The frontmen for a proposed Home Depot development didn't tell city officials about a possible land deal critical to the project's compliance with Horizon 2020, their boss said Friday, because they didn't know about it.
Developer Peter Dellaportas, president of Chicago-based First National Development, said Bill Knoth and Lawrence attorney Dan Watkins the two men who represented his company before the Lawrence city and planning commissions didn't know about a contract to purchase land adjoining the Home Depot parcel on 31st Street. By the time they talked to the commissions, Dellaportas indicated, the contract was in dispute.
"I regret that my not informing Mr. Knoth and Mr. Watkins of the contract's existence resulted in the impression that our development team omitted full disclosure to the planning commission and/or the city commission," Dellaportas wrote in a letter faxed to city officials Friday. "Mr. Knoth and Mr. Watkins were not involved in the negotiations for the contract."
Knoth and Watkins told the commissions that efforts to obtain the land, and easements across it, had failed. City and planning commissioners had wanted the land or easements included in the project to connect it to Iowa Street and bring it into compliance with requirements of Horizon 2020, the city-county long-range planning guide.
Despite the project's inconsistencies with Horizon 2020, it received the city commission's approval Oct. 16 more than two years after Home Depot submitted its first application, and after a bigger proposal was rejected this summer.
Existence of the purchase contract was revealed this week in a letter from the landowner, MRV Inc. Officials said it was proof they had been misled about the developer's ability to purchase the land and easements; Mayor Mike Rundle said Knoth had lied to them.
Friday night, the planning commission's chairman seemed soothed by the letter.
"I think it helps answer some of the questions I had," said Ron Durflinger, planning commission chair. "It makes it apparent it's more complicated than we originally thought."
Dellaportas wrote that First National Development does not technically have the purchase contract for the land. A "company with close ties" to First National Development, JD Investors LLC, entered the contract in April. Under that contract to purchase, Dellaportas made monthly payments to the landowner, a company known as Wanamaker Twenty-Nine/Bundy Joint Venture, which is affiliated with MRV.
After the city commission rejected Home Depot's initial rezoning request in June, Dellaportas wrote, "we" (he didn't explain if it was JD Investors or First National Development) started to renegotiate the contract to purchase to reflect the reduced size of the store that eventually was approved. Wanamaker indicated access easements would be part of the agreement.
Payments to the landowner continued after rezoning for the development was rejected, Dellaportas wrote. Watkins said Friday night he didn't know if payments still continue.
Wanamaker refused to sign the easement agreements in September, Dellaportas wrote, unless the developer bought the land outright. As the price hadn't been renegotiated, Dellaportas wrote, First National Development was "by no means ready to buy their property."
That made it impossible to provide the easements, Dellaportas wrote. That impasse, Watkins said Friday, means that whether the contract remains in effect "is disputed."
Dellaportas wrote that making the sale contract information available to the city and planning commissions "would have avoided confusion and complication in this matter," but added: "I do not, however, see how any result would be different."
Durflinger said he wanted to be sure.
"Given some of the facts that have come to light, it's probably prudent for the commission to revisit this," he said, "and make sure we get what's best for Lawrence, not what's best for an individual landowner."
Watkins wouldn't say why he wasn't told about the contract.
"You'd have to ask Mr. Dellaportas that," he said.
Efforts to contact Knoth on Friday night were unsuccessful.