The other day I got an anonymous flier in our mailbox, addressed to “Westwood Resident.” Inside was an unsigned memo inviting us to a “town hall” meeting being held to inform people about a proposed mixed-use development called Woodside Village.
I’ve heard plenty about this from our neighbors, including my father, who is not a big fan of the idea. My dad and I don’t always agree on matters of public policy, but in this case we’re both highly skeptical about the proposed development. In fact, it was Jennifer and I who first brought up some of the questions to him that Westwood residents are now (or should be) asking themselves.
More about those questions in a moment. First, a bit of background. Woodside Village, according to the flier, is “a proposed multi-use development designed as a walkable and integrated open-air Village organized around the Woodside Health & Tennis Club, 330 luxury residences, a 35,000 square foot shopping center, and an energized public realm where citizens can gather and strengthen community bonds at events such as a weekly farmer’s market.”
For a community of 1,500 people, this is a pretty big deal. If all the units filled up, you’d be increasing the population by around one third. That in itself doesn’t bother me at all — a community needs to grow and develop or else risk getting old and outdated, like the Westwood Apple Market, which looks like a relic of the mid-eighties.
But are 330 luxury apartments and 35,000 feet of commercial space really what this market is calling for? We’ve already been through this in Kansas City, Missouri, where thousands of condominiums were renovated and made available to a buying public that never showed up. Many of these places are now on the market as apartments and still remain vacant. Nearer to Westwood, places like the recently developed luxury spaces at 47 Fisher can’t even manage to attract rental tenants for a handful of units.
As someone currently looking for a place to buy or rent, the word “luxury” is a big turn-off. What’s wrong with “attractive and well-constructed” or even “affordable”? If I were in the market for luxury digs there would already be hundreds of other places to look in areas more exciting than Westwood. Sure, Woodside draws a pretty good crowd to the pool on weekends, but I doubt it’s enough of a buzz to fill up hundreds of luxury apartments. Just my gut reaction there.
The man behind Woodside Village is Blair Tanner, a Los Angeles-based real estate developer who owns the health club. (To get an idea of the flavor and personality of the proposed community, you might visit this recent post by local blogger/personality, Craig Glazer, who gushes that the city is “poised to green light the project.” News to me.)
The mentions of farmer’s markets, heavily landscaped pathways, and LEED certified buildings sounds attractive, but let’s not mistake this for a public urban development — as the flier itself states, “Woodside Village is proposed to coincide with the expansion of Woodside Health & Tennis Club.”
My question is, do we really need Woodside Village to bring us farmer’s markets, community gatherings, green initiatives and “heavy” landscaping? Isn’t framing Woodside Village as a community initiative and not a commercial venture at least a little misleading? I grew up in Westwood and am living there again temporarily, and the neighborhoods seems pretty alive and well to me without needing to artificially create a whole new upscale sub-community owned by someone in L.A.
My biggest question is how much the city will be on the hook for Woodside Villiage when (sorry, if) the proposed luxury units fail to sell. As a taxpayer in KCMO for the past five years, I’m happy to be contributing to city services there and wish we had the kind of police protection and public works that Westwood, KS enjoys. But I’m not at all happy about the taxpayers footing a huge chunk of the bill for the money-sucking Power and Light district, a centerpiece of the heralded downtown renaissance that our civic leaders at the time convinced us would be a lucrative, energized public realm. I’d hate to see the same thing happen to Westwood just because we got lured in by mentions of upscale condos, green building techniques and farmer’s markets.
A more relevant comparison would be the perpetually stalled mixed-use “Gateway” project in nearby Mission, Kansas, currently a wasteland where the mall used to be. Financially, how would TIF-seeking Woodside Village be any different? What’s changed in the economic climate in the last few years that will make hundreds of buyers of luxury residences suddenly materialize in northeast Johnson County? What happens if the project gets stalled or the developer foresees losses and backs out?
By the time these details are discussed at Westwood town call meetings (whether citizen-led or developer-sponsored), I will most likely be living in Missouri again, so I don’t really have a dog in this fight aside from my parents living there (and being a past summer employee of the public works department and recipient of the Westwood Foundation Scholarship in 1999). I care about the community and hope that the residents and council members can see past the buzzwords, potential profits and promises of luxury living in order to give the proposed plan the scrutiny it requires.