Vacant county-owned lots off 11th and Rhode Island streets are becoming a battlefield.
East Lawrence residents won't sit quietly by while Douglas County officials discuss paving residential lots for a parking lot.
``I think it is very much a slap in the face of the neighborhood,'' said Jim Power, a former president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn.
``Certainly the neighborhood is going to be pretty vocal in opposing this,'' he said.
On Wednesday, County Commissioner Jim Chappell said he wants to pave four county-owned lots on the east side of Rhode Island Street's 1100 block to create additional parking for people who work and do business at county office buildings. Three of the lots are vacant; Chappell wants to let Habitat for Humanity move a house at 1124 R.I. to another location.
The county commission has not yet scheduled its discussion of the issue.
ELIA representatives have lobbied county officials to make the lots available for construction of new single-family housing. Power said the neighborhood clearly sees Chappell's proposal as intrusion into the neighborhood.
``We are trying to maintain that as much residential as possible,'' he said of the neighborhood's western perimeter.
Chappell's proclamation was the latest volley in a two-year turf war over where the county's administrative complex stops and surrounding land uses begin. Previous battles centered on where the county would build its new jail.
Chappell said he wasn't swayed by arguments that the parking lot would be surrounded on three sides by homes and would remove four residentially zoned lots from the East Lawrence housing stock.
``We need parking stock, too,'' Chappell said.
He argued that the parking lot, which would produce an as-yet-undetermined number of parking spaces, would relieve congestion on East Lawrence streets, where the county's overflow parking has settled, and provide a convenience for people who drive to the county buildings.
``A lot of them are having to use their shanks' mares to get to the courthouse from parking several blocks away,'' Chappell said. ``Not only do their feet get tired, but the neighbors also get tired of them parking in front of their houses.''
Commission Chairman Louie McElhaney says he's willing to hear the proposal but also wants to hear the objections against it. Commissioner Mark Buhler has indicated that he's not enthusiastic about it.
Dennis Enslinger, a member of the Lawrence-Douglas County planning staff, said that office would not endorse the proposal.
``From a planning standpoint, we would see it as an encroachment into the neighborhood,'' he said.
Even so, and despite the fact that the lots are zoned for residential use, the county may be able to proceed. Chappell says he's not convinced that the county is required to ask the city of Lawrence to approve a site plan for the project.
If the planning office were asked, Enslinger said, it probably would recommend that the county try to cooperate with the city in seeking mutually beneficial solutions to parking problems in the vicinity of downtown.
``They're not going to solve their parking problems by paving four lots,'' Enslinger said of the county.
Chappell, who concedes that he still is smarting from rejection of his proposal to keep the jail downtown, said he's not interested in participating in any discussion that would intertwine the county's interests with those of downtown business owners.
``I have had it up to my second story with the downtown at this point,'' he said.
Chappell, who wanted to build the jail on the Allen Press site at 11th and New Hampshire, saw that proposal unanimously rebuffed by the Downtown Lawrence board of directors and also drew fire from ELIA and historic preservationists.
``It's been made pretty clear to us that there's no more room for us outside the confines of where we are now,'' he said.
Chappell had warned Downtown Lawrence that letting the new jail be built elsewhere would drain the customer base for shops and restaurants. However, Chappell said the departure of jail employees and attendant traffic won't be enough to solve the parking crunch.
``There's probably 150 jobs that are at stake for leaving downtown, but I'm sure were overparked by at least 150 cars,'' he said.