Home Depot developers are working to preserve left-turn access from 31st Street to Kmart, apparently trying to avert a threatened lawsuit against the city. But Kmart's property owners are dubious about the success of those efforts.
Dan Watkins, a Lawrence attorney representing Home Depot's developer, told the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission Wednesday that engineers are working with Kmart's property owners to maintain that store's access from 31st Street. The proposed design is contingent upon the approval of city traffic engineers.
"The (Home Depot) developer is willing to do that, to create a protected left turn into that center," Watkins said. "If it works with the city ... that's the way it's going to be constructed."
After the meeting, Todd Thompson, the Lawrence attorney for Malan Realty owners of the Kmart property downplayed expectations.
"Nothing that's happened to date has given Malan cause to be optimistic about (the Home Depot developer's) willingness to protect access to the site," he said.
Watkins' statement, however, helped grease the wheels Wednesday for the planning commission's narrow approval of Home Depot's final development plan.
A preliminary development plan for the proposed Home Depot at 1900 W. 31st St. included construction of a median along 31st Street between Iowa Street and Ousdahl Road. Home Depot and city officials said the median is needed to control an anticipated traffic increase along 31st Street.
Malan officials pointed out the median would eliminate left turns to and from the 31st Street entrance to their property. Malan officials threatened to sue the city for approving the preliminary development plan.
Now, Watkins said Wednesday, the developers are looking at creating a break in the median to allow the left-turn access. But he asked that it not be made a condition of Home Depot's final development plan, saying city approval of the design isn't a sure thing.
"If you made that a condition and the city analysis says it doesn't work, then we're in kind of a Catch-22 situation," Watkins said.
That drew the opposition of Commissioner Jane Bateman, who said she couldn't approve the final plan without absolute assurances of left-turn access.
"It affects all the property on the south, including the Kmart property, and I don't think it's fair to do that for a new development," she said.
Commission Chairman Ron Durflinger said he was comfortable with the final plan, which made maintaining the access the first option for developers.
"We're stating our preference," he said.
That was too much wiggle room for Thompson's comfort.
"Malan appreciates the commission's stating a preference for preserving access," he said, "but (Malan) doesn't believe the project should've been allowed to go forward unless access to the existing business could've been guaranteed."
The final plan was approved 5-4. Durflinger was joined by Roger Schenewerk, Andy Ramirez, Jacob Plants and Sue Pine.
Bateman voted against it, along with John Haase, Myles Schachter and David Burress. Tom Jennings abstained because he owns adjacent property.