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Archive for Saturday, February 23, 2002

South-siders to Home Depot: Stay away

February 23, 2002

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A group of south Lawrence neighborhood associations is banding together against Home Depot's plans for a store at 31st and Iowa streets.

Spokesmen for the associations say the resulting increase in traffic will overwhelm the intersection despite more than $3 million in planned improvements.

Joyce Wolf, president of the Indian Hills Neighborhood Assn., is
leading a coalition of neighborhood associations opposed to Home
Depot's potential home at 31st and Iowa streets.

Joyce Wolf, president of the Indian Hills Neighborhood Assn., is leading a coalition of neighborhood associations opposed to Home Depot's potential home at 31st and Iowa streets.

"The long-term question is, if you put those $3 million here and have to come back 10 years later, does it make sense?" said Joyce Wolf, president of the Indian Hills Neighborhood Assn. and a spokeswoman for the "South Side Coalition."

But Dan Watkins, a Lawrence attorney representing Home Depot and the 31st Street developer, First National Development, disagreed with Wolf's timetable.

"The intersection's failing today. It needs improvements," Watkins said. "These improvements will allow the intersection to be used more efficiently and more safely for years to come."

Members of the coalition will discuss the issue with state transportation officials in a public meeting Monday night. They said they hope Lawrence city commissioners will attend.

Commissioners will decide the fate of the intersection at their March 5 meeting. The current plan calls for the city and Home Depot to spend more than $1.4 million each (along with another $300,000 by the state) to expand 31st and Iowa to include double left-turn lanes on each approach. Construction, Home Depot officials hope, would be complete by January 2003.

If commissioners reject that plan, Home Depot could well turn to its second option: building at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. The city is planning to spend $2.5 million, along with $21 million by the state, to improve Sixth Street in a two-year project starting in 2004.

Indian Hills is joined in opposition to the 31st and Iowa development by Parkhill, Centennial and University Place neighborhood associations.

"It's already over capacity," Wolf said of area traffic. "If Home Depot ends up being sited at 31st and Iowa, then it's going to be even further over capacity."

Wolf said officials have told her 31st and Iowa would have to be converted to an interchange when traffic exceeds capacity there. The Kansas Department of Transportation indicated in conversations that could be within a decade, she said.

City officials pooh-poohed that estimate Friday. So did Watkins, who said the estimate was based on a faulty reading of Iowa Street's continued growth in that area.

"South Iowa's development is approaching completion, I believe, with the Home Depot development," he said. "There may be some infill areas, but I don't think the assumption should be that commercial traffic is going to continue to grow at the past rate."

Wolf said Home Depot could be the first step in a line of commercial sprawl on 31st Street.

"I don't think it's out of anyone's imagination that you could end up with commercial from Iowa to Louisiana," she said. "And that would truly exacerbate the situation."

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