Neighbors voice concerns over prospective homeless housing location
By John Sharp
A proposal by KCMO city staff to possibly purchase the 99-room America’s Best Value Inn at 11801 Blue Ridge Blvd. to provide long-term housing for homeless individuals and those at risk of becoming homeless encountered strong opposition during a nearly two-hour long in-person meeting May 31 to gather community input on the project.
Grandview Mayor Leonard Jones whose city limits at 119th St. are extremely close to the project site spoke forcefully in opposition to the site, noting his city had sent a letter to the KCMO mayor and city council stating his city and its board of aldermen are opposed to the location of the project.
He and Grandview Alderman Joe Runions both voiced their concerns about the impact housing so many homeless individuals at the site would have on Grandview’s ability to provide prompt emergency medical services to its residents since Grandview Fire Department ambulances already are frequently called to respond to medical emergencies at the site which now has much fewer occupants.
The president of the adjacent Crossgates Homeowners Association Raymond Franks and nearby Kirkside Homes Association President Darrell Curls both stated their personal opposition to the project, as did Hickman Mills School Board member and nearby resident Beth Boerger, Southern Communities Coalition Treasurer Teresa Edens and other neighborhood residents.
Since the meeting, strong concerns have been raised by Grandview Fire Department Chief Ron Graham and KCMO South Patrol Division Commander James Buck about the impact housing this many homeless persons there would have on their emergency response times.
Graham said even with much fewer persons normally staying at the often sparsely occupied hotel the Grandview Fire Department has responded to medical emergencies there 38 times in 2020, 34 times in 2021 and as of June 1, 17 times this year.
Under an automatic aid agreement, the Kansas City Fire Department dispatches whichever ambulance can get to the scene of a medical emergency the quickest, which frequently is one of Grandview’s three ambulances for emergencies at the hotel.
“The city is concerned that the proposed project, with its estimated 125-150 Kansas City residents, will result in more calls for service from the Grandview Fire Department and strain our resources, resulting in slower response times for our own residents who pay for our services,” Graham said.
Commander Buck noted that the city didn’t include any additional funding in the police department budget this fiscal year to increase South Patrol staffing, and its current staffing levels are below what they were two months ago. He said even with full staffing the division struggles to respond to the needs of the community.
He said temporarily housing a large number of homeless persons recently at another area hotel increased 911 calls from the site and increased crime in the area since the organizations placing them there did not have sufficient staffing to successfully deal with conflicts and misconduct.
Housing large numbers of homeless persons at the hotel on Blue Ridge Blvd. raises the possibility of additional resources being needed from South Patrol to respond to calls there, he said.
“This diversion of services means less time and resources available to deal with violent crime within the division,” Buck said.
Nearby business owner David Eisenmenger, D.C., who operates Peak Performance Chiropractic at 11720 Blue Ridge Blvd. just down the street from the hotel, said the proposed project will cripple efforts to attract and retain businesses along Blue Ridge Blvd. near the hotel, an area that already has several vacant businesses.
“What business will want to come in here knowing right across the street there is a major facility for the homeless,” he asked.
Eisenmenger said there already are problems with persons panhandling most of the daylight hours and often into the night at the stop lights on Blue Ridge Blvd. on both sides of the overpass over I-49 and littering the area.
“I’ve had about a dozen patients ask when I’m moving,” he said, but noted he likes his patients and the overall community and has no present intention of moving.
The community input meeting at Hillcrest Community Center was hosted by 5th District-at-Large Councilwoman Ryana Parks-Shaw, who stayed to answer persons’ questions and listened to their comments until everyone was leaving. She is chair of the city’s Houseless Task Force.
If city staff continues to pursue the project and a price can be agreed on with the owner for the purchase of the hotel following a city appraisal, the city council will have to approve the purchase.