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Archive for Tuesday, February 12, 2002

Ohio St. stalemate reviewed

Official hears mixed comments on demolition of houses

February 12, 2002

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Whether they are rat traps or historical gems, the fate of some homes that Kansas University wants to demolish on the 1300 block of Ohio Street now lies with one man: Ramon Powers.

Powers, the state historic preservation officer, listened to comments on either side of the issue at a two-hour public hearing Monday night.

He said he could make a decision in about four weeks, but he would not give a specific date.

The divisive battle centers on properties that KU owns on the west side of the block, which it wants to demolish to make room for two scholarship halls. Residents of the Oread Neighborhood and Lawrence Preservation Alliance say the houses should be preserved to maintain the integrity of the neighborhood and prevent further encroachment of the university.

The public hearing was called after a joint meeting of the Campus Historic Preservation Board and the city's Historic Resources Commission could not reach an agreement last fall.

About 100 people packed the Douglas County Commission chambers for Monday's hearing, and 21 people spoke.

The meeting centered on three homes at 1323, 1329 and 1333 Ohio, which lie within 500 feet of two buildings on the National Registrar of Historic Places: Spooner Hall, 1340 Jayhawk Blvd., and the Usher House, 1425 Tenn., now occupied by the Beta Theta Pi fraternity.

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 Spooner Hall and the Usher House.

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

People who spoke against the demolition cited the history of the homes on Ohio Street, which were built or lived in by many professors and students during the early years of KU.

Mark Lehman, a landlord and owner of Old Home Depot, 1045 Pa., said he had restored homes in worse condition than the homes KU owns.

"These properties are jewels," he said. "I know people have a hard time seeing through all the neglect, but they are."

Other people spoke in favor of demolition and said the homes, last rented in summer 2000, were eyesores.

Glee Smith, Lawrence, said the only question Powers should consider is demolition, not the historical significance of the house.

"These are rat traps and fire hazards," he said. "I think there is a desecration of the environs by leaving the houses here."

Powers will take written comments through Feb. 25, which may be sent to the attention of Christy Davis, Cultural Resources Division, via fax at (785) 272-8682, or mail, at Kansas State Historical Society, 6425 S.W. Sixth Ave., Topeka 66615-1099.

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