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Archive for Saturday, June 14, 2003

Town-gown

June 14, 2003

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Lawrence and KU need to remember their cooperative past and try to preserve their positive relationship.

For decades now, the town-gown relationship between Kansas University and Lawrence has been one of the most envied in the nation.

People who have come to the KU staff from other schools, many of them quite notable, have quickly picked up on the way the community and the university find ways to get along and help each other. Many who leave KU and Lawrence and encounter other "town-gown" linkages have been quick to say the town-gown relationship in Lawrence is the best they have seen.

Let's do all we can to keep that from changing. Sadly, there have been some indications that a little tarnish may be building up on the relationship. If repairs are necessary, they should be made immediately to prevent any other erosion.

Recently there was contention between KU and local residents about the status of deteriorated property in the 1300 block of Ohio. The university wanted to tear down some dilapidated houses to make room for new scholarship halls, but nearby residents protested the university's further incursion into their neighborhood.

KU went ahead with the demolition, after going through the proper channels, and recently presented drawings for one of the new scholarship halls. Neighbors were consulted on the building's design and are satisfied the hall will not be detrimental to the area. In fact, it will be a great improvement.

However, the case put the focus on when and how the university should be able to expand its campus into surrounding residential neighborhoods. The city has proposed a new "university" zoning district, but KU officials have threatened a lawsuit if such a district is approved. It is understandable that KU leaders want to protect their interests and not have new policies imposed on their physical plant design by individuals who might have questionable motives or expertise.

City Commissioner Mike Rundle said Tuesday that discussions with the university have been nonproductive and referred to a letter from KU administrators about a possible lawsuit. "This letter seemed sort of pre-emptive in nature, which seems fairly typical of the university to chop things off at the knees if at all possible."

Rundle represents the city, and it is not known whether this is his personal opinion of that of the city. However, the town-gown history being what it is, isn't that a bit strong? The city commissioner should review the whole picture.

Meanwhile, KU and its people need to reconsider the matter and see if they are doing all they can to handle matters properly.

Underlying all this should be the fact that KU and Lawrence have been able to get along wonderfully, for the most part, for well over 100 years. It would be a shame if newer people with little regard for that marvelous relationship should get stubborn and abrasive and, perhaps for political reasons, cause those ties to be frayed.

There are no perfect answers in a lot of matters of zoning and expansion in a community such as Lawrence, which keeps growing. But the town-gown relationship here has stood everyone in good stead for so long that everyone should dig down for a little extra effort and understanding to keep it that way.

Over the years, KU officials have conducted their building projects in a good manner and have been sensitive to the concerns of the city and adjacent property owners. Lawrence residents, as well as KU officials, perhaps should be more aware and more appreciative of the record of the KU Endowment Association in acquiring land so that the university has room to expand with minimal impact on residential areas.

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