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Archive for Tuesday, September 11, 2001

Little grocery proposal challenged

September 11, 2001

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But Schuyler Lister wants to give one a try at 1201 E. 13th St.

Some of his neighbors like the idea. Others don't. Either way, Lister may not get the chance to make it come true.

Over Lister's objections, the Lawrence City Commission will tonight consider rezoning the property from commercial to residential. It's the latest in a series of battles Lister has fought with the city on the project.

If the rezoning succeeds, Lister said, "then Brook Creek and East Lawrence (neighborhoods) lose, and lose big. Look around -- where's the closest grocery store?"

But Lister's critics say they're tired of waiting for his dream to become reality. He's taken too long to get the property into shape, they say, and it isn't fit for commercial use anyway.

"He says he wants to turn it into a little grocery store," said Susan Miller, who lives nearby. "That's what it used to be years ago, and apparently it didn't work."

Former store site

There used to be a mom-and-pop grocery called England's at the site, but it was long gone by the time Lister purchased the property two years ago. The building that housed England's had been converted to a house.

Lister, who also runs downtown's Creation Station shop, was at loggerheads with the city over the property soon after buying it.

"When I bought it, if you were standing on the street, it didn't look that bad," Lister said. "When I started tearing into it, that's when I found the evil."

That's the problem, Miller said. She said Lister "horsed around" on the project after discovering the problems, allowing the building to blight the neighborhood.

"It needed to be fixed up when he bought it," she said. "It was just a Godawful-looking thing for more than a year."

City officials thought so, too. They moved to condemn the property last winter, but Lister asked for more time to finish his improvements. When his progress wasn't to city commissioners' liking, they moved to rezone the property.

Commissioners later withdrew that motion, but Lister applied for a zoning change, from a general commercial district to inner-neighborhood district. He did so to protect the neighborhood from unrestricted business possibilities on the site, he said.

Official stance

But city staffers said the property would only fit a residential zoning, because it doesn't sit on an arterial or collector street. And the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission agreed, making the recommendation city commissioners will hear tonight.

Meanwhile, Lister has junked most of the building he was trying to preserve and has started afresh. City officials say they don't believe Lister is meeting the requirements -- proper permits, site plans, etc. -- to create a new commercial building.

That means commissioners are unlikely to be sympathetic to him tonight.

"I believe the Planning Commission looked at the property and is bringing us the correct recommendation," said Commissioner Marty Kennedy, who once got so angry at Lister's lack of progress on the property that he threatened during a city commission meeting to take a bulldozer to the place.

Lister does have his supporters. Michael Almon, who lives near the site, said the city should wait to rezone the land until new zoning classifications that allow for new kinds of "mixed uses" are passed, perhaps this fall.

The little grocery could meet some smart-growth goals being considered by the city, he thinks.

The neighborhood grocery store dream, Almon said, "is counterintuitive to the arcane principles of our zoning rules that Lawrence is rejecting. It's ironic they're not allowing this exemplary project to go through, just because the rules aren't changed yet."

Until tonight, at least, Lister can hold on to his dream.

"People stop by the job site and ask, 'What are you doing with this?'" Lister said.

"I say I want to put up a little mom-and-pop store. And they say, 'That's exactly what the neighborhood needs.'"

-- Staff writer Joel Mathis can be reached at 832-7126.

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