The jury's still out concerning a proposal to raze a downtown block and build a new Borders bookstore.
Forget all the mysteries, whodunits and political memoirs.
The hottest title for a proposed Borders bookstore in downtown Lawrence could well be Black's Law Dictionary.
"Any of the work, done by any of the parties, has been done knowing that this could all end up in court," said Mit Winter, whose Winter Inc. is fighting to raze a downtown block and pave the way for a new Borders at 700 N.H. "You have to be prepared for that contingency."
Supporters and opponents alike have been preparing for weeks to argue their cases in front of the Lawrence City Commission, which must decide whether Winter Inc. gets a demolition permit for the block bounded by Seventh, Eighth, New Hampshire and Rhode Island streets.
A public hearing to settle the issue will open officially Tuesday night, but commissioners don't plan on accepting public comment until Nov. 12.
Even after a vote -- no matter which way it goes, nor when -- both sides of the issue are considering post-hearing legal moves.
Ron Schneider, a Lawrence attorney who specializes in historic preservation law, is representing three neighboring property owners and Lawrence Preservation Alliance in their fight against Winter Inc.'s demolition request.
There are numerous "feasible and prudent" alternatives to the project's current proposal, Schneider said, and that alone is enough to qualify under state law as reason to deny the permit.
But if commissioners disagree and clear the road for demolition, Schneider said his clients would consider filing an appeal in district court.
"Based upon our presentation ... I am confident that our position is legally correct," said Schneider, who is "cautiously optimistic" his case would win.
Schneider knows the ropes. In 1990, he represented the preservation alliance in its successful fight to oppose demolition of the Old English Lutheran Church, 1040 N.H. The case, considered a landmark precedent for preservationists, helped refine standards for public participation and municipal responsibilities involving historic buildings.
In this case, the proposed Borders already has been deemed inappropriate by local and state preservationists because of its proximity to the Eldridge Hotel, 701 Mass.
The state's ruling -- that the demolition would "encroach upon, damage or destroy" the Eldridge's historic surroundings -- is what triggered the city's upcoming public hearing in the first place.
"It looks like a strip mall to me," said Pat Kehde, the owner of a downtown bookstore who has reviewed the project's plans. "It has no correspondence to the style and mode of downtown's small storefronts."
Borders plans for court
Mit Winter doesn't see it that way. His proposed project would replace a dilapidated storage building -- the former livery stable and garage -- with a new $7 million Borders building, complete with a brick-and-stucco exterior fitting into downtown's existing character, he said.
Winter maintains that the past 10 years have seen several reuse proposals come forward -- including inquiries from Willie C's restaurant, Eskimo Joe's bar, Community Mercantile grocery and Rent-to-Own center -- but none that could work out economically.
Borders still wants to use his company's property, but it would be for a new building. Borders requested the two-week delay in the public hearing to compile more information regarding "feasible and prudent" alternatives, Winter said.
His team will make its case Nov. 12 at city hall and be prepared to move forward if necessary.
"It's not unusual to get sued in a development like this, and you prepare for that possibility," Winter said. "It doesn't seem to be an extreme concern (for Borders). They plan for that in any development."
Winter Inc. is represented by Wint Winter Jr., the city's preeminent land-use attorney whose previous clients include Walgreens and SuperTarget. Wint Winter is Mit Winter's cousin.