Archive for Thursday, September 5, 2002

Neighbors may take legal action

September 5, 2002


Three houses in the Oread neighborhood can be destroyed to make room for Kansas University scholarship halls, Gov. Bill Graves announced Wednesday.

Graves, in a letter to the Kansas state historic preservation officer, said he had determined there were no "feasible or prudent" alternatives to demolition of the century-old homes in the 1300 block of Ohio Street.

If the decision stands, it would end a university-neighborhood battle that has raged since the houses were purchased and KU began discussing plans to raze them.

Opponents who fear continued encroachment by the university into the Oread neighborhood said Wednesday they may turn to the courts to block demolition.

"My clients are considering all their options," said Ron Schneider, an attorney representing the Oread Neighborhood Assn. and Lawrence Preservation Alliance.

Officials with both organizations met Wednesday night with Schneider.

"I think the governor has made a very poor decision," Schneider said.

KU officials welcomed Graves' announcement.

"We believe that the governor's determination ... is in the best long-term interest of the entire community, including the university and the neighborhood," said Lynn Bretz, a KU spokeswoman.

University officials said they didn't have a schedule for razing the houses, at 1323, 1329 and 1333 Ohio. By law, KU must wait five days from Wednesday's announcement to begin demolition unless a judge orders a delay before then. Opponents have 30 days to appeal the decision to a judge.

"We're going to review things," Bretz said.

Town-gown rift

Regardless of what happens next, all sides are worried the contentious issue has frayed the town-gown connection between the university and the city.

"I think that we need to work on that relationship," Mayor Sue Hack said.

KU announced in spring 2001 its plan to tear down the 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 March ruling by the state preservation officer that the demolition would harm the historic value of nearby Usher House, 1425 Tenn.

That house, now occupied by Beta Theta Pi fraternity, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Opponents said the demolition would diminish the neighborhood's historic value and hasten unwanted encroachment by the university.

The houses also are within the protected environs of Spooner Hall, another property listed on the National Register.

KU Chancellor Robert Hemenway in June appealed the ruling to Graves.

The governor, after some initial hesitation, sent a representative last month to Lawrence to receive public comment on the university's plans.

No alternatives

In his decision, Graves said he found no feasible alternatives to demolition  not renovation of the houses, and not selling them to preservationists.

Opponents said they weren't surprised by the decision.

"I figured," said Greg Hickam, president of the Oread Neighborhood Assn. "I felt all along the university had an advantage with the governor, and I wish we had more equal time in that regard."

Graves seemed to anticipate that argument, making reference to a tour of the neighborhood he made with Chancellor Robert Hemenway.

"Although I have had and exercised the opportunity to view the structures ... this determination is not based upon that site visit," he wrote.

Neighborhood and preservation activists said they were disappointed with what they interpreted as the university's disregard for them and their concerns.

"I hope the university and chancellor realize they have to deal with these matters in a more productive way," Schneider said. "It only benefits the university long term."

KU officials said they would work to restore trust.

"If there are parts where people perceive that to be broken, we'll work hard to repair that," said Janet Murguia, KU's vice chancellor for university relations. "We want to be very conscientious with how we work with the neighborhood."

Staff writer Terry Rombeck contributed to this report.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.