Archive for Thursday, May 27, 1999


May 27, 1999


After agreeing to buy a North Lawrence couple's flood-prone home, city commissioners may be faced with a flood of similar requests.

It's easy to sympathize with Debbie and Richard Chalender whose home has been a regular victim of flooding in North Lawrence. But the solution the Lawrence City Commission provided for the Chalenders Tuesday night may present some difficult problems down the road.

The Chalender house is located on low-lying property on North Eighth Street where flooding problems have increased in recent years along with the addition of more residences in the area. Water drained toward their home and had nowhere else to go. There were no easy solutions.

The only solution city commissioners apparently could see was to buy the property, raze the house and set the land aside as a collection site for drainage water. The decision and around $80,000 in taxpayer money solves the Chalenders' problem.

But how many other people in Lawrence may think they deserve the same kind of deal? And how many such deals can local taxpayers afford to make? As Mayor Erv Hodges said Tuesday, as he cast the lone vote against the buyout, ""I hate to see where that problem will end. To me, that cracks the door to many possible purchases that we don't want."

The flooding problem in North Lawrence involves a number of issues. The city bears some responsibility for zoning and building regulations that govern residential development in that area, but is the city, alone, responsible for the problems encountered by the Chalenders? Shouldn't the residents who bought the house or the developer who built the house share the responsibility?

And as city commissioners consider longer-term solutions, they may find certain options closed to them. Reducing residential density in North Lawrence by requiring larger lot sizes would keep the drainage problem from getting worse, but property owners in the area want the right to sell their property for whatever use will bring them the best price. More lots means more money.

Drainage work is scheduled in the area, but not for 25 or 30 years. It seems reasonable to place a moratorium on development until that work is complete, but the city's legal staff says such a long moratorium might be difficult to defend.

The North Lawrence drainage work could be moved ahead of other projects, but what other houses will the city have to buy in other neighborhoods that are bumped to lower spots on the list? Major drainage projects on Michigan Street and in the area south of Lawrence High School have pretty well tapped out the city's budget for such work. Many residents in those areas would have been more than happy two or three years ago to take the same deal the city gave Tuesday night to the Chalenders, but because work was planned that would solve the drainage problem, the city considered no buyouts in that area except for one house that had to be removed to provide room for a drainage structure.

There apparently was no promise that drainage work could solve the Chalender's flooding problem. The city may bear some responsibility for that circumstance. But the buyout approved on Tuesday sets a troublesome precedent that may send many other local residents to city hall in search of solutions for their individual property woes.

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