Proposal to build KCPD campus in blighted residential neighborhood draws opposition from UMKC students

Mal Hartigan

Kansas City plans to construct a four-block campus for the Kansas City Police Department’s Crime Lab and East Patrol Division at 27th and Prospect has met opposition from a group of UMKC students.

Constructed in 1949, the current East Patrol Station at 5301 E. 27th St. is outdated and expensive to maintain. The department has also outgrown its current Crime Lab, at 6633 Troost Ave.  Police officials have said it lacks adequate climate control.

The new campus will cost $57 million, funded through the city’s 2010 Public Safety Sales Tax Renewal, and is scheduled to break ground in 2013.

The 27-acre site at 27th and Prospect covers four city blocks. According to The Kansas City Star, vacant lots or buildings account for half  the 128 parcels.

Blight and neglect have led to long-term land value depreciation.

27th and Prospect was selected from among 25 viable locations largely due to the ease of property acquisition and the location near some of the city’s highest-crime neighborhoods.

It is also the first KCPD project to directly affect a residential neighborhood. Three city appraisals were arranged for each property, and owners forced to move were offered the highest appraisal. The city also offered an additional 25 percent for owner-occupied homes and offered to pay 50 percent above the appraised value for properties that have been in the same family for more than 50 years.

Half of the 66 occupied properties are owner-occupied.

Andy Clarke, Brett Shoffner and Chris Fasl have all studied in the Architecture, Urban Planning and Design (AUP+D) program at UMKC.

They expressed agreement with the need for redevelopment, but disagree with the city’s decision to construct the new East campus police station within the blighted residential area. Shoffner said he believes the city could have easily chosen a number of vacant parcels on Prospect Avenue, but instead chose to demolish an entire neighborhood.

“Fighting the system is hard,” Shoffner said. “Opposing this east side project resonated with me because it does deal directly with neighborhood stabilization, historic preservation and overall community sustainability for the long term.”

The excess of vacant houses leaves the area vulnerable to criminal behavior, including frequent break-ins and use for for drug trade. The new police campus intends to redevelop the neighborhood while providing an updated KCPD facility.

Clarke and Fasl began working on stabilization plans with the neighborhood residents for an AUP+D undergraduate project in 2008. That was before the new East campus was proposed.

“This area of 27th and Prospect has been our focus for the past few years,” Clarke said.

Clarke and Fasl’s project suggested feasible solutions to  the neighborhood’s  vacant homes and environmental issues, and emphasized strengthening the community’s development.

“Andy’s class was trying to generate an action plan for these neighborhoods to begin addressing what is an epidemic on the east side of Troost – the incredible amount of abandoned lots, abandoned houses and the stigma of being crime-ridden,” Fasl said. “These neighborhoods have been forgotten for the past 50 years, and now the property values are really low.”

Clarke, Shoffner and Fasl researched the city’s plan for the new east campus, and disagreed with its architectural design and the city’s planning.

“It’s got these huge surface parking lots,” Fasl said. “It’s clearing out houses and invading the streets. It’s breaking up the grid all around it to put this giant complex here.”

Fasl and Clarke said a parking garage would occupy less space and ultimately decrease the amount of houses scheduled for deconstruction.

Clarke said there were also inconsistencies with the city’s method of planning the facility’s construction.

“In 2011, the city released an area plan. It’s a guide for future development,” Clarke said. “The city is supposed to follow what the neighborhood wants. In that plan, there was not one mention of this nearly $60 million public tax dollar project. That’s what triggered us to say, ‘Wait.’ We’re planners and we’re trying to make plans for these neighborhoods – what’s the point of making plans if the city doesn’t even follow its own plans?”

The trio attended city meetings and discussions to protest the planning and the facility’s design.

“We started a campaign getting together UMKC friends and other people who were concerned,” Clarke said. “We had to show up to City Hall in numbers.  We’re helping the neighborhoods make their voices stronger.”

But the city, especially Mayor Sly James, who grew up on the east side,  has advertised the project as providing a win-win outcome.  According to saferkc.com, 1,140 new jobs will emerge from the project’s construction. It also claims  the new facility will renovate surrounding neighborhoods and that an increased police presence will improve the area’s security.

Criminal Justice and Criminology Professor Tasha Fox said both sides of the debate regarding the crime rate should be considered.

“Building a police station in that area is a really sensitive topic,” she said. “It’s an area of higher crime and the city is responding by putting a police station there, but there is also the issue of stigmatizing the neighborhood. It might upset a lot of people in the community, and they might see the police as an invading force. At the heart of it, I think it’s really an issue of police and minority relations.”

Associate Professor and Chair of Criminal Justice and Criminology Ken Novak said there is no definitive answer to whether increased police presence will influence the crime rate surrounding 27th and Prospect.

“It’s not just presence of police or where a structure is – it’s what they do to interact and partner with the community,” he said.

Residents have historically viewed police with skepticism, Novak said, but added that the location is suitable because it fits the geographic requirements for the proposed campus and eliminates property vacancies, and the consequent crime.

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