Kansas City-based artist’s dream of creating an ‘oasis’ met with resistance he calls an ‘injustice’

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- He calls it "an artist's oasis."

City leaders disagree with J. Leroy Beasley, a Kansas City-based artist, and his plan to build a coffee shop and art gallery on his land. He says he wants to use his property to better the community.

Three months ago, when Beasley bought three lots of property at 26th and Woodland, he says intended to build his home, as well as a coffee shop and an art gallery, and he says city leaders knew that. Since then, Beasley says the city has made his dream a big headache.

"It's injustice," Beasley told FOX 4 News on Tuesday.

Beasley has built a small compound on the property, which sits near Nelson Crews Square. Several large storage containers are arranged into a functional array. One serves as a small coffee shop Beasley says he wants to turn into a business. Another is earmarked for use as an art gallery. Samples of Beasley's artwork hang on the structures.

Beasley wants to open an art school on those plots of land, using the proceeds from the gallery and coffee house. Beasley says he bought all three lots from the Kansas City Land Bank.

"We went down and talked to the city engineer," Beasley said. "(We made) sure that every location we had plans for a certain type of construction would be approved. We did our homework."

But Beasley says that hasn't mattered. He complains that he's been cited for a number of code violations, such as illegal open storage, even though he and his family have cleared numerous piles of trash from the property.

"There has to be a guideline that allows single citizens to make a difference, even if it's building my own development," Beasley said.

Beasley says that's why he's stuck, and can't build on his land as he sees fit, even though neighbors support his project, and the potential boost it could provide for east Kansas City. Donald Russell, a 78-year old retired U.S. Marine, lives down the street. Russell says he's in support of Beasley's coffee shop and art gallery.

"It looked great," Russell said, while taking a look at Beasley's storage container village. "With the economy down like this, it looks like it shouldn't bother (KCMO codes enforcement.} I think with all these laws and stuff, it's two different things."

KCMO city zoning guidelines and ordinances say the area near 26th and Woodland isn't zoned for commercial development. John Baccala, a spokesperson for Kansas City's Department of Neighborhoods and Housing Services, tells FOX 4 News he's heard from other neighbors who are worried about what Beasley's master plan might be.

"It's up to the property owner to do the right thing," Baccala said. "They've reached out to city hall, and this is not what's supposed to be here. We have to get it rectified."

Beasley says if the city won't budge, he plans to just move on. He tells me he doesn't have the money to wage a war, but he will put up a fight. Baccala says city inspectors expect land owners to abide by zoning guidelines and ordinances. As of now, Baccala says, Beasley is cited only for illegal open storage, but not scheduled to appear in property court.