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Archive for Sunday, October 28, 2001

Just the facts

October 28, 2001

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Supplying honest and accurate information should be a basic requirement for developers planning projects in Lawrence.

Developers for the Home Depot project near 31st and Iowa streets should be held accountable for inaccurate information they supplied to city and planning commissioners while seeking and receiving approval for their project. The excuse that those communicating directly to Lawrence officials weren't aware of the facts isn't sufficient.

During consideration last week of rezoning for the Commerce Plaza on the northeast corner of 31st and Iowa the owners of the property reported that the Home Depot developers had had a contract for months to purchase the property, which is just west of their development. Within the last month, however, the developers had told both the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the Lawrence City Commission that it would be impossible to meet a planning requirement to have access from Home Depot to Iowa Street because they were unable to obtain the adjacent property.

The issue of access to Iowa Street was important because the city's comprehensive plan calls for large commercial developments like Home Depot to face an arterial street, like Iowa, rather than a "collector" street, like 31st. Planners were willing to stretch that principle and approved the plan for Home Depot to face 31st Street with the condition the developers obtain an access easement to the west. However, city commissioners removed that condition and approved the plan after the project's developer said the condition was too restrictive and he couldn't guarantee it could be met.

But during last week's discussions of the Commerce Plaza rezoning, planners were told that Home Depot developers not only knew it was possible to obtain an easement on the property but actually had a contract to buy that property. In a letter to city officials late Friday, the project developers sought to excuse themselves by saying that the two men who represented them before the Lawrence planners and commissioners didn't know about the land deal. They tried to strengthen their excuse by claiming that complications with the contract left some doubt whether it was valid.

Ignorance of the law or the facts is no excuse. It is the responsibility of anyone seeking approval for a project to keep their representatives fully informed. The developers knew that the land purchase was a critical piece in a controversial project. It certainly isn't beyond comprehension that the developers of this project might choose to withhold information from their representatives and simply make apologies later if they thought that's what it took to get their project through.

This is something city officials shouldn't let pass. The city needs to be helpful and understanding to people trying to develop projects in Lawrence, but it simply isn't acceptable for developers to provide false information to city officials making decisions about their projects.

Although Home Depot is a good company that probably would be a good fit for Lawrence, it has been a controversial project because of its size and the impact it will have on an area of the city that already is loaded with commercial development. Allowing Home Depot to face onto 31st Street will necessitate expensive, publicly funded improvements to that street and reduce access to businesses to the south.

City officials have a responsibility to hold developers accountable. It seems appropriate, as the planning commission chair suggested, to put the Home Depot project back on the city agenda for reconsideration of the plans with the new information that has come to light.

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