Absentee owners are significant in proposed Lee’s Summit renewal district

rpulley@lsjournal.comMay 30, 2014 

A large percentage of property owners in a proposed urban renewal district don’t live in Lee’s Summit or the surrounding area.

There are 592 property parcels in the district which is a ribbon running along U.S. 50 and Missouri 291, proposed by the Lee’s Summit Land Clearance for Redevelopment Authority.

According to a recent blight study, 46 percent of owners aren’t local, with 26 percent outside Lee’s Summit but in the Kansas City area and 22 percent are outside of the metropolitan area.

“I was kind of taken aback by that,” said Keith Asel, LCRA chairman, in an interview. “My biggest concern for redevelopment is out of sight, out of mind. People who don’t see their property every day, who don’t sit next to people at community events, might not feel the community pride to keep up their property.”

The properties might be rented to less desirable tenants or gradually deteriorate as owners do minimum maintenance required, he said.

The Lee’s Summit City Council held a public hearing on the district May 1 and voted unanimously to draft an ordinance creating it. The council is to vote to on approving the district at its June 5 meeting.

Development Initiatives, a Kansas City consulting firm belonging to Chris Sally, completed the blight study, which is a legal requirement for creating the district.

“The purpose of the district is to promote redevelopment and bring jobs and investment to that particular area,” Sally said. “There does need to be communication and marketing to let them be aware there is a district in place.”

The LCRA is working on an incentive policy that would set guidelines for tax breaks based on quality of the redevelopment and jobs.

Sally said that there are plenty of different “infill” sites to develop, so they could go forward without consolidation or waiting on a single developer. One central decision of the city and LCRA was to exclude eminent domain as part of the district’s function.

The city can choose to approve tax abatements for property owners who apply for them.

Mark Dunning, director of the city’s development center, said the causes for blighted properties in the corridor are a “mixed bag.” Dunning until recently was director of codes enforcement and is familiar with problem buildings and property in the study.

“Some of those areas are challenging, that’s why there is a redevelopment area,” Dunning said. “It would be tough to say all the out-of-town business owners are the problem, I wouldn’t say that ... it really depends on the property owner, it’s hit and miss.”

He said absentee ownership is one influence, but also are the age of buildings and uses.

Dunning said that while preparing the urban renewal district, the city developed an extensive mailing list of owners and sent them notices about the plan. He said one of the difficulties for the city and owners is working on projects at a distance, because of logistics like scheduling.

Dunning said the next step will be to contact those owners again to encourage them to start redeveloping property and incentives that could be available.

Asel said the district can help reverse the trend. While blight can spread, so can renewed property. Redevelopment encourages more investment on adjacent property. It would improve the commercial corridor and adjacent neighborhoods over the long haul.

“It continues to ripple out to where you get more owner-occupied properties rather than rental houses because they want to be close to jobs,” Asel said.

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