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Fidelity Security Life Insurance Request for Incentives Testimony: Urban Planning Expert

Below is the written transcript of the testimony given in opposition to incentives for Fidelity Security Life by a former Urban Planner and Developer who is an active community leader living within the boundaries of the proposed development plan.

Thank you. Mr Chairman Councilman. My name is Jim Edson, my wife and I have lived in Union Hill for 20 years at 204 East 30th Street. I have served on the Union Hill Homes Association Board and Union Hill Design Review Committee.

Currently, I'm a board member on the Union Hill Special Business District and past President of Midtown KC Now. I'm recently retired from a 45-year career as an architect and urban planner. I appreciate the opportunity to express my concerns related the proposed financial incentive request for the FSL headquarters building.

Since the site at 27th and Main-Grand was cleared in the early 1970s, Crown Center development is gradually progressed up towards Union Hill, with this property laying in wait.

I have always felt it's an important site and should be developed carefully as a gateway building to both Crown Center and Downtown and the Crossroads; provides the opportunity for a people-friendly, active urban edge to the Federal Reserve and Penn Valley Park green space across Main and also to Union Hill for Union Cemetery across Grand.

Likewise, it connects walkers from Union Hill and the residents to the east and paths to Penn Valley Park.

The new streetcar stop also brings the opportunity of an important public space and connecting hub of roads and walking paths to the development. These opportunities point to this site as one of the most desirable, available in midtown Kansas City.

I also contend that the proposed project plan does not fulfill the promise of the site. The proposed project is a more suburban solution to an urban site as the remaining properties of Crown center redevelopment are developed, this area will take on a much more urban flavor.

I would expect to see this design proposed in corporate woods. Not only does it not respond well to the importance of the site, but it totally ignores the new streetcar stop as an amenity or an alternative to parking by avoiding its engagement on the site with the site.

The potential of this site and those immediately to the south were recognized in the Main Street Corridor Overlay District Ordinance. The site is designated as a transit node. Transit nodes are described as centered around a rapid transit stop. Transit nodes encourage an appropriate mixture of density and uses around rapid transit stops to increase ridership and support transit investments. These nodes are characterized by compact development that facilitates access between rapid transit stops and nearby residential, commercial, civic recreational and institutional uses. That's from the ordinance.

Okay, it is important that this project contribute to these goals of improving walkability and increased pedestrian access to this portion of Main Street, to the benefit of the streetcar project. The proposed project could and should support the intent of the Main Street Corridor Overlay District in facilitating access to the surrounding amenities.

It's important that this opportunity to create a great place in Kansas City not be lost. Aside from my comments on the proposed development plan, it was a bit counter-intuitive to me to learn that the project required public financial incentives for a building with minimal public accommodations; and two, that the approval of the chapter 100 Financial incentive plan would precede, and be separate from, any approvals of the project's development plans.

It would seem that the city has agreed on the price and scope of the project before the details of what the project consists of have been thoroughly reviewed and vetted.

I have attended two presentations of the project by FSL's Project team by their own description. The project's design and plans are currently at a conceptual level. I would agree based on what was shared. It was reported that only with the approval of the Chapter 100 financial incentive request, will the design progress through the normal design phases to construction documents.

From my knowledge of the design process, a lot of details are yet to be developed and worked through by the project team and additionally reviewed by the city Planning and Development party department. It is yet to initiate its review process.

I believe the project warrants a coordinated approach to the reviews and approvals of both the financial incentive plan request and the development plan. This would require that the approval of the Chapter 100 financial incentive plan be held until I review the physical development plan is completed. I also believe that the project warrants...

[Councilman Barnes] ... have to ask you to....

[Citizen] Yeah, it's the last sentence. Sorry.

... further review and input from the community stakeholders that will be impacted.

The FSL project team has initiated communications-related financial requests illustrated with conceptual plans. A deeper level of communications, including a stakeholdership workshop would be very much appreciated and I believe would improve the outcome. Thank you very much.

[Councilman Barnes] All right, thank you. I just want to state for the record that we normally have two minutes for the testimony in this committee, but since our meeting is rather short today, I felt generous to let people... go on.

[Citizen] I appreciate the generosity.

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