Archive for Sunday, October 23, 2005

Builders: Planning mistake will cost

Sewage system unable to accommodate growth

October 23, 2005


During a Lawrence Planning Commission meeting last month, projects totaling 140 single-family homes, 70 apartment units, 16 acres of office development and 50 acres of commercial development were told they couldn't get building permits because of sewer concerns.

That scares Phil Struble, president of Landplan Engineering, the city's most prominent land-use engineering firm.

Struble has spent hours looking at population projections for the city's northwest growth corridor since city planners last month said they couldn't issue building permits for new projects until they could ensure the sewer system won't be overloaded.

He's worried the city has missed the mark in planning for its most active growth area. And he fears sewer problems are just one of many troubles it will create.

"These numbers are hugely low," Struble said of the city's population projections for the years 2010 and 2025. "What I don't have any confidence in these days is everything. I'm wondering about everything else we've missed on."

Struble makes his living by helping developers build projects, so anything that slows growth is bad for business. And the sewer issue has definitely slowed growth.

Even though that's not how City Commissioner David Schauner makes his living, he's equally concerned.

"I think we're behind the curve in this entire area," Schauner said of the northwest area, which is basically north and west of Kasold Drive and Sixth Street. "I don't think anybody has a good handle on how accurate these population projections are."

Schauner's worried it will lead to expensive city projects for sewers and roads.

"I'm really afraid these numbers say Sixth Street is going to fail and fail early," Schauner said of the westernmost portion of Sixth Street now undergoing a $13 million upgrade by the state and city.

"Really, what I know now is that we have some damn tough questions, and somebody had better have some damn good answers."

Calling for calm

City staff members are searching for answers. But City Manager Mike Wildgen said his staff has been through this drill before.

He said parts of the northwest area are growing faster than the city sewer plan anticipated. That means the city's sewer plan needs to be updated, and consultants have been hired to do that. A report is due in early 2006. It will be the fifth update to the plan since 1995. Some projects - probably more than $1 million worth - will have to be done one or two years sooner than expected to get the sewer system back on track.

"What this means is we're recognizing that we live in a world that is not static," Wildgen said. "There may be communities that can get by without updating their master plans for 10 years, but Lawrence is not one of them."

But Struble and other developers say this time is different. Developers were taken aback by conditions placed on projects that were in the final stages of approval. The conditions will stop developers from getting a building permit until more studies are done, perhaps resulting in a delay of a year or more.

Struble said he's particularly concerned because the population numbers don't seem off by a little, but by a lot. For example, he said the city estimates that much of the northwest area will have only 6.5 people per acre living on it through 2025.

He said that can't be the case. Developers typically can fit three single-family homes on an acre. For planning purposes, each single-family home is generally considered to have three people. That would be nine people per acre if the entire area was developed with single-family homes. But he said that's not a realistic assumption because the area already has several high-density apartment complexes and duplex neighborhoods. Those more intense uses likely would push the average closer to 12 to 15 people per acre.

"The planning parameters are not anywhere close to reality," said David Reynolds, co-owner of Apple Tree Homes. "I have real fault with the management of City Hall because no one seemed to be asking if these numbers made sense."

City staff members this week didn't have detailed explanations about those numbers. Instead they said the development community may be trying to use the sewer master plan in ways it wasn't designed to be used. Staff members noted that the plan is best at showing overall population numbers. The report has the city's overall population growing at 2 percent to 2.7 percent per year, which would put it at or above the area's historical average.

But Struble, who designs sewer systems, said the more detailed numbers are critical to the situation that the city faces.

"We started asking this summer where they got those numbers and nobody knows," Struble said. "I have no idea who would give them that information."

Black & Veatch, one of the country's larger engineering firms, prepared the $250,000 wastewater report, completed in 2003. But the report clearly states the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department provided all growth projections for the report.

Wildgen said staff members are reviewing how those projections were made, and Black & Veatch also has been asked to prepare a written response. That response wasn't available last week.

Traffic troubles?

If answers come back that population projections are significantly off, the northwest area's problems likely will be spotted spilling onto Sixth Street.

Population projections, along with land-use projections, were important factors in designing improvements to Sixth Street between the South Lawrence Trafficway and Wakarusa Drive. That $13 million project - $11 million funded by the state and $2 million funded by the city - is under way.

Struble said he suspected nearly every intersection on the improved stretch of road would have to be torn out and enlarged with more turn lanes and other traffic devices within a few years.

"Once we tie real streets into that road, the intersections are going to be way underdesigned," Struble said.

Wildgen said it is possible that intersections will need improvements in the next 10 years, which means crews would be rebuilding parts of the road before the bonds for the current project are paid off.

But Wildgen said that wasn't a sign of bad planning. He said cities always struggle with how far to design a project into the future versus how much money they have to spend today. He added that if road improvements are needed, developers may be asked to pay for a portion of the cost.

"We feel like we have gotten a lot of bang for our buck with that project," Wildgen said. "We're very thankful for what we got from the state. Could we have used another $5 million? Sure, we could have put it to use, but that's always the case."

No growth questions

The development community has been buzzing - in some cases, roaring - over the northwest area situation since Lawrence-Douglas County Planning commissioners were first briefed about it late last month.

Some believe the city's situation isn't the result of a simple mistake. Some believe it is a tactic by someone or some group to slow down the city's growth.

"I do believe there is a motive in this town to slow growth down, and I do believe there is a motive to stop growth if possible," Reynolds said.

But several city commissioners come to another conclusion.

"There is an absolute disconnect if that is what people think," said City Commissioner Mike Rundle. "In my opinion, this is all about a colossal error made by our professional staff and our consultants.

"But we definitely know this is no laughing matter."

On that, developers agree. They said the city's economy has much to lose if new development in the area is slowed.

"KU may be the largest employer in town, but in terms of being the largest tax generator, the construction industry has to be it," Reynolds said. "They're horsing around with and jeopardizing the largest tax generator in the city. They're playing with fire."


just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 7 months ago

Everyone agrees that there was a mistake made in growth projections in the NW area, but I didn't hear anyone volunteering to pay for the only fix to the problem, which would be major upgrades to the sewer system (expenses required even if the projection had been higher.) Are Reynolds and Struble ready to pony up?

spikey_mcmarbles 12 years, 7 months ago

The developers want to turn Lawrence and Douglas County into a mirror image of Overland Park. It's time for the citizens and local government to decide if this is what we want our city/county to look like. If it's a little JoCo, then let's not stand in the way of development. If it isn't, then let's tell the developers so they can make other plans.

Given the large amount of out-of-county and out-of-state license tags that are seen on the construction sites around town, how much of that construction related payroll is staying here? And what about the workers that are getting paid in cash? They buy gasoline and fast food in Lawrence, but they pay no payroll taxes.

lunacydetector 12 years, 7 months ago

since just_another_bozo seems to be the mouthpiece of the city commission - i can pick out the liars in the article. it's really quite sad the commission is so anti-growth.

anybody with sense could've told the city that the expanded 6th street didn't go far enough. i just know the raised medians are going to get ripped out in a short amount of time -that didn't take rocket science. every other street that had raised medians in lawrence ended up having them ripped out within a few years -iowa street for 2 miles and 23rd street.

doesn't anyone remember history?

oh, one more thing bozo - whatever happened to the money the state allocated to upgrade north kasold street that the city took to rebuild a road in east lawrence (since you're their mouthpiece) -you know, then they tried to get all the residents along north kasold to pay for the improvements? how fair is that? the city has a bad track record screwing people. that's a perfect example. look it up in the paper - i never recall reading the outcome.

born1980 12 years, 7 months ago

Lawrence has a great deal to offer, but eventually people are going to say its not worth paying the prices or dealing with all the headaches. I never thought I wanted to move back to Topeka, but 160k bought me a 4 bedroom, 3 bath house in great condition. The same house in Lawrence would easily be in the 200's. Topeka has its problems, but its not anti-growth like Lawrence.

Richard Heckler 12 years, 7 months ago

The planning staff did not get into this mess by themselves. Bankers,builders,developers,contractors and investors who made up the governing bodies of our city commission and planning commission for many years are part of the equation. How about the consultants? How about the many city commissions prior to this who basically believed in government abstention from interference in the workings of the market otherwise known as laissez faire? Years and years of let the free market rule and approve just about everything that is presented without consideration of cost to the taxpayer or without consideration of overloading the system. This is what contributed to the current situation.

The process forgot to include jobs with excellent pay packages which were more or less put aside with the thinking that increasing the population with an educated work force would attract employers. In retrospect bringing in the employers should have come first...the employees would have followed. After all the very large KC metro area and Topeka likely would have provided the work force.

The SE area may be the next problem considering the rapid pace at which construction is taking place.

Remember those who were so eager to approve the very many multiple family dwellings which according to the paper doubles the number of using occupants per acre. Again the planning staff did not get into this mess by themselves.

There are not any no growthers sitting on the city commission the ultimate ruling body. Smart growth and no growth have no relation to each other. The no growthers may be living in new west Lawrence who moved away from the Topeka's,Kansas City's and the New York City's who want no part of government and big city crime and traffic.

Does everyone on the planet need to live in Lawrence?

About 15 years ago and years prior KU payroll/students would support Lawrence,Kansas during serious economic downturns with some ease. It is now questionable.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 7 months ago

Not a spokesperson for anyone, just pointing out the obvious.

Given your track record of making sh*t up, Luny, I can't really comment on the expenditure of state money on a project unrelated to Kasold other than to say that if there were really strings attached to that money, it would not have been spent the way you assert.

But given the massive growth that has taken place on the once sleepy country intersection of Kasold and Petersen, who do you think should pay for road improvements there?

Are builders, developers and bankers willing to pay for all the required infrastructure for any possible future development they might imagine? Are the rest of us just supposed to unquestioningly supply them with that corporate welfare to guarantee their six- and seven-figure incomes?

NotASquishHead 12 years, 7 months ago

"Really, what I know now is that we have some damn tough questions, and somebody had better have some damn good answers."

Having a city commissioner cussing while being quoted by the media... What a great impression of Lawrence you are portraying Mr. Schauner.

Must have been after he smoked a bowl with Boog.

I hope we are able to find someone who knows what they are doing because I really don't like the idea of raw sewage backing up into my basement...

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 7 months ago

It never ceases to amaze me that people who don't have anything useful to say are so compelled to say something anyway.

cowboy 12 years, 7 months ago

Anyone who deals much with the city will quickly ask the question , Why is this person in this job ? , This is a result of years of home grown personel . When was the last time you looked at a new street and said wow thats big ? It is always just barely big enuf to get the job done.

Lawrence needs to face up to its screwed up infrastructure issues and go hire some folks from Lenexa or OP to get some professionalism into the equation here. Don't get me wrong , I don't want us to be an OP but we need roads , we need sewers , and we need some percentage of annual growth .

If this is all absolutely fact you will see a lot of jobs move out of here very quickly and many businesses go in the tank pronto. This is pathetic.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 7 months ago

Unless there is some very clear reason to do otherwise, expansions of infrastructure should always be just big enough to get the job done. (It remains to be seen why the sewer capacity is not big enough in this instance.) Bigger always costs more, and takes longer, creating more disruption around the area under construction.

And despite the religious repetition of the growth mantra, it isn't good for everybody. As a matter of fact, it is only good for a small part of the community who directly profit from growth (builders, develpers, bankers, etc.) and for everybody else it comes with lots of costs and headaches.

That doesn't mean that growth should or can be stifled, but city planning should not be based on the false notion that growth is univerally good for all, because that simply isn't the case.

bill_priff 12 years, 7 months ago

Hey Chad - You forgot to ask Reynolds and those "some people" how this nefarious plan by "someone or some group" was put into place.

Is there a mole on the city staff that is spitting out false numbers in order to harm the development community? Or, is this just a lame attempt to smear the PLC commissioners?

What does Sue Hack think about the idea that "someone or some group" is responsible for this sneaky plan for limiting Lawrences growth?

Using the "some people" dodge and printing a B.S. quote from Reynolds that he can't even come close to backing up is pretty weak. You are better than that. Don't be a hack.

Sigmund 12 years, 7 months ago

Communities that aren't growing are stagnant at best, or worse shrinking. Lawrence cannot expect some return to "the good ole days", whether that was 10 years ago or today. There is only two ways I know of to slow growth in any community.

First, drive prices high to make it unaffordable for most people to move here. Restricting new home and multi-family construction, by any means, will do that quite nicely. So will raising taxes. Second, keep wages so low that most people can't make a living here. Businesses, like it or not, provide the vast majority of people the vast majority of their income. Placing additional restrictions or costs on the businesses, above what they face elsewhere will accomplish that quite nicely. While Lawrence, through various commissions has a habit of doing both, this current Commission has perfected the art.

For instance, instead of facilitating the flow of traffic, they spend money on "traffic calming" roundabouts and not building roads that would make it easier for commuters to earn a living in KC or Topeka and spend their wages here.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 7 months ago

Sigmund, you choose some words with very negative connotations to describe communities that don't grow, but you are still doing nothing more than repeating your religious mantra that no growth equals the death of a community.

If there are such restrictions on new homes and multi-family dwellings, why are builders having a hard time selling the stock they have?

Not all roundabouts are intended to slow traffic-- the one at 19th and Barker has sped up traffic flow, with the exception of those clueless drivers who don't know how the drive through them. Otherwise, they mostly force drivers to drive at the speed limit generally found in residential areas.

In general, bedroom communities can't pay their bills through the taxes derived from too many commuters to other cities. Encouraging more commuters will not help Lawrence's tax base.

Sigmund 12 years, 7 months ago

Damn, I hit the "Post" instad of "Preview" button! Here is the rest of my comments, as if anyone cares....

Communities that aren't growing are stagnant at best, or worse shrinking. Lawrence cannot expect some return to "the good ole days", whether that was 10 years ago or today. There is only two ways I know of to slow growth in any community.

First, drive prices high to make it unaffordable for most people to move here. Restricting new home and multi-family construction, by any means, will do that quite nicely. So will raising taxes. Second, keep wages so low that most people can't make a living here. Businesses, like it or not, provide the vast majority of people the vast majority of their income. Placing additional restrictions or costs on the businesses, above what they face elsewhere will accomplish that quite nicely. While Lawrence, through various commissions, has a habit of doing both, this current Commission has perfected the art.

For instance, instead of facilitating the flow of traffic, they spend money on "traffic calming" roundabouts and not building roads that would make it easier for commuters to earn a living in KC or Topeka and spend their income here; the smoking restrictions on bars and resturaunts not faced by competitors; the proposed cell phone ban; and the ballon ban have businesses rolling their eyes and wondering what new ban might impact them.

Lawrence has choices in dealing with its growth. Either make the city so darn unnattractive that no one wants to move here, or accept that Lawrence is growing and deal with it. The current city Commission seems intent upon the former and they are succeeding splendidly!

Godot 12 years, 7 months ago

The first thing we need to do to start fixing the problems facing Lawrence is to get people like Merrill and Bozo off the planning commissions and advisory boards.

spikey_mcmarbles 12 years, 7 months ago

"Are Reynolds and Struble ready to pony up?"

Why should Struble have to pony up? He's the engineer, not the developer.

That's like asking your mechanic to pay for your brake job; he's the one hired to fix the car, not the owner of the car.

Sigmund 12 years, 7 months ago


Bedroom communities become bedroom communities because there are not enough jobs locally to support the occupants in the bedroom. The city does NOT get tax revenues from Income taxes, they get their revenue from Sales taxes.

More jobs allow employees to spend their after tax income here generating sales tax revenues. Keep your prices high in Lawrence and keep the jobs few by restricting businesses and I'll work in KC and spend my money in KC.

Bingo, you have slow or no growth, just the way you like it!

spikey_mcmarbles 12 years, 7 months ago

One point everyone seems to miss is that Lawrence is the land of low wages. Just by commuting 30 miles east of Lawrence, you can increase your pay by 25%-30% or more. I like living in Lawrence, but the truth is that I can't afford to work here. I grew up here, and am raising my family here, but I'll be damned if I can find a good paying job here.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 7 months ago

Struble was the main person interviewed in this article, and he was lamenting that this would slow growth and cost his business. The only solution to this problem is expanding the sewer system, so who is to pay for that? Someone who stands to gain nothing from this growth (as in the majority of city residents) or those who stand to profit from this growth?

Sigmund, the city also derives a great deal of revenue from property taxes, and businesses pay at a higher rate than residences do. Generally, most cities rely on those property taxes from businesses to make up for the fact that taxes from residences don't pay their way.

I'm not opposed to growth-- it happens and needs to be dealt with in a rational way. But I don't think that worshipping growth will somehow make it anything more than a pyramid scheme, and for most folks it won't pay off any better than being a salesman for Amway.

lunacydetector 12 years, 7 months ago

if growth is so bad, then why are larger communities thriving? topeka of all places is kicking lawrence's b*tt in job creation and growth. who'd have imagined. especially since topeka planners came to lawrence a few years ago to learn from us. they learned something for sure, how not to be like lawrence.

and bozo...i don't make sh*t up.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 7 months ago

There are thousands of cities in this world larger than Lawrence-- are all of them doing better than Lawrence?

What about Mexico City?-- talk about growing. Or more locally, maybe we could be like KCK-- but we'd have to take away land from dozens of private landowners and give it to some big out-of-state corporations. Ah, screw em if they can't take a joke.

Yea, I'm coming around. Growth is always good, no exceptions.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 7 months ago

Every one of these startling blockbusters you've come up with in the past have turned out to be total BS, Marion. This one will, too.

dviper 12 years, 7 months ago

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. That has been the case in Lawrence for a long time.

The city of Lawrence has known for a long time that a new sewer treatment plant was needed, but has chosen to do close to nothing towards its development. The backup of sewage in basements in older areas of Lawrence has been occurring for years as well. I've helped several friends and family members clean up their basements over the last 15 years. What caused the basements and sewage stations to be flooded with sewage? It turns out there are several reasons, but the biggest reason is from surface water run-off.

All surface water run-off should be going into the storm sewer, NOT the sanitary sewer. The sanitary sewer is the subject of this article. All of the recent sewage back-ups / flooding occurred because of heavy rainfalls or the massive amount of water used to put out the boardwalk fire. This is a BIG problem that the city has been aware of for many years. The primary reason run-off water is getting into the sanitary sewer is because of broken storm and sanitary underground pipes, broke / cracked manholes, and illegal connection of sump pumps into the sanitary sewer. Full or partial blockages of sanitary pipes are also another problem. Some parts of the sewer system in the older areas of Lawrence are over 100 years old.

What is the city doing about this other than pointing fingers, assessing blame, using it to advance political agendas and hiring yet another consulting firm? The city is responsible for regularly testing, monitoring, and inspecting the sanitary sewer and storm sewer. Where is the data from these tests and inspections? When were they done and what were the results, or have they ever been done? If they were done, the city would know exactly where the broken areas are and they could be fixed. Almost any sanitary sewer system will fail / overflow / backup when hundreds of thousands of gallons of surface water run-off infiltrates the system.

I would rather my tax dollars be spent on fixing this problem, than on unnecessary traffic circles, roundabouts and a virtually empty bus system. Blaming bankers, developers and builders for a problem that is solely the responsibility of the city is ridiculous.

dw 12 years, 7 months ago

This is just another case of the developers in this city failing to follow the City Code as it is written. Chapter 21, Section 706, paragraph (d) states

"The approval of any plat requiring connection to the City's wastewater system is contingent upon the availability and adequacy of the City to provide wastewater services to the area being subdivided. It is the subdivider's responsibility to ensure their proposed development takes into consideration the City's long-range plans, studies, reports, and similar documents for wastewater services. Failure to conform to these provisions warrant denial of the subdivision plat. (Ord. 7732)"

So why is this such a surprise now to these developers? Maybe instead of spending time being interviewed in the paper, they should spend more time understanding the laws of this City. Developers it is your responsible to have reviewed all of this information to determine if your project will impact the City sanitary sewer system. My understanding is none of these projects in this area have done this. If this had been done, we would not be reading about it today in the paper.

Godot 12 years, 7 months ago

As dviper pointed out, it is the city's responsibility to keep the infrastructure in good repair. The city has failed to do this.

MadAsHell 12 years, 7 months ago

I'm glad they can't build for a year... more and more that side of Lawrence is becoming "Johson County West." Growth for growth's sake is a mistake. In ten years the crap they build out there will look like slums... anyone drive by the townhouse ghetto off K-10 leaving lawrence? Its a disgusting development with no community planning whatsoever. The builders are destroying the soul of this town for the sake of dollars.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 7 months ago

Heavy rains overwhelm every sewer system in the world, for many of the reasons cited in the post above. But it is because they are underground and often very old, not because of some grand conspiracy. To make them perfect and impervious to groundwater would take hundreds of millions-- try passing that in a bond issue. Ain't gonna happen.

Heh, I read on river city that Rundle and Boog shot JFK. I bet it must be true. Why else would they say it?

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