Leawood reverses course on slashing maximum building height

Leawood tall buildings

Buildings at Leawood's Park Place shopping center. File photo.

The city of Leawood is closer to a decision on capping the maximum building heights to 60 feet, or about four stories.

This comes after several weeks of working toward a compromise on how tall office and mixed-use buildings in the city can be. The Leawood City Council wanted to make sure new buildings don’t get too tall, while the city’s planning commission initially opposed any regulations that could stunt growth.

At its September meeting, the Leawood Planning Commission unanimously approved an amendment to the city’s development ordinance bringing the maximum building height down from 90 to 60 feet.

Leawood building height limit
An office building at Leawood’s Park Place development. File photo.

The commission previously recommended denial

  • The city first brought the proposal before the commission for review in July.
  • City staff said the idea came from concerns from the Leawood City Council about avoiding a “canyon effect” from future developments along the 135th corridor, following discussions about projects like the East Village development.
  • In July, the commission discussed the proposal at length before unanimously denying it, citing concerns that it would limit growth in southern Leawood too severely.

The proposal originally capped building height at 55 feet

  • This would generally mean capping buildings at four or five stories, instead of Leawood’s current maximum of six stories.
  • Exceptions would be made for sites with tall trees or for buildings with a “signature” design that fits its surrounding existing developments.
  • After receiving the commission’s recommendation for denial in August, the Leawood City Council sent the proposal back to give the commission another opportunity to consider the issue with additional background.

The commission approved the proposal after altering it

  • The commission agreed to move the proposal forward only after raising the maximum height from 55 feet to 60 feet.
  • This means it will head back to city council for review at a future meeting.
  • Still, before raising the maximum height slightly, members of the commission remained somewhat divided on whether it was too drastic of a change.
  • “I just think this is too extreme,” said Commissioner Steve McGurren. “There’s a part of me that would enjoy seeing more (projects like) Residences at Parkway Plaza somewhere else.”
  • Others pointed out benefits of the new ordinance, such as setting a clear standard for future developments and regulating population density more closely.
  •  “Putting a limit on the height is going to effectively put a limit on the population density that is permitted,” said Commission Chair Marc Elkins. “A lot of what has been talked about has been the canyon effect and whatnot, and that’s certainly a concern. But from my perspective, one of the benefits of this is that if there truly is a concern about population density, at least it’s going to act as a cap as we go forward.”

Go deeper: Leawood is still debating how tall buildings can be in the city