Kansas University officials are willing to compromise -- to a point -- on a contentious agreement that would govern how the KU campus could grow near area neighborhoods.
David Shulenburger, provost and executive vice chancellor, said Monday that KU would agree to changes to a proposed pact. The changes would make it more difficult for the university to end such a pact with the city and would limit the number of properties owned by the KU Endowment Association that are subject to the agreement.
But Shulenburger said the university was prepared to fight any effort to make campus building projects subject to the city's zoning code.
"We have gone as far as we can go," Shulenburger said. "We simply cannot give up control of the university."
City commissioners are scheduled to discuss the proposed agreement at their meeting at 6:35 tonight. Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners reviewed the agreement last month and unanimously recommended the city reject it because it did not do enough to protect neighborhood interests.
In response, Shulenburger said the university would remove from the agreement a clause that would allow either KU or the city to terminate the agreement with 180 days' notice. Shulenburger said the university now would consent to make the agreement binding for five years.
He also said KU would remove from the agreement all properties owned by the Endowment Association that are detached from the university's primary and west Lawrence campuses.
Neighbors had expressed concern about several homes near the campus owned by the Endowment Association. Under the original proposal, those homes would be exempt from most city zoning regulations. Under the new proposal, they would be subject to all city zoning regulations.
Neighbors aren't sold on the proposed changes. David Geyer, president of the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, said the proposal left the neighborhoods too much at the mercy of the university.
That's because the agreement does not give the city the power to stop or alter most KU projects. The agreement calls for the university to establish an ad hoc committee that has both neighborhood and city government representation when it is building a project within 150 feet of a neighborhood.
"In the long run, it would be better if there was something that produced more stability around the university," Geyer said.
The neighborhood association is asking the City Commission to refer the new agreement back to the Planning Commission for further review.
Caleb Morse, a resident of University Place Neighborhood, said he was concerned the ad hoc committee approach hadn't worked well in the past. As an example, he cited construction of KU's new recreation center. Because the university is not required to abide by city regulations governing building height and setback requirements, he said, the new structure towers above the adjacent neighborhood.
"It actually blocks out the sun for about three hours per day," Morse said.
Some neighbors, though, said they were impressed with KU's willingness to compromise. Candice Davis, vice president of the Oread Neighborhood Assn., said removing the Endowment Association properties from the agreement was a significant concession.
In rejecting the agreement last month, planning commissioners said the city should prepare itself to go to court to force KU to comply with zoning regulations if an agreement couldn't be reached.
City commissioners have expressed reluctance in becoming embroiled in a legal battle with KU.
"This still doesn't give us everything we want, but I don't think if we went to court that would give us everything we want either," said City Commissioner Boog Highberger. "I don't want to go to court with the university. It would be in our best interest to work out something that is mutually agreeable."