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Archive for Tuesday, July 9, 2002

Graves will accept feedback before making demolition call

July 9, 2002

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Gov. Bill Graves reversed himself Monday, saying he would take public comment on the fate of three houses Kansas University wants to demolish in the 1300 block of Ohio Street.

The decision came two weeks after representatives of the governor said he wouldn't take public comment  and the week after a first, self-imposed deadline for his final decision had passed.

"He just decided after he reviewed all the information that he needed public input," Graves spokeswoman Kristin Heuertz said. "He wants to make sure he has all the information needed to make an informed decision."

The decision was supported by both sides of the debate.

"We support whatever Governor Graves needs to do in this process to make a fully informed decision," KU spokeswoman Lynn Bretz said.

Demolition opponents were surprised, but pleased.

"I feel like that's the democratic thing to do," said Candice Davis, a member of the Oread Neighborhood Assn. "He's already had the chancellor's ear  it's only fair to hear from the public, particularly the people who will be impacted by the decision."

KU wants to tear down the dilapidated, century-old houses on Ohio Street to make way for scholarship halls. But the university has been prevented from doing so because of a state preservation officer's ruling in March that demolition would harm the historic value of nearby Usher House, 1425 Tenn.

That house, now being used by Beta Theta Pi fraternity, is on the National Register of Historic Places.

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway in June appealed the state preservation officer's ruling to Graves. Two weeks ago, the Lawrence City Commission asked Graves to take public comment and conduct a public hearing before deciding. Graves' representatives said there would be no public hearing on the matter because of the amount of comment taken earlier in the process.

But demolition opponents said they never had the chance during the process to speak to the question the governor is deciding  whether there are "feasible and prudent" alternatives to the demolition.

Graves on Monday apparently decided they were right. He'll take written public comments, but there will be no public hearing.

"I applaud the governor's decision. It's good sense and good policy," said Pat Kehde, president of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance. "Now we'll have to get some facts together about reasonable and prudent alternatives."

The deadline for public comment is Aug. 7. There is no target date for Graves' decision.

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