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Archive for Wednesday, May 26, 1999

CITY BUYS FLOOD-PRONE HOME

May 26, 1999

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How will the city prevent flooding of a North Lawrence home? By buying it and tearing it down.

Putting a halt to construction in North Lawrence won't stop flooding at the North Lawrence home of Debbie and Richard Chalender. Neither would installing several multimillion-dollar drainage projects in the neighborhood.

The only certain way to stop the flooding: Buy the Chalenders out, tell them to move and then demolish their house, Lawrence city commissioners decided Tuesday night.

"Let's make it an open lot and move on down the road," Commissioner Marty Kennedy said. "We don't have any other remedy."

And with that, commissioners agreed to spend public money for a low-lying private residence at 234 N. Eighth, appraised at $80,000. A final cost will be determined later, following negotiations between city staffers and the Chalenders themselves.

The city plans to buy the land, demolish the house and maintain it only as open space, where runoff from heavy rains will be able to pool and percolate away.

"It will not be a park," City Manager Mike Wildgen said.

Mayor Erv Hodges was the lone commissioner to vote against pursuing a purchase, saying he didn't want to set a precedent for handling drainage problems one house at a time.

"I'm basically against buying houses that have a problem, because I hate to see where that problem will end," he said. "To me that cracks the door to many possible purchases that we don't want."

Debbie Chalender is just happy to see a likely end to flooding problems that have become increasingly worse during the past 13 years, as new homes have been built nearby and water has continued to wash over a ditch and into her house.

"I'm happy because I know when it rains again I won't have to stay up all night fighting water," she said after the vote. "Tearing it down is going to break my heart, but you move on and start over."

For commissioners grappling with ongoing drainage problems in North Lawrence, however, the work is only just beginning.

Commissioners discussed looking into several "long-term" approaches for addressing drainage woes involving homes and other buildings developed atop the flat, sandy soil north of the river.

Among the possibilities Hodges plans to discuss in the coming weeks with neighborhood residents, builders and city staffers:

  • Prohibit construction unless lots are raised to a specific elevation, thus preventing low-lying lots from becoming pools for drainage.
  • Declare a moratorium on construction, although staffers believe such a restriction would be legally indefensible.
  • Move several multimillion-dollar drainage projects up the city's priority list, which currently has them pegged for 25 or 30 years away.

In any case, something must be done, Commissioner David Dunfield said.

"This is a flood-plain area. It always has been and always will be," Dunfield said, pointing out that construction of the Kansas River levee allowed for new homes and buildings that otherwise never would have been built. "If we were starting from scratch and building a city " there would be very little development in North Lawrence, if there was any at all.

"We know that area is going to flood in the future. This is inevitable. We need to take this issue head on."

-- Mark Fagan's phone message number is 832-7188. His e-mail address is mfagan@ljworld.com.

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