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Nelson-Atkins Museum Can Move Forward with Expansion Plans, KC Council Committee Votes

JULY 12, 2017 2:48 PM

A Kansas City Council committee on Wednesday approved a zoning change that permits the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art to expand onto property it owns around the museum.

The vote caps years of disagreements that finally led to an accord between the museum and residents who had fought institutional encroachment into adjacent neighborhoods.

The council’s Planning, Zoning & Economic Development Committee unanimously endorsed the legislation and recommended passage at Thursday’s meeting of the full council. No opposition is expected.

The art museum now may proceed with the first phase of its master plan for its 29-acre property, which includes the museum block as well as properties across 45th Street to its north and across Rockhill Road to its east.

After months of intense negotiation with representatives of the adjacent Rockhill and Southmoreland neighborhoods, a revised development plan sailed through the City Plan Commission in June with no dissent.

It was the museum’s second presentation to the plan commission. The first, in November 2016, was derailed by neighborhood opposition, which had been strident for years. Plan commissioners then sent the two sides back to the table and asked them to resolve their disagreements before returning to City Hall.

Hundreds of hours of meetings ensued between neighborhood and museum negotiators to arrive at the current development agreement.

Councilwoman Katheryn Shields said at the committee hearing that “nothing short of a miracle” had happened by the coming together of museum and neighborhood interests.

Councilman Quinton Lucas complimented the groups for providing a rare example of reaching agreement without forcing a court or city officials to order results.

Phase one of the plan permits the museum to develop an outdoor sculpture garden where tennis courts for the former Rockhill Tennis Club now stand. The agreement also paves the way for the museum to sell the former clubhouse to a private owner who will maintain it as a residence.

Museum officials said Wednesday that the house, also known as the Kirkwood residence, hasn’t been sold yet.

At one point years ago, because of public opposition, the Kansas City Council passed an ordinance prohibiting the museum from redeveloping the Rockhill property. Years of distrust clouded subsequent museum efforts to discuss its need for growth to house expanding collections, staff and parking.

The new phase one agreement also allows the museum to expand office operations, as necessary, into historic houses it owns on 45th Street. Museum staff members already work in one of the houses.

The pact with the neighborhoods states that the museum will preserve the residential character of all four houses. Eventually, a future phase of the plan — which would require a return to City Hall for permitting — may include construction of an office building for the museum so that the houses could be returned to residential use.

No new building construction is included in the first phase of the plan.

Diane Stafford: 816-234-4359, @kcstarstafford