Archive for Thursday, September 29, 2005

Sewer problems could foul up plans

Northwest development may stall due to overflow concerns

September 29, 2005


City officials have serious concerns about whether they can provide sewer service to new developments in the rapidly growing northwest area of Lawrence.

Dave Wagner, the city's assistant director of utilities, told Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioners Wednesday night that his department was uncomfortable with proposed neighborhoods receiving building permits until a new sewer study is completed in late December.

Wagner said his department has concerns that larger-than-expected growth in the area may cause the sewer system to overflow and allow raw sewage to back up into basements around the city.

"We're not saying that (the system) will work or won't work," Wagner said. "We're saying we're not sure."

Several city commissioners said they found the news disturbing.

"We have a serious problem here," said City Commissioner Mike Amyx. "We really do."

Planning commissioners agreed Wednesday to place conditions on two sets of plans - a 13-lot single family and multifamily neighborhood at the southeast corner of West Sixth Street and Stoneridge Drive, and a 70-unit apartment complex at 445 Eisenhower Drive - stopping those projects from pulling building permits until the utility department makes further determinations about the area's sewer capacity.

Wagner told planning commissioners that it was likely that other proposed developments in the northwest area would need to have similar conditions placed upon them when they come before the planning commission. Several planning commissioners indicated they would have little choice but to add the conditions.

"The news for developers is pretty bad," said Planning Commissioner David Burress.

Wagner and his staff did not provide detailed maps of all the areas that they are concerned about, but said it included a large area of prime development ground south and west and north and west of the Kasold Drive and Peterson Road intersection.

Wagner also said he could not guarantee that the city would be in a position to begin issuing building permits in the area by January. He said if the study, which is under way, confirms that the sewer lines are at or near capacity, the city will need to decide how to fix the problem before building permits could be issued.

"I think we're on the road to not being able to pull building permits for a year or more," said Phil Struble, president of Landplan Engineering, which provides engineering services for developers across the community.

Wagner said there was some evidence that the system's pipes are too full. He said a sewage pumping station at Sixth and Kentucky streets overflowed and spilled raw sewage into the Kansas River during last Friday's rain storm. Wagner said the incident was reported to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, and the amount of sewage was not enough to trigger a fine.

"If it was a continuing situation, I'm sure KDHE would be knocking on our door," Wagner said.

Struble said many members of the development community are puzzled about the entire situation. The city had Black & Veatch engineers complete a major sewer study for the entire community in 2003. That study was designed to project system needs through 2010, and it did not indicate any problems for the northwest area.

But Wagner said his office became concerned when they reviewed building permit numbers and realized that growth was outpacing what was projected in the study. The department found in some areas there already was more population than was anticipated for 2010.

Struble said, if true, that creates serious concerns about the city's planning because the developments in the area have been proposed since at least 2001.

"I'm not on a witch hunt here, but if we underestimated this, what else did we underestimate?" Struble said.

Thus far, the utility department hasn't proposed placing restrictions on projects in the area that already have received final approval from city commissioners but have not yet obtained a building permit. Currently, the building permit restriction is only planned for projects that are in the approval pipeline.


spikey_mcmarbles 12 years, 6 months ago

Every discussion on development in Lawrence ends up with people pointing out that the city infrastructure is old, and big money needs to be spent to bring it to a level where it can support an expanding city. One question that never gets asked is whether the city leaders and the citizens of Lawrence are actually interested in turning Lawrence into something that resembles Overland Park? Just about everyone you ask loves Lawrence because of it's small town vibe, but with the next breath they complain about traffic congestion, broken down streets, etc. It's like they want the modernity (sp?) of metro KC with the quaintness of 1950's Lawrence. It would seem that the developers want Lawrence to look like OP, but is that what the regular people of Lawrence want. It should be noted that some of the major players in the Lawrence development scene only have temporary residences inside the city limits, and many maintain primary residences in other states.

One last point: how much of our money is being spent to upgrade infrastructure to support multi-family (i.e. apartments) development? I see apartment after apartment after townhome being built on the fringes of the city. Multi-family developments are primarily for the students, which by nature are a transitory group. Are we spending big dollars to support a population that will only be here for a few years, and is that the proper place where our money should be spent?

I've put on my asbestos underpants, so go ahead and flame away!

lawrencecitizen 12 years, 6 months ago

Great! Raw sewage backing up in my basement. This article indicates that the city would be at fault. However, try to get the city to pay for the repair and cleanup done to your basement. Been there, done that, they don't pay.

trueninetiesgirl 12 years, 6 months ago

do what the people did in kc go to fox 4 news they got theres paid for.they had a water line break and flood there house

Curious 12 years, 6 months ago

There is a float or some such thing that fits in the home's sewer line that allows sewage to leave but closes the line if there is a backup. I think I would look into it if I lived on the downhill side of sewage flow.

James Hicks 12 years, 6 months ago

Dennis Miller rant- The current property owners of Lawrence should be singing the praises of our near sighted city officials. As they slow growth in Lawrence they do nothing but increase our property values. Oops- I forgot, as property values increase, so do our property taxes. With fewer new residents moving in, the burden to pay for Lawrence's needs will fall to a smaller group. Kudos to the city administrators!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 6 months ago

If you mean devoid of logic, it was a Dennis-Miller-style rant.

The problem is being caused by new residents moving in. Who do you suppose is going to pay for upgrading the sewer system due to it's being overloaded by new users? If you think it'll be those new users, that likely won't be the case.

spikey_mcmarbles 12 years, 6 months ago

"There is a float or some such thing that fits in the home's sewer line that allows sewage to leave but closes the line if there is a backup. I think I would look into it if I lived on the downhill side of sewage flow."

It's called a check valve, and it only allows one way flow. Typically check valves only work with liquid, as something solid (a big wad of toilet paper for example) could get lodged inside the valve and prevent it from closing, thus allowing water or whatever to flow back into your house. There is a speciality valve available but it's a one-off kind of product, and I'm not sure the city of lawrence building codes allow it.

lunacydetector 12 years, 6 months ago

this whole thing smells like a rat. i smell a rat.

Stu Clark 12 years, 6 months ago

I recently read a KU author who found that while the Lawrence population increased by 22% from 1990 to 2000, the number of housing units increased by 27%. It was stated that the effect of this is under-investment and degradation in the older parts of town.

It could be that a drag on new development would be a good thing for the city as a whole.

gccs14r 12 years, 6 months ago

The rats were the "developer friendly" idiots we turned out a few years ago. We have yet to truly pay for their malfeasance.

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