Archive for Saturday, August 10, 2002

Plans for scholarship halls put on hold after hearing

August 10, 2002


It's been a long year in the 1300 block of Ohio Street.

Kansas University Endowment Association bought seven dilapidated houses on the block in spring 2001 and announced plans to tear them down and replace them with two new scholarship halls.

But there was a roadblock.

Members of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance and the Oread Neighborhood Assn. objected to the university's plans because they said tearing down these homes would destroy the social fabric of the area. The expansion of the KU campus would also violate KU's own 1997 Campus Plan on the university's future boundaries.

The opposing sides squared off in a series of public hearings that started at the local level and culminated in March with a ruling by then-State Historic Preservation Officer Ramon Powers that three houses  at 1323, 1329 and 1333 Ohio  should be preserved because they are near the Usher House, 1425 Tenn. That building is on the National Register of Historic Places.

By early August, though, the issue was still in limbo. Gov. Bill Graves was taking public comment before he made his own final decision on the matter. And officials said his decision could prompt a lawsuit.

Philosophical differences

Ken Stoner, director of student housing at KU, said there was a significant difference between historical property and property with a history.

"The demolition of these three structures will not adversely affect the Usher House," he said. "These are just three old houses that happen to be within 500 feet of a historic structure."

Dennis Enslinger, historic resources administrator for the city, said the demolition of the properties would change the environment around the historic buildings. He said the century-old homes in question were present during the "period of significance" for nearby Spooner Hall  also on the national register  and the Usher House.

"There is a direct connection between these buildings and the small houses that housed faculty and staff," Enslinger said.

Early this summer, KU announced it would appeal that decision to Gov. Bill Graves. And there was talk the Oread Neighborhood and Lawrence Preservation Alliance would sue if Graves ruled for demolition.

Still, there were signs that KU and its surrounding neighbors were trying to find ways to communicate more positively  if not on this issue, then in the future. The KU Neighbors Coalition was created to bring together representatives from the city, university and surrounding neighborhoods to talk about common issues.

"I've been calling it the 'Good Neighbor Group,'" Reggie Robinson, chief of staff for KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway, said in January.

But Robinson cautioned against hoping too much for the group.

"It's not going to create a situation where what the university does is always what the neighborhoods embrace," he said. "That's just a fantasy."

Historic preservation

The city and KU also started a process to jointly resolve historic preservation issues that concern both parties. Under the proposed agreement, the Campus Historic Preservation Board gets first crack at issues of joint concern, then the city's Historic Resources Board. If they come to different decisions, they'll meet together. If that doesn't resolve the issue, the state will be asked to make the final determination.

"I think this gives the flexibility to the process that's necessary," Assistant City Manager Dave Corliss said.

The process was first used to help decide the fate of the Ohio Street properties. The campus board ruled for demolition; the city board ruled against. Powers made his decision in March, during what was literally his last hour in office before retirement.

Both sides seemed worn out by the controversy.

"It's really been an interesting year," said Janet Gerstner, a member of the Oread Neighborhood Assn.

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