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Archive for Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Demolition disappoints neighborhood advocates

October 15, 2002

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Kansas University officials ordered four houses in the 1300 block of Ohio Street torn down Monday to make way for scholarship halls. Two more apartment buildings the university owns are to be razed by the end of the week.

The demolition ended nearly two years of often-heated discussions over whether KU's plans to demolish the structures would harm the Oread neighborhood or the value of nearby historic properties.

"We're pleased to see a new stage in the process," said Lynn Bretz, a KU spokeswoman. "We're looking forward to planning the design."

Some neighborhood residents and preservation advocates, meanwhile, were focusing on the larger picture of town-and-gown relations.

"I think we all feel disappointed," said Candice Davis, president of the Oread Neighborhood Assn. "Because it's really not about one or two houses. It's about an entire city block, in one of the oldest neighborhoods in Lawrence, that shares a history with KU. It's sad from that perspective."

Other houses

The four houses demolished Monday were at 1321, 1323, 1329 and 1333 Ohio. Two more apartment complexes owned by KU at 1301 and 1307 Ohio will be razed later this week, officials said.

The KU Endowment Association also owns a duplex at 1315/1317 Ohio and a house at 1309 Ohio. Both will be transferred to the university at a later time.

KU officials said they want to build two scholarship halls on the block. John Scarffe, a spokesman for the Endowment Association, said a donor had tentatively agreed to contribute the $2 million to $3 million needed to build one hall.

As far as the second hall goes, Scarffe said, "We're still raising money."

KU officials said the lots would be cleared of debris and seeded with grass in the next three to four weeks. Bretz said the site would be a "parklike area" until construction begins on the new scholarship hall, possibly in early 2004. The hall probably wouldn't be open until fall 2005 at the earliest.

Bretz said the university moved forward with the demolitions Monday after being told Thursday that representatives from the Oread Neighborhood Assn. and the Lawrence Preservation Alliance had abandoned plans to move the houses.

Two-year debate

She said the university could have demolished the houses as early as Sept. 10, six days after Gov. Bill Graves gave KU permission. But she said the university waited until demolition opponents could work on their proposal to move the houses.

Bretz renewed the university's pledge to work with neighbors on the halls' design, saying they would "be a meaningful part of the process." An architect will probably be hired early next year, she said.

Davis said the neighborhood association would be involved in the plans and would advocate that the city begin enforcing zoning ordinances against KU, as some city leaders have proposed.

"I really hope we can sincerely work with the university in the future, and consider zoning that would safeguard the neighborhood and be beneficial to KU, as well," Davis said.

The debate over the century-old houses began in November 2000, when the Endowment Association purchased six properties, which included one vacant lot.

Because three of the houses were within 500 feet of two properties on the National Register of Historic Places  Usher House at 1425 Tenn. and Spooner Hall at KU  the city's Historic Resources Commission and Campus Historic Preservation Board had to approve plans for demolition.

Disagreement

The city group said razing the structures would harm the historic value of the two buildings; the campus board said it would not.

The issue was forwarded to Ramon Powers, the now-retired state historic preservation officer. Powers ruled in March KU could not destroy the houses.

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway this summer appealed that decision to Graves, and the governor sided with KU last month.

Some neighborhood leaders said the battle could have long-lasting effects on the relationship between KU and its neighbors.

"Certainly, we're disappointed and feel kind of a sense of loss. We just need to go on from here," said Carol Von Tersch, president of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance. "We're very hopeful we have a meaningful relationship with the university and can prevent this kind of thing from ever occurring again."

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