Earlier this summer, the Post asked our readers what issues you wanted to hear candidates running for Leawood Mayor and City Council to address leading up to the Nov. 7 election.
Based on that feedback, we developed a five-item questionnaire centering the issues most important to Leawood residents.
Each day this week, we’ll publish the candidates’ responses to one question. (Note: We only asked for responses from candidates in contested races.)
Today, we’re publishing candidates’ responses to the following question:
The city recently began exploring the idea of changing city code to allow for smaller lot sizes for new homes, a move intended to potentially pave the way for smaller, more affordable homes. Do you think this is a good idea? Why or why not? Should Leawood try to diversify its housing stock more beyond traditional single-family homes on large lots?
Below are the answers the Post received from candidates on this issue:
Leawood’s green space is one of the key reasons why so many people love to call our city home. We’ve seen increased density development like the ongoing 8660 State Line and East Village projects over the last few years, but we need to make sure our city government is unified with our residents and our developers on creating an approach that is focused on smart, sustainable development without abandoning what makes our city home.
Leawood has grown into a world-class city without sacrificing its hometown feel or our gorgeous green spaces, and maintaining our community-centered approach to development is crucial as we continue to grow into our city’s future.
Leawood’s population is aging and many of the city’s residents desire to continue to live in Leawood even though their children have “left the nest” and they no longer need the large homes in which they raised their families. Leawood is also attracting young professionals with families.
The housing options in Leawood available to these residents are limited because the current Development Ordinance contemplates large homes on large lots. The situation is exacerbated by recent trends in north Leawood, where smaller lots and homes are “grandfathered” in despite the ordinance’s current requirements. Those trends have seen an increase in the demolition of homes on adjacent lots and construction of larger homes. This further limits the opportunity for “empty nesters” to continue to live in Leawood in their “golden years”.
Leawood must maintain the character of its neighborhoods, particularly in north Leawood, and the quality of life they have afforded our citizens over the last 75 years. Given the price of real estate and the lack of undeveloped real estate, this is a challenging problem. But it can be addressed both by developing zoning districts that contemplate smaller lots and homes and by regulating the height and mass of re-built homes in north Leawood.
For these reasons, I support the investigation of new zoning districts with smaller lot sizes. The construction of homes on these lots, however, cannot be at the sacrifice of the character of our neighborhoods, the quality of construction or the quality of life afforded Leawood residents.
City Council Ward 1
I do believe exploring the idea of changing the city code to allow for smaller lot sizes for new homes is a good idea. My in-laws are a great example of who this could benefit. They currently live in south Leawood and have wanted to downsize or move into a condo/townhome still in the Leawood area. They’ve looked at options here in Leawood, and others nearby, but there are little to no options as all the places they’ve looked at still seem to start at $650,000 or more. At this late in life, they can’t justify spending that kind of money.
By creating more options to downsize, the city can provide additional alternatives for retirees or empty nesters, allowing them to use their financial resources for other needs like health care or leisure activities. This could also help limit housing shortages for larger families down the road. As residents look to downsize, larger family homes will then become available for more families who want to move into the Leawood area.
With so many potential benefits, it would be nice to further explore additional downsizing opportunities for those like my in-laws — residents who have lived in Leawood for a very long time, who no longer need a 5,000-square-foot home and still want the high quality of life offered in Leawood.
In Ward 1 — the ward I would represent — the trend has been that smaller homes are being torn down to build larger homes. So, the market in this area seems to be telling us that larger homes are more in demand. There is even some concern about the size of some of those rebuilds and I would work closely with the HOAs to address those concerns.
That said, the metropolitan area needs affordable housing and, as a leading city in the metro, Leawood could play a part in filling that need. We will likely never have extremely affordable housing because we lack the other necessary infrastructure required for that, like public transportation. But exploring smaller lot sizes and townhomes in newer areas of Leawood makes sense. In doing so, I would give much deference to the opinions of councilmembers from those wards who have greater knowledge of the market there and current residents’ desires.
This is an area where the first rule should be “do no harm.” Our focus should be on keeping the founding residents of Ward 1 in their homes through tax structures that either cap property taxes on seniors and those on fixed incomes or provide relief based on age, income, veteran status, etc. This is a common way to structure the property tax system in favor of residents who may need additional help to stay in houses they raised their families in.
Second, changes that broadly impact the people should be subject to citizen approval as a prerequisite to council action. In my mind, changes to the city’s zoning laws are akin to what’s called an “organic change” in corporate law where certain changes (usually mergers, voting requirements, board composition, etc.) to a corporation’s charter require supermajority consent. Requiring both the governed and the governing (in that order) to approve zoning changes seems reasonable and rightly puts the power of decision-making in these areas in the hands of the people first.
Finally, the city should move to either restrict teardown-rebuilds or provide a mechanism to place the additional financial burden created by this activity on those creating the impact. I’ve previously suggested a RAZE (Residential Assessment Zone Excise) tax that would create a fee to be paid by developers/builders to offset the increased property taxes of residents within a certain proximity to the rebuilt home. The net impact would be to keep the tax burden the same for existing nearby homeowners by passing the tax impact burden to the party creating the increase to the community’s equalized assessed valuation.
City Council Ward 2
A variety of housing options is important for any thriving community, such as Leawood. Leawood continues to be one of the most desirable cities not only to live and raise a family, but for companies to locate and bring high-paying jobs to Leawood. Unfortunately, due to the limited availability of housing, attracting and retaining residents can be challenging. However, smaller homes on smaller lots solves two issues facing Leawood.
Specifically, the smaller lots solve, first, attracting young professionals and younger families to move into Leawood. We want them to live and work and play in Leawood to help continue the growth and prosperity of the city. It would also help seniors in our community who may desire to downsize their homes for any number of reasons to find smaller lots and provide a solution that allows them to stay in Leawood.
I have many years of experience working in the senior housing space in cities all over the country, many similar to Leawood. One commonality that continues to arise time and time again is the preference of seniors to remain in their communities should they decide to downsize from their current homes. Whether it be in a smaller home or in a senior-specific community, we want these seniors — many lifelong Leawood residents and invaluable members of our community — to have the opportunity to remain in Leawood.
Leawood already has a very diverse housing stock. Housing in Ward 2 includes, apartments, condominiums, large estate-style homes, patio-style homes, gated communities, villas, fifty-year old neighborhoods of split-level homes and pockets of ranch homes.
Changing the city code to allow for smaller lot sizes for new homes will not result in a larger inventory of more affordable homes. Location is a stronger driver of price than size and will keep those homes in the upper price brackets.
Leawood’s high property taxes will further restrict the size of the potential buyer pool. The problem that needs our immediate attention is making sure that Leawood remains affordable for those who are current residents. We can help with that by lowering the mill levy.
Tomorrow, we will publish the candidates’ responses to the next question:
Leawood’s 2024 budget calls for nearly $100 million in spending, a roughly 11% increase over the previous year. Assess the city’s current budget. Where do you think it most well serves Leawood residents? Are there any areas you think need cutting?