Backers of a municipal golf course, undaunted by the Lawrence City Commission's thumbs down posture three months ago, now are asking for the issue to be put to a public vote.
Members of the Lawrence Municipal Golf Course Committee, in a letter dated Monday, asked commissioners to consider holding a referendum in April to gauge the public's support for a municipal golf course.
"We believe the citizens of Lawrence might find a vote on a project that was to be user-financed refreshing after being asked to vote on upcoming bond issues to finance an arts center, a new high school and a trafficway," the letter says.
The commission, in October, voted 3-2 against a proposal from Denver-based First Golf Corp. to build an 18-hole municipal golf course near Clinton Lake. Voting against the measure were Commissioners Shirley Martin-Smith, David Penny and Bob Walters.
FIRST GOLF proposed a $2.9 million lease-purchase package that would pay for design, construction and equipment for an 18-hole course on land controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Under First Golf's plan, the course would be operated and purchased by the city over a 20-year period with revenues generated by course play and related sales.
In addition to turning down the First Golf proposal, the commission voted to oppose any plans to build a municipal golf course.
In their letter, the Lawrence Municipal Golf Course Committee members took aim at the three freshmen commissioners who voted against the proposal, at Lawrence Chamber of Commerce President Gary Toebben and at local developer Bob Billings.
"WE ENDEAVORED to promote the project on a sound economic basis, and the city staff investigated and concluded the project was feasible and could be user-fee financed. Our disappointment began when you, the newly elected commissioners, began to play politics and disregard the strong citizen support," the group said.
The committee alleged that Toebben lobbied against the plan "under the guise of representing the Chamber of Commerce" and told commissioners that a municipal golf course could kill continued development by Billings in west Lawrence. Alvamar Corp., which operates three privately owned courses in Lawrence and is headed by Billings, is planning to build a new golf course surrounded by residential developments west of 15th and Wakarusa.
TOEBBEN SAID today that he made it clear in his discussions with commissioners that neither the chamber's board of directors nor the chamber membership had taken a position on the municipal golf course plan. He said he did express his personal opinion to commissioners that construction of a golf course by the city could inhibit private-sector plans for construction of a new course.
Toebben also pointed to a recent survey of chamber members in which 55 percent of those responding said they opposed a city- or county-owned golf course.
"If we had taken that survey before the commission voted, our board probably would have gone on record saying, `No, we don't support a municipal golf course.' But we hadn't taken the survey at that time," Toebben said.
At least one of the commissioners who voted against the proposal said he would consider a referendum on the golf course issue.
"They suggest a vote on the issue; perhaps that's the way to go," Walters said today. But, he added, the golf course supporters should carry a petition to the commission showing community support for a referendum.