Saying they're caught in a squeeze between commercial encroachment and failing utilities, Nieder Acres property owners have formally asked the city to pave the way for a commercial takeover of their subdivision.
Target Department Stores Inc., a Minneapolis, Minn.-based retail chain, plans to build a 116,000-square-foot store on a 10-acre tract within the subdivision. Nieder Acres is west of Iowa Street between 31st and 33rd streets.
But first, the residential subdivision, which now sits in the county and is zoned agricultural, must be annexed into the city and rezoned as a planned commercial development. Two dozen, or all but a few, of the Nieder Acres property owners this morning filed paperwork with the city asking that those changes be made.
At a press conference attended by about half of them, the property owners said they're eager to see the curtain come down on their neighborhood.
"It gives us an opportunity to move or sell our property, which is not salable at a fair price as it is," said Loris Brubeck Jr.
SUBDIVISION residents took turns this morning describing the problems created by the encroachment of increasingly dense commercial development and deteriorating infrastructure.
Homes within the subdivision are served by individual wells and septic systems, most of which date to the 1950s, when the 30-acre subdivision was developed. Two lots already have been annexed into the city because of well failures, but residents said repeatedly that the high cost of extending city utilities to individual properties was prohibitive for many home owners.
Brubeck said, however, that even those home owners who can afford the out-of-pocket costs wouldn't improve their overall situation by hooking up to city utilities.
"You're still stuck with the location," he said.
NEIGHBORS lamented living in a subdivision surrounded by such commercial and high-density uses as a lumberyard, an auto dealers' complex, a meat market, a miniature golf course and a mobile home court.
Martha Nieder said that not only has that commercial development detracted from the residential quality of the neighborhood but it also has generated traffic that cuts through the subdivision on Nieder Road, the subdivision's main north-south street.
"It's kind of the bypass of 31st and Iowa," she said.
Her husband, Dean Nieder, said he favored the annexation and rezoning even though it was his uncle, Walter Nieder, who purchased the subdivision site as farmland during the 1950s, and after whom the subdivision is named.
Dean Nieder said he saw no reason for the city to resist the neighbors' unusual request, essentially to zone the residential subdivision out of existence, because the city had surrounded Nieder Acres with incompatible uses.
"They decided a long time ago what Nieder Acres was doomed to be and it wasn't a neighborhood," he said of the city. "I don't see any other solution other than to take the thing commercial."
WINT WINTER Jr., a Lawrence attorney representing Target, said he anticipated some discussion of the appropriateness of rezoning the subdivision, since Plan '95, the city's planning guide, generally protects residential uses at the expense of commercial development.
However, Winter said he believed Plan '95 contained the flexibility to allow the city to grant the neighbors' request.
Owners of the nine residential properties that lie within the footprint of the Target store have sold the retail company options on their land. However, the neighbors emphasized that owners of properties outside the store's tract also support the proposal. Four home owners who want to continue living in the subdivision either support the annexation and rezoning request or haven't expressed opposition, they said.
STEVE SUBLETT, a property owner who isn't in the Target footprint, said he would be better off even if the house he owns were located in a planned commercial development. He said Target has offered to let other property owners tap into the water and sewer lines the company will install, which will reduce the remaining home owners' costs of improving their utilities.
However, Sublett said he didn't expect the subdivision to continue as a neighborhood once it's rezoned.
"My assumption," Sublett said, "is that once it's all zoned, it will all sell."
Doug Brown, a commercial realty agent working with Target, has said he is working to obtain commitments for the remainder of the subdivision from other commercial users.
By filing their annexation and rezoning requests today, the Nieder Acres residents hope to bring the issue before the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Commission on June 23 and the Lawrence City Commission on July 13.
Target representatives have said the company hopes to break ground in October and open the store early next year.
Target, a division of Dayton Hudson Corp., operates more than 500 stores in 32 states. In its promotional literature, Target describes itself as an "upscale discounter."