courts will be demolished to make way for a museum sculpture garden, with work expected to begin within a year.

Four other museum-owned houses, across 45th Street from the museum, will be protected according to historic preservation standards. Temporarily, at least two of them are targeted for office space for museum staffers, but the idea is that they would be preserved for future residential use.

Longer range, in a step that would require a new planning process, the museum might build an office building on what is now a small surface parking lot on 45th Street. No fundraising has begun for such construction.

The plan’s approval came after the museum’s second appearance before the plan commission, quieting years of mistrust and disagreement between the museum and its closest residential neighbors.

Months of private negotiations between representatives of the museum, the Rockhill and the Southmoreland neighborhoods culminated with a revised plan, first reported in May in The Star.

Basically, the agreement focused on preservation of five museum-owned houses, with the neighbors winning assurance that the historic residences won’t be demolished to make way for possible future museum expansion.

In November 2016, plan commissioners had sent away museum officials and about two dozen angry neighbors with instructions to reach an accord before returning.

That commission hearing followed the museum’s public presentation in August 2016 of an expansion plan that opponents called “a plan without a plan” because it lacked specificity about the future use of the houses.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford