Proposal would let parks grow along with city

City considers charging developers $600 per lot to fund land purchases

Lawrence Parks and Recreation director Fred DeVictor said he had little doubt the rapidly growing area near Langston Hughes School would be well served by a proposed park that would feature a mile of walking trails, an outdoor classroom and plenty of space for area residents to roam.

He also has little money to turn his department’s ideas into reality. But that may change. Planning and park officials are discussing the idea of a new impact fee that would be used to fund future park land purchases and construction.

A committee that includes DeVictor and other parks and recreation officials, along with members of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and its staff, are reviewing a proposal that would include a $600 per-lot fee that would be assessed to new subdivisions. The money would be set aside to fund park-related activities.

DeVictor said it was important for the community to consider new funding methods for parks. As the community grows, he said, it is becoming more critical for city officials to buy land on the city’s outskirts for future parks.

“West of the trafficway and south of the Wakarusa River would be two areas that we would like to buy some future park land in soon,” DeVictor said. “We want to use our money wisely and act now. Let’s not wait until it is $80,000 an acre or more and then try to buy it.”

In the mid-to-late 1990s, city officials began buying property for future parks, but DeVictor said that buying had slowed somewhat as funding became tighter.

Among the purchases in the late 1990s was a 40-acre tract near the southeast corner of George Williams Way and Harvard Road. City officials now are developing a plan for the area. Based on a pair of neighborhood meetings in November and December, parks and recreation officials have created a plan for a park that would include roughly one mile of trails encircling the hundreds of homes expected in the area.

‘Add to the quality of life’

The park, which DeVictor said would be similar to the McGrew Nature Preserve near 15th Street and Inverness Drive, also would include an area for a small playground, an outdoor classroom and open green areas for picnics and play.

Daniel Goldman, Lawrence, left, and Carolina McKee, a Kansas University junior from Andale, walk their bikes through Buford M. Watson Jr. Park shortly after part of the park was filled with water to create a skating pond. With temperatures expected to stay well below freezing through the weekend, people should soon be able to ice skate on the frozen pond.

“I really think it is going to add to the quality of life and encourage people to get out and experience nature,” said Amy Bartle, head of the parks committee for the West Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. “I think it is going to be a great way for people in the neighborhood to get out and know each other.”

The neighborhood association approached park officials about developing the area. DeVictor said he was glad to create the plans but said it was tough to tell neighbors when a park may actually be built.

“The housing development is happening now, so ideally we would like to have a park out there in the next five years,” DeVictor said. “But we can’t say that will happen because we don’t have the funding source.”

A portion of the countywide, 1 cent sales tax is devoted to parks and recreation. In 2005, the sales tax is expected to add about $1.3 million to the department’s budget. But the department uses much of the money to pay for bond and interest payments related to projects such as the indoor and outdoor aquatic centers built in the past decade.

Some leery of impact fee

People interested in providing comments about a proposed park development near Langston Hughes Elementary at Harvard Road and George Williams Way need to contact the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department before Jan. 31.Concept drawings of the park are available at or at the Parks and Recreation administrative office at 947 N.H.People can e-mail comments to or contact the office at 832-3450. The park plan ultimately will have to be approved by city commissioners.

That’s why the idea of an impact fee is worth examining, DeVictor said. But some in the real estate and development industries said such a fee should be approached with caution because it could add to the community’s affordable housing problem.

“I think parks are important and desirable, but I would remind people that the sales tax doesn’t have a sunset and that through that tax we already are supporting our parks,” said Jo Barnes, owner and broker of Reece & Nichols/Acres Realty. “It seems like that tax should be sufficient.”

But Bartle said she thought the fee might create more benefits than concerns.

“I would like to see developers play a larger role in helping develop parks,” Bartle said. “They’re a great selling point for new neighborhoods to say they are right next to attractive trails and open space. People in Lawrence are willing to pay for that.”

The proposed impact fee currently is included in the draft subdivision regulations for the city. The regulations still require Planning Commission and City Commission approval. The document is expected to be up for approval in the spring.

The continuing freeze has prompted Lawrence Parks and Recreation department to revive the traditional wintertime ice skating rink at Buford M. Watson Jr. Park.Water for the rink was poured Thursday, and Parks and Recreation Director Fred DeVictor said he hoped the rink would be safe for skating within the next couple of days.”We need 2 to 4 good inches of ice,” DeVictor said.When weather allows, the department has been creating the rink off and on for the past 30 years.”We rely on Mother Nature and we wait until we have a forecast of three or four days of really cold weather and we’ll try it, and hope people can get their ice skates out and make it a fun winter activity,” DeVictor said.The department asks that people not walk across the rink before it is ready. That could break up the ice and create a hazard.