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Archive for Saturday, July 17, 1993

SATURDAY COLUMN

July 17, 1993

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On Wednesday, the first round of formal and public shots will be fired over the desire by Nieder Acres property owners to sell their land for a Target department store to be built in part of the neighborhood, which lies between 31st and 33rd streets, west of Iowa Street.

The property owners claim their land has lost its value and attractiveness as a residential area because of nearby commercial development, and they have banded together to sell their land to developers including a plot for Target, a division of Dayton-Hudson Co. of Minneapolis. However, in order for the Target project to proceed, the land in question must be rezoned for commercial use.

So far, most people have tiptoed around the rezoning question. Several weeks ago, at a planning commission meeting, officials directed those at the meeting not to inject the Target question into the matters being discussed that evening.

Several members or spokespeople for Downtown Lawrence Inc. first said they did not intend to oppose a Target store, but in recent weeks, there has been a quiet but strong effort by DL members to stop the project.

VARIOUS MEANS are being used, such as trying to encourage local business people to sign a petition opposing any rezoning that would allow the Target store at the proposed site.

A group of downtown businesspeople and several other citizens petitioned the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to hold a public hearing to determine whether Plan 95 should be changed or amended to allow the Target project.

The public hearing will be Wednesday, and it's a sure bet the room will be packed by those opposed to the Target project.

Their tactic? To delay and delay and delay until Target officials decide it isn't worth the effort and time, eventually deciding to abandon the Lawrence project.

All kinds of statements will be made by many of those requesting the public hearing, suggesting they really are not opposed to Target coming to Lawrence. They just don't think it should be built on land that, in the outdated Plan 95, was designated for agricultural and residential use.

They will make every effort to give the appearance of not being opposed to additional major retail development, and they will say they are not opposing the Target store proposal for any selfish or competitive reasons. They also will make a strong pitch that Plan 95 should not be altered and will argue that their concern is for the "best interests" of Lawrence.

THE ONLY trouble with this argument is that there have been many rezoning changes in Plan 95. The Target request is far from the first. It is likely that at some stage of the hearing, those in favor of the Target project will point out to those on the planning commission the many previous deviations from Plan 95. A change between 31st and 33rd on Iowa would not be a unique, precedent-shattering decision.

What it all boils down to is whether Lawrence wants a Target store. Some years ago, city officials turned away Jones Store Co. and J.C. Penney Co. stores as well as a Dillard's and a Dillard's warehouse. Several developers first suggested an enclosed mall just south of the Sonny Hill auto dealership on Iowa Street, and this was turned down by the city. Later, these same developers offered to build the mall in the 700 and 800 blocks of Massachusetts Street. Again, objections were raised, this time not about a "cornfield" mall and how it would hurt the downtown area but about how a downtown mall would destroy the picturesque and historic facades of the businesses along the east side of Massachusetts. Later, a number of East Lawrence residents added their objections, saying they did not want the increased traffic that would be generated by the downtown mall.

Consequently, none of these stores was built in Lawrence, and a growing number of local residents started traveling to Topeka and Kansas City for their retail shopping needs.

@square: q

@sc: LAWRENCE does have a good, attractive downtown area. It is not, however, the center of retail sales in Lawrence. Year by year, it is becoming a center for smaller, specialized stores, shops, restaurants and entertainment spots. It has a friendly, attractive ambiance, and it should capitalize on these features. Just recently, one restaurant owner petitioned the city to be able to add restaurant tables on the downtown sidewalk. If the request is granted, other restaurant owners are sure to seek similar permission.

The downtown area should concentrate on developments such as this and maintain its uniqueness and attractiveness. It has the city hall, the courthouse, the library, the city's largest bank and the Lawrence Riverfront Plaza as major anchors.

However, it is not suited for a large major retailer, which would need up to 10 acres for a store and adequate customer parking.

If Lawrence is to have a new large department store, such as Target, the store will have to be located at a site such as the proposed location in Nieder Acres.

It is interesting to note a consultant hired by Target officials to study the local site situation claims the south Iowa Street location is compatible with Lawrence's planning framework as set forth in Plan 95. According to this consultant, "Other than downtown, the only other designated 'regional service' retailing district in Lawrence is on south Iowa Street," where Target is seeking to locate a store.

Until now, opponents of the Target project had couched their opposition in a low-key, behind-the-scenes manner. Now, the gloves are likely to come off, and it will turn into a bare-knuckle fight, even though the anti-Target forces will claim, time and again, that they are not opposed to retailing competition and that their only concern is whether Plan 95 should be altered.

Only time will tell whether this tactic will be successful in delaying the Target initiative long enough to force Target officials to abandon their Lawrence project.

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