Archive for Wednesday, March 16, 2005

City rejects affordable housing project

Commissioners say no services prepared for site west of Lawrence

March 16, 2005


City commissioners Tuesday night rejected a proposed development that was touted as a partial solution to the city's affordable housing problem, and had their commitment to affordable housing questioned in the process.

All five commissioners said they could not support a proposed 250-unit, 54-acre housing development near the Judy's Junction convenience store west of Lawrence near Clinton Lake.

Commissioners all said the area -- about a half-mile outside of the city limits -- had not been adequately planned and wasn't ready for development.

But Bob Voth, chairman of Lawrence-based Windover Communities, said commissioners should find a way to make his project work because it would provide homes well below the average selling price in Lawrence.

Voth said he was disappointed the city wasn't more accommodating to the proposal.

"I don't mean to be disagreeable, but I have to question whether there is a sincere commitment by the commission to affordable housing," Roth said. "All I I know is that the city put forth affordable housing as a major goal four years ago and put it forth as a major goal again in December, but whether it is our plan or somebody else's plan, there is never any action."

City commissioners, though, said that characterization was not fair. They noted efforts with organizations like Tenants to Homeowners and Habitat for Humanity. But commissioners said a desire to address affordable housing couldn't trump good planning practices. Commissioners said providing city services -- ranging from water and sewer to roads and fire protection -- ultimately would be too costly because the site was not yet close enough to the city limits.

"I would like to be supportive of this, but I can't because I can't see how we would provide services to it without placing a burden on the rest of the community," said City Commissioner Boog Highberger.

Voth said the project would have offered three-bedroom, two-bath duplex homes starting at $95,000 and a variety of single-family homes topping out with three-bedroom, two-bath homes on a full basement for $170,000.

The project would have featured many modular homes -- houses built off-site and delivered to the site -- as one way of keeping selling prices down.

Technically, city commissioners sent the request to annex the 54 acres back to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission for further consideration based on their concerns. City commissioners did ask planning commissioners to consider whether an area plan for the several hundred acres north of Clinton Lake was needed to determine what type of development would be appropriate for the area in the future.

In other affordable housing news, city commissioners did agree to apply for a program offered by Aquila, the Kansas City, Mo.-based natural gas and electric company. The program, called the Community Housing Assessment Team, would do a statistical analysis of the community, complete a supply-and-demand analysis of affordable housing in the community and complete a survey of perceptions about the housing market.

The study, which would be done over three to four days in May or June, could cost up to $9,000, but Aquila would pay up to $3,000 if the city is accepted for the program.

Board advances plans for new building code

Members of the area building community have taken a second look at a proposed energy-efficiency building code and no longer are concerned that it will significantly increase the price of housing, city commissioners were told Tuesday night.

Lee Queen, a Lawrence builder and member of the city's Uniform Building Code Board of Appeals, said the board had an emergency meeting Monday and learned about new ways to comply with the energy-efficiency portion of the International Residential Building Code.

Queen told commissioners the new methods of interpreting the code likely would mean builders would have to make minor changes to how they currently build homes to comply with the regulations. Previously, builders had estimated costs would rise $3,500 to $6,000 per home if the energy-efficiency standards took effect. Now estimates are that the prices of a home may be affected by only a few hundred dollars, if at all.

The board plans to review the regulations one last time and forward them for formal approval by the City Commission within the next several weeks.

City manager's contract changed

After a 10-minute executive session, city commissioners unanimously agreed to adopt a new contract for City Manager Mike Wildgen.

Mayor Mike Rundle said the significant terms of the contract were not changed, but the new contract was designed to have more current legal language than the 15-year-old contract Wildgen has been operating under. Rundle said it was based on contracts that other cities use.

Wildgen called the changes "fair and equitable."

A complete listing of changes of the contract was not available Tuesday night, but it is scheduled to be released today.

Library permitted to pursue expansion

Commissioners unanimously agreed to allow the Lawrence Public Library Board to move ahead with a request for proposals from companies interested in serving as a prime consultant for a possible downtown library expansion.

A consultant is expected to be selected by the end of April, and the consultant's report is scheduled to be finished by July 15. The consultant will be responsible for evaluating several downtown sites for the library project and examining possible financing options.

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