Plans to transform the former St. John Neumann Residence into 85 units of senior housing also include a wooded buffer and passive nature trail open to the public.
City officials are expected to vote tonight on a rezoning and amendment to the comprehensive plan that would allow builder Sonny Bonacio to convert the defunct retirement home for Redemptorist priests into residences for people 55 and older. The project calls for the City Council to rezone 11.27 acres from institutional to high-density residential.
Plans are afoot to convert the 34,309-square-foot building and add an addition that would provide enough space for the 85 units. Five of the units would be rent-subsidized and leased to veterans, according to plans before the council.
The project includes preserving green space along Lake Avenue and maintaining an existing grotto for a total of 1.7 acres that would be deeded back to the city. The trail built through the property would connect with Excelsior Springs Avenue and include some public amenities, such as park benches.
“This area would be publicly accessible,” City Principal Planner Kate Maynard told the council during an agenda meeting Monday.
The property is now tax-exempt. A purchase agreement contingent on the rezoning would bring a good swath of the land back onto the tax rolls.
But the zoning change would allow for upward of 113 units on the property — something that caused concern for Public Safety Commissioner Chris Mathiesen. Though Bonancio indicated he has no intention of building anything more than the 85 units already included in the plan, Matheisen said he would feel more comfortable lowering the density of the zoning.
“People are happy to see a residential development here because that’s consistent with the area,” he said. “The density here is not.”
At one time, all 40 rooms in the retirement home were filled. But the population had dwindled by 2009, making it unfeasible for the Redemptorists to keep it open.
The circa-1916 building sat on the market for years, in part because it needed a costly asbestos abatement. Bonacio attorney Michael Toohey said the environmental remediation of the property could cost the developer upward of $700,000.
“We have a little bit more of a hurdle on this project,” he told the council.
And a number of time constraints. The project still needs to get approvals from the city’s land-use boards, meaning the process could continue into the winter season.
“Time is not our friend at this point,” he said.
Bonacio said his intention with the project is to only build the 85 units. Even if expansion was considered in the future, he said, the city would still have say in the matter.
“We’re not doing any segmentation on this project,” he said. “If we are to expand on this — if ever — we’d have to go back and start this process all over again.”
Toohey said the developer has discussed the project with the surrounding neighborhood. He said there’s been “full transparency” with the plan and urged the council to take action on the rezoning.
“Nothing more is going to get learned in two weeks that isn’t known now,” he said.