Thursday, May 1, 2014

South Kansas City Ready for the Blue

Oxford on the Blue to Be Home of Great Opportunity

By Mary Wilson

Developers for the upcoming Oxford on the Blue property, located north of 87th Street between I-49 and I-435, presented updates to neighbors at the Southern Communities Coalition meeting on Wednesday, April 16.

“I guess it could be described as a saga, because it’s been going on for a long, long time,” said Kerr.

Starting his career with the city planning commission in 1955, Kerr has been in the Kansas City development industry nearly 60 years. According to Kerr, with the history of the interstates in the metropolitan area, the approach to acquire the right-of-way on the Kansas side was different from what the Missouri Highway department’s philosophy was.

“If you think about I-35 on the Kansas side, they bought enough right-of-way to create service roads on either side of the interstate,” said Kerr. “On the Missouri side, we built triangles at the on and off points that were not connected with the service roads.”

Many industrial buildings were then developed to be situated along the service roads in Kansas, therefore leading the way to the take-off of Johnson County, according to Kerr, who was involved in the development of Corporate Woods. The Oxford on the Blue project provides a unique situation for developers due to the proximity to both I-49 and I-435, along with the completion of 87th Street connecting both interstates.

“The property has a unique set of infrastructure advantages,” said Kerr. “We want to save as much of the natural beauty of the site as possible. Instead of having great big surface parking, we’d like to develop structured parking so we don’t have to just scalp everything.”

Eight years ago, James Stowers showed interest in the property, and after a year of negotiations Kerr sold the property to Stowers, who felt that the neighborhood of Jackson Hills should also be acquired due to the sub-standard housing developments that did not comply with the subdivision development codes of Kansas City.

“There were 39 houses there, and we have now bought all but two,” said Kerr. “One of the two is owned by the housing authority, and we’re very close to closing on that. Within the next few weeks, I think we’ll have all of them, which will complete the land assemblage.”

The area comprises of about 320 acres. In addition to the land owned by Stowers for the Oxford on the Blue project, another 25 acres remains and is currently being negotiated.  The mixed-use project will involve commercial, office, and both multi-family and single-family residential. It is a large project that will be implemented over a long period of time.

Scientists working at the Stowers Institute come from all over the world, and Stowers envisions a campus for them. After spending a year and a half in England, he envisioned Oxford on the Blue (next to the Blue River) as an oasis for these scientists.

“This will be a campus where these scientists can think and live,” said Kerr. “The idea is to incentivize these scientists who are in Kansas City at the Stowers Institute, to keep the ideas in Kansas City.”

The idea is a scientific development that can continue to expand over a period of decades. With the system of interstates providing access to it, Kerr stated that it is accessible across the metropolitan area. The ability to further the connectivity remains, with the Country Club right-of-way ending less than a mile from the property.

Attorney for the project James Bowers stated that the project, despite the correlation with James Stowers, is not related to the Stowers Institute. A proposal to the City of Kansas City planning commission, in the form of an application for an Urban Renewal (UR) zoning designation, is currently pending for the project. The plan divides the property into proposed lots for development purposes. The development will happen in phases, and a timeline for those phases has not been determined.

The hearing for the project to go before the planning commission is Tuesday, May 6. The next and final meeting for the school year for the Southern Communities Coalition will be on Wednesday, May 21. 

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