• City OKs loan funding plan for Mount Washington renovation

  • The redevelopment of the former Mount Washington Elementary School in northwestern Independence is now a public-private investment.

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  • The redevelopment of the former Mount Washington Elementary School in northwestern Independence is now a public-private investment.
    The City Council Monday night unanimously approved up to $1.4 million in loan funding agreements with the project’s private developer. Those funds include Neighborhood Stabilization Program and HOME Investment Partnership Act dollars that the city receives from the federal government.
    Sherman Associates Inc., the project’s private developer, had requested $1.4 million for the $10.8 million redevelopment in the Fairmount area, at 570 S. Evanston Ave.
    “This is a project where, without the public and private, it could not happen financially,” said District 1 Council Member Marcie Gragg, whose district includes the former Mount Washington Elementary School. “This is an exciting project to see coming to fruition in northwest Independence. … This is a fantastic reuse, and (the developer) has come a long way in their project in order to get to this point.”
    The breakdown of the funding is somewhat complicated since federal program guidelines require that the money be used for specific purposes, as well as the timing structure of when the funds are allocated. The agreement includes $800,000 in Neighborhood Stabilization Program 3 funding that the city had already received. A portion of that – $100,000 – would be repaid in 30 years at 4.95 percent.
    The remainder of the total $1.4 million in funding – $600,000 – would come from two sources within the HOME Act. The first $425,000 would come from fiscal year 2011-12 money allocated for multi-family housing development. The remaining $175,000, city staff says, is anticipated to come through on July 1. If the city doesn’t receive those funds for HOME after all, the money would instead come from NSP3 funding sources, the agreement states.
    This is the latest step in a development process that has played out for more than two years. In November, the Planning Commission approved a preliminary development plan to allow for the repurposing of the 58,000-square-foot, 3-story structure into 45 senior apartments.
    The project will include mostly 1- and 2-bedroom units, with the city and the developer aiming to build the apartments as cost efficiently as possible, Community Development Department Director Jennifer Clark said.
    “Although it was built with efficiency standards of the early 1900s, they may not meet our efficiency standards today,” Clark said. “…The market rents that are projected for this are well below what the maximum rents we can charge under the federal programs, so that’s one of the challenges with trying to make the numbers work on this project.”
    Gragg said she’s heard citizens ask whether the area is appropriate for a senior housing project because of its accessibility to health care resources. Mayor Don Reimal reminded residents that Truman Medical Centers Lakewood is developing a facility in the Fairmount area and that Swope Health Services will relocate in a new facility on Truman Road.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We have a number of seniors who really want to remain in the neighborhood area,” Gragg said. “They want to age in place in those neighborhoods, and this is an opportunity for them to move out of homes that require a lot of maintenance and attention to them that they can’t give anymore themselves and yet to stay in the neighborhoods that they are comfortable with.”
    Clark said the Mount Washington senior housing is in a targeted neighborhood in the city’s “one block at a time” effort.
    “It’s surrounded by a lot of properties that are foreclosed or vacant and really looking at this one strategic investment makes a huge difference in this neighborhood,” Clark said. “…It’s bringing back not only a reuse of a structure but bringing back an element in the neighborhood that really stabilizes and provides the right kind of neighbor for the surrounding churches and homes that are there.”
    Construction is projected to begin sometime in April or May and will take about a year to complete. Clark said the application process for prospective residents will likely start later this year.
    District 4 Council Member Eileen Weir, who represents southwestern Independence, asked Clark if she anticipated additional funds being available for similar future projects. Weir noted the former Anderson/Pitcher school in her district, which has similar plans for affordable senior housing and also was surplus property from the Kansas City School District but has yet to secure funding sources like the former Mount Washington Elementary School.
    A fire destroyed the vast majority of the former Anderson/Pitcher school last April, and the city has declared the structure a dangerous building.
    “Certainly, I support the project, and I have no issue with those funds being utilized in that way,” Weir said. “I would say how critical it is that we do stabilize neighborhoods, especially when we have structures like this in those neighborhoods.”
    City staff, Clark said, is anticipating a transition in the next several years of federal funding sources for such projects. Potentially, a new block grant program could allow Independence to continue its “one block at a time” efforts to reshape neighborhoods in a “strategic and targeted way,” Clark said.
    “We have invested a lot in northwest Independence and with great success and through a variety of organizations,” Weir said. “…We’ve really seen some success in those areas, and I am eager for that to come south of 23rd Street into the 4th District.”

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