Archive for Saturday, August 2, 2003

Wal-Mart permit decision on hold

Officials won’t decide whether building can go forward until midweek

August 2, 2003


The city's decision whether to grant building permits on land where Wal-Mart wants to build won't come before midweek, an official said Friday.

Douglas County District Judge Michael Malone on Thursday ordered a formal decision on the future of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive be made by Aug. 7. But his decision came during the dog days of summer at City Hall.

A number of city officials -- Mayor David Dunfield, City Manager Mike Wildgen, Assistant City Manager David Corliss and Neighborhood Resources Director Victor Torres -- were out of the office this week.

That's why the decision probably won't come until close to the deadline, said Toni Wheeler, an attorney for the city.

"There won't be anything until at least August 6," she said.

6Wak Land Investments LLC, a partnership of Lawrence developers Bill Newsome and Doug Compton, filed suit in May after the city declined to issue permits for building the store and an unidentified restaurant. Wal-Mart filed a separate lawsuit in the matter in June.

Other developments:

  • Malone's decision Thursday also canceled a scheduled Aug. 12 hearing on a restraining order in the 6Wak case. But officials still were confused Friday whether the ruling meant the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission now was free to proceed with a rezoning for the site. The restraining order prevented the commission from discussing the issue at its July meeting.

"We haven't contemplated that," Wheeler said of the rezoning issue.

  • Friday, district court officials made available the city's response to the Wal-Mart suit.

The retailer had alleged the city's refusal to issue a building permit for the store -- and a building moratorium the Lawrence City Commission imposed on the site -- amounted to a taking of land under state law and the U.S. Constitution.

The moratorium, Wal-Mart attorney Roger Walter said, "was not established in good faith, is discriminatory ... and otherwise does not advance any legal public purpose."

The city responded that Wal-Mart was a department store, prohibited under the terms of the site's zoning.

"The proposed department store was not, and is not, an approved use" for the site, attorney R. Scott Beeler wrote.

  • Beeler's appearance for the city was also a new development. Beeler works for the firm of Lathrop and Gage in Overland Park -- not the Lawrence firm of Gilliland and Hayes that handles most of the city's legal work.

Gilliland and Hayes recently took over the law firm headed by Gerald Cooley, the city's longtime litigator. But Assistant City Manager Debbie Van Saun said Friday that the firm has also done some legal work for Wal-Mart -- and thus had a conflict of interest.

That conflict will prove expensive for the city. While Cooley charges the city $100 an hour, on top of a $20,000 annual retainer, Van Saun said Lathrop and Gage's attorneys charge as much as $295 an hour, plus as much as $115 an hour for work done by paralegals.

  • And Van Saun said Gilliland and Hayes submitted a bill of $1,818 for its July work on the case. That's on top of the $9,812 bill the city paid in June. Lathrop and Gage has not yet billed the city for its work, Van Saun said.

Malone also has ordered the city to pay 6Wak's legal fees in the case, a figure Newsome said would be in the "tens of thousands of dollars."

Officials have said the bills would be paid from a $1.2 million liability reserve fund the city keeps on hand for just such occasions.

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