Archive for Sunday, July 28, 2002

Ohio Street comments pour in

July 28, 2002


While Kansas University and the city's historic preservationists battle over the future of three old houses in the 1300 block of Ohio Street, Dennis Farney watches as his dream is deferred.

Farney is president of the Historic Mount Oread Fund, which was behind an effort to designate the core of KU's campus as a district on the National Register of Historic Places. But KU put the project on hold this summer pending the resolution of the debate over the Ohio Street houses.

But Farney isn't asking Gov. Bill Graves to decide the matter either way; Graves is considering an appeal from another state official's ruling to block demolition of the homes. Farney just wants a decision  any decision  so Historic Mount Oread's plans can go forward.

"Compromise can be an honorable thing," he wrote to Graves. "But if a negotiated compromise continues to be unattainable, I hope you will resolve this issue with finality.

"In the process, if it is not asking too much, could you put in a good word for the preservation ... of this beautiful campus?"

Farney's letter was the only one among nearly two dozen to Graves in recent weeks that doesn't take a side in the debate. The Journal-World obtained the letters under the Kansas Open Records Act.

Most from neighbors

KU wants to tear down three 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, who nearly made a decision without taking public input. He reversed course July 8, and letters started coming in from proponents and opponents of demolition; the Lawrence Preservation Alliance and the Oread Neighborhood Assn. are in the latter group.

Take away two letters from Farney, and the number of letters so far has been nearly balanced between pro and con: 11 people have written to save the houses, nine people wrote in support of their demolition.

Most of the letters have come from Lawrence and residents of the surrounding neighborhood, but one e-mail was from Amy Shuler and Sebastien Gaviero, KU alumni living in Urmitz, Germany.

'Seems, well, stupid'

"Kansas is such a young place, and tearing down houses from the beginning of her history in Lawrence just for the personal interests of (KU) seems, well, stupid," the couple wrote. "There is so little to remind us of the earlier years when Kansas was being settled, and destroying its debut is like not wanting to remember where we came from."

On the other side, Glee Smith Jr., a member of KU's Campus Historic Preservation Board wrote Graves saying that opponents to demolition are a "dissident few" who don't represent the "silent majority."

"It would seem to be very apparent that removal of the subject property would enhance, rather than damage, the environs of Usher," he wrote. "These three properties on Ohio Street are eyesores and in a dangerous state of disrepair. They have been unoccupied for some time and constitute health hazards, as well as dangerous threats to the public safety."

Opposition at KU

Not all KU officials favor their university's stance, however. Jeremy Matchett, associate dean of KU's School of Pharmacy, used his letter to Graves to criticize Hemenway's approach to the issue.

"The chancellor ... has approached this from the position that 'what he wants, he will get,'" Matchett wrote. "His pressure to win has done a considerable amount of damage to university  town relationships, and not being willing to accept the current ruling by asking you to reverse the decision is only making matters worse."

On the other hand, not every resident in the neighborhood wants to see the houses survive.

"The houses are only inviting vagrants and problems," said Lawrence resident David Holroyd, who lives about a block away from them. "Quite frankly, any parent who would visit Lawrence now to consider sending their child to KU would wonder what the heck is going on and what kind of city administration and university administration would allow such properties to even exist."

The deadline for input is Aug. 7. No target date for a decision has been set.

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