Neighbors oppose evidence warehouse

City proposes eastside storage facility for police

A proposal to turn an abandoned East Lawrence concrete plant into a police evidence warehouse is drawing opposition from neighbors of the site.

“People don’t like the looks; I guess it’s going to have chain-link and barbed wire and lights on all the time,” said Beth Anne Mansur, president of the Brook Creek Neighborhood Assn. “People who live around there aren’t real happy with that.”

City officials, though, say the police department doesn’t have room to store cars and other large pieces of evidence. And they say their plans will spruce up an unsightly part of the neighborhood.

“We would be able to, as I see it, upgrade a facility that’s an eyesore now,” said Assistant City Manager Debbie Van Saun. “We’re looking at doing some landscaping and doing some upgrading to the area.”

Long history

Morton’s Building Materials Inc. operated on the site at 900 E. 15th St. until 1998. The buildings were sold first to Capitol Concrete Products Co. of Topeka, then soon after to the city. The site sits at the confluence of the Brook Creek, Barker and East Lawrence neighborhoods.

“It’s my understanding it will be a secure place for vehicles that may be evidence, that may be police-related,” Van Saun said. “There needs to be a secure place for that, and the storage of other evidence. We don’t have enough room for it now.”

A proposed site plan to renovate the property into a police warehouse was originally on the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission agenda in February, but was pulled when planners realized the site was within the environs of Lawrence school board president Austin Turney’s house in the 1500 block of Pennsylvania, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

That means City Hall must first earn approval from its own Historic Resources Commission before proceeding with the plan. Officials haven’t yet submitted the proposal to the commission, however, instead talking with neighbors and revising the original plans to make it more neighborhood friendly.

Not friendly enough?

“I have to agree the city planners have been somewhat helpful in modifying the original plans, making it less intrusive and reducing the amount of light that filters into the neighborhood,” Turney said.

But Turney and others say an evidence warehouse can never be a desirable part of their neighborhood.

“It doesn’t seem like the right place, physically, for it,” said Jim McCrary, who lives in the 2000 block of Learnard Avenue. “The property is residential on three sides, and the fourth side is a park. To me, that property should be rezoned residential in a way that fits in the neighborhood, not continued in the old way from God-knows-when when it was OK to have manufacturing in the neighborhood.”

“I think that there’s talk of them storing weapons and stuff,” Mansur added. “We’re not real pleased with that.”

Van Saun said she didn’t know whether weapons or other dangerous contraband would be stored on the site.

“That may be an assumption on their part,” she said. “I don’t know that that’s going to be the case.”

‘Confused area’

Residents of East Lawrence said they wanted to see old industrial plants in the neighborhood converted to residential use, so homes could sit next to homes, creating a friendlier neighborhood feel.

“We’re sensitive to that,” Van Saun said. “We’ve had discussions with the neighbors, and we’re sensitive to that. But the residences were there when the Morton Block plant was there as well, with construction trucks coming and going.”

Final plans for the site have not been completed. City officials said they did not know when the proposal would go before the Historic Resources Commission.

“I would prefer it not be done,” Turney said. “It’s just another step in creating a confused area over here.”