Archive for Sunday, April 2, 2006

Commissioners defend ‘progressive’ legacy

Three years after trio’s election, opinions vary about ‘Smart Growth’ results

April 2, 2006


About this time three years ago, there was quite a bit of nervousness in the city's traditional political circles.

Voters in the 2003 City Commission election had delivered what was being billed as a historic change by electing Mike Rundle, Boog Highberger and David Schauner to the three open seats on the five-member commission.

The candidates had campaigned together as part of the city's first political action committee: the Progressive Lawrence Campaign. The election results also ensured the PLC candidates would control the mayoral position for at least the next two years.

Rumblings from the business community were that the PLC candidates - who campaigned on a platform of Smart Growth, the need for new development to pay for more of its costs, and protecting neighborhoods from negative development consequences - would run roughshod over development interests and seriously hamper the community's growth.

Now as the city prepares Tuesday night to install its first mayor since the election not affiliated with PLC - probably Commissioner Mike Amyx - the trio of PLC candidates are pointing out that the doom and gloom predictions haven't materialized.

"There was the thought that we were going to be very divisive, ruthless and some sort of monolithic voting bloc," Rundle said. "That hasn't been borne out at all. I do think we had a long period of time where there was an undue or disproportionate amount of influence that the development community had over public decisions. That has begun to change."

In the dark

The three years of a PLC majority, though, haven't been enjoyed by all. Mike Keeney, vice president of the engineering firm The Peridian Group, said his company had transferred 40 of its 60 employees out of Lawrence to a Kansas City metro office. He said developers simply were less interested in doing business in Lawrence these days.

A big reason, Keeney said, is because the PLC has made every policy decision a political decision. The result is city staff members are scared to make decisions. And when they do, they often are overruled by commissioners, which creates a situation where developers are always trying to figure out what rules they must follow.

"There is no predictability," Keeney said. "It is close your eyes and walk around in the dark. That is what doing business in Lawrence is like.

"And nobody really wants to solve the problem because that would make development too easy. The saying is make it as impossible as possible."

The city's largest business organization - the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce - has taken a more moderate view of the last three years. Pat Flavin, the chamber's chairman and managing broker for Lawrence Realty Associates, said there both progress and disappointment had occurred over the last three years.

"We have had growth, but the (South Lawrence) Trafficway is an example of a disappointment," Flavin said. "It isn't done, and it really needs to be done for the benefit of the community. I don't know how much more conversation we need to have on that issue."

The three PLC commissioners have made it a point to lobby for a new route for the uncompleted SLT that wouldn't run through the Baker Wetlands, though state funding issues have delayed the project during the last three years as well.

Restoring the balance

PLC commissioners cringe when Keeney or others suggest that they're anti-growth.

"Just because I have a sense that growth doesn't pay for itself, doesn't mean I think we should stop growing," Schauner said. "It just means we need to properly allocate its costs.

"I absolutely believe good things happen when growth occurs. I do believe if you stop growing you do just die."

The PLC commissioners point to how they've worked together with the chamber to develop a workable living wage ordinance that requires companies who receive tax abatements to pay a wage that is at least 130 percent above the poverty level for a family of three. Highberger and Schauner also point to the fact that they voted to approve a tax abatement to Berry Plastics, which was the largest tax abatement in the city's history and was strongly supported by the business community.

"I think there is a community understanding that we're not going to use public money to subsidize poverty-level jobs," Highberger said. "But we are going to build a community partnership to create jobs that will allow people to live in Lawrence."

The commissioners also point to the recently approved Development Code, which replaces the city's 40-year-old zoning code, as a major effort to address the issue of providing a clear set of rules for developers to follow.

The efforts of the PLC have been met with enthusiasm by many neighborhood organizations. Alan Cowles, president of the West Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. - which has been fighting plans for a new Wal-Mart to be built at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive - said neighbors had a strong voice in city government now.

"I think they have restored the balance considerably," Cowles said. "I think prior to that there was undue influence by builders and developers. The situation was out of balance.

"But I find this a well-balanced and centrist commission. I don't think we could characterize them as being radical or extreme in any way."

Working together

The PLC majority certainly will be under scrutiny during the coming month. City commissioners have begun searching for a new city manager after longtime executive Mike Wildgen resigned under pressure in March.

Many people consider the selection of a new city manager one of the more important tasks the commission will undertake. And there have been murmurs of concern that a philosophical split will emerge between PLC and non-PLC commissioners, and that the commission won't be united in selecting the next city manager.

Schauner said he didn't think that would happen.

"I would have given you a different answer in 2003," Schauner said. "Back then I would have said it is going to be a pretty rough journey. But I think it is different in 2006. I think we have been working well together as a cohesive group."

A decision that may test the cohesiveness even more, though, is what actions the commission will take following the release of a long-awaited cost-of-growth study. That report is expected out in a matter of weeks. It is widely expected the report will recommend the city create additional fees that new development must pay.

The idea that new growth must pay for more of its costs is a bedrock philosophy of the PLC. It also is a controversial one. The Lawrence Home Builders Assn. previously has conducted a study that says residential growth does pay for itself. There are already signs that the clash of the two reports could create sparks.

Rundle has said people who believe residential growth pays for itself were making a "knee-jerk reaction."

"That opinion doesn't come out of an individual's thoughtful review of the evidence," Rundle said.

But despite potential controversies, Highberger said, he believed the community would get a lot of good work done and would come together to create a shared vision of how to operate in the years to come.

"I know there is talk of a lack of vision, but I see a lot of vision in this community," Highberger said. "The key thing is tying it all together."


cowboy 11 years, 9 months ago

This PLC propaganda moment brought to you by ......

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

Yep, it'll be a day of whining by the likes of Mike Keeney, lamenting that there is no longer a rubberstamp for whatever proposal he might bring forward. But since he can't say that, he makes a litany of unsupported and unsupportable charges.

For all we know his company's transfer of people to the Kansas City office is just a sign of poor performance on their part and/or their wallowing in self-pity as they create a self-fulfilling prophesy. Probably makes it easier to keep his job if he can just blame the city commission. I bet his dog used eat his homework, too.

Jamesaust 11 years, 9 months ago

I believe Alan Cowles has it about right: "I think prior to that there was undue influence by builders and developers."

For anyone who has lived here more than a half decade, especially those for more than a few decades, Lawrence city government was influenced if not controlled by developers. The planning commission was 100% registered Republican.

Now there's a mix of interests, including those without any vested interest in maximum growth (please note: that's not 'no growth' - a rare species thought to be extinct).

I deal considerably with business and real estate investors and I can testify that they do find doing business in Lawrence to be more difficult than they are used to elsewhere - but most of them still want to be involved in Lawrence. Revision of the ancient zoning code should help quite a lot. But most of these people doing business in the midwest are used to cities 'rolling out the red carpet' and asking how they may subsidize business even more as they are so tickled that anyone is willing to pay attention to their community. But their communities often do not have the natural attractiveness that Lawrence does. And so, developers find Lawrence more difficult. Some, like Peridian, find that they can maximize their profit elsewhere (which is fine).

The one very valid criticism here is predictibility: there is no reason why the Commission cannot pinpoint rules and procedures in advance. Perhaps the new city manager can help them with that basic aspect of competency.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago

There is more to growth than just houses. It would be nice if the JW would do a feature on the businesses that have opened since 2003, as well as those that have closed or have declined. What type of businesses are they, what are their revenues, what do they pay their employees, that sort of thing.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

"The one very valid criticism here is predictibility: there is no reason why the Commission cannot pinpoint rules and procedures in advance. "

Very good point. Historically, Lawrence's development has never been guided by any set of clear rules and procedures-- until very recently it has always been a very uncritical "yes" to about any development proposal that was presented to the planning and city commissions, and when something too egregious is approved, it took a near community revolt to take a step back from some often very bad ideas (remember the downtown mall that would have wiped out the entire north end of downtown, and would no doubt be a dinosaur by now.)

All three of the "PLC" commissioners would like a system that is rule and procedure based, and it would appear to me that both Hack and Amyx would work towards that, too. With the new zoning regulations in place, we can have a system that is based on neither an uncritical "yes" nor and uncritical "no."

dviper 11 years, 9 months ago

I believe new development (commerical or residential) pays for itself, and more.

The PLC commissioners and their minority base of supporters blame the community of developers and builders for every problem in Lawrence, and continue to ignore the facts. Same ole story, just another day.

From the LJW news article: Rundle has said people who believe residential growth pays for itself were making a "knee-jerk reaction." "That opinion doesn't come out of an individual's thoughtful review of the evidence," Rundle said.

Here's some factual evidence. During the original development of property (commercial, multi-family, single family, etc:) the developer pays for all infrastructures, and the city / taxpayer does NOT pay for anything. All infrastructures means, all streets, sanitary sewers, storm sewers, water supply lines, electrical, telephone, cable, sidewalks, street signs, street lights, mail boxes, fire hydrants, bike lanes / paths and all traffic calming devices. When completed, the developer gives / grants the land for all streets and rights of ways and all infrastructure improvements to the city FREE of charge. So, by the time the development is completed the city / taxpayer has not paid one penny, but instead has received everything free.

For example consider this tract of ground in west Lawrence between Bob Billings Pkwy on the south and 6th Street on the North, and from Wakarusa on the east and George Williams on the west. In this tract of ground the city did not pay for anything during the original development, the developers of this ground paid for everything, which is standard practice.

In these new development areas as mentioned above, the city of Lawrence is forcing developers to build roundabouts and traffic circles or they will not approve the development projects. That's why in these areas, the streets are flooded with traffic impediments, which only slow the traffic briefly before people continue speeding along their way to Langston Hughes School. Additionally, guess who's paying for the roundabouts, traffic circles, bike lanes, additional sidewalks etc:? It's not the developer or builders; it's ultimately the new homeowners who purchase new housing in these areas.

Developers and builders are like any other profit minded business people. They are in business to make a profit, just like a grocery store owner, an art store owner, a doctor, a lawyer, or a barber. The biggest difference is they take a significantly more amount of risk, and therefore make more of a profit usually.

If the PLC crowd gets their way and forces developers and builders to pay even higher fees for new development, the price of new housing and commercial buildings will increase proportionally. If the price becomes too high, new growth will stop dead cold in its tracks. Hmmmm: I wonder if this is what the Smart Growth (ANTI GROWTH) PLC crowd really wants.

People please get out and vote in the next city elections.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 9 months ago

One aspect a of city commission meeting that might be very helpful is this. When commissioners make their decisions a clear and concise explanation would be appreciated. TV viewers, of which seem to be many, and attendees have no idea what transpired to produce the vote.

Commissioner Amyx stated last time on the Salvation Army matter that he had conversations with some involved in the matter. Please Comm. Amyx with whom? I like transparency from all. It is not necessary to provide each and every comment.

Do our commissioners read public comments such as this venue? Do they read letters? Do they read e-mails? After all many citizens do not have time to attend CC meetings but may have valid comments or valuable suggestions.

Growth has not died however I would appreciate that when expanding the tax base please stop expanding our property tax bills. A 3%-4% increase is expected not 6%- 40%. What is going wrong? This has been occuring since about 1990.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

Well, dviper, some of what you say may be true-- but what you leave out are a few minor things like the massive upgrade of the sewer system now under planning for south Lawrence. Developers aren't paying that $76 million dollar price tag. They also aren't paying for ongoing street maintenance, new schools, fire/ambulance and police protection, hospital facilities, parks and recrecreation-- the list goes on. Those are paid for through both the sales tax and property taxes. Neither are sufficient to cover all the expenses these new residences will require. So Rundle is right, a careful analysis shows that new residential development doesn't pay for itself.

New retail development doesn't pay for itself, either, if there isn't an increase in overall sales tax revenues that is clearly more than what it costs the city to serve these new developments. And if all that happens is retail sales getting shifted from one location to another, then we also have the cost of blight.

You gotta look at the whole picture, dviper, and I'm sure that's why you and the other sleight-of-hand friends of developers dislike the PLC commissioners so much.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 9 months ago

dviper says: "Here's some factual evidence. During the original development of property (commercial, multi-family, single family, etc:) the developer pays for all infrastructures, and the city / taxpayer does NOT pay for anything. All infrastructures means, all streets, sanitary sewers, storm sewers, water supply lines, electrical, telephone, cable, sidewalks, street signs, street lights, mail boxes, fire hydrants, bike lanes / paths and all traffic calming devices. When completed, the developer gives / grants the land for all streets and rights of ways and all infrastructure improvements to the city FREE of charge. So, by the time the development is completed the city / taxpayer has not paid one penny, but instead has received everything free."

This is called a benefit district. If residents in any other part of town want new streets,curbing and sidewalks that block of residents pay. New residents also pay for their new infrastructure hopefully as a benefit district. We all pay sewage fees etc to aid in maintaining that service.

When it is said that new housing pays for itself that is true from a profit motive but not true for the number of services provided by city and county. This is why I think our property taxes see monumental increases.

dviper 11 years, 9 months ago

Bozo, I am looking at this situation from a macro level.

ALL taxpayers pay for ongoing street maintenance, new schools, fire/ambulance and police protection, hospital facilities, parks and recrecreation-- the list goes on. It sounds like you want the development and builder community to pay for everything the general public wants and needs. Yet, you ignore the fact that the general public and or buyers of property always pays for these needs and wants via the purchase price or taxes.

Merrill, you are flat out wrong. A benefit district is NOT created when the developers pay for everything. All taxpayers pay for city and county services.

SpeedRacer 11 years, 9 months ago

"Commissioners defend 'progressive' legacy" Give me a break. The city is struggling and we taxpayers are paying the cost. This article lacks in depth analysis on one of the most crucial issues our city faces. Let's get a good, hard hitting reporter on it. Mr. Simons, it it time for the LJW to step up to the plate and use a little old-fashioned editorial power.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

Yes, but the rates residential taxpayers pay don't cover all the costs of running the city. Adding new residential taxpayers only makes the deficit that much worse.

And while we don't yet know why the sewers for NW Lawrence won't be adequate for the growth that's taking place out there, the expansions required will be paid for by ALL Lawrencians, not just the residents who will use those sewers-- no matter whose fault that is, it's still a cost of growth borne by everyone in town. I suspect that won't change even if we find out that part of the problem was bad information from developers on what they expected to do out there.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago

Thanks, Bozo and Merrill. You have corrected my misguided point of view.

I've been under the misconception that the government existed to serve the citizens; now I see that is the reverse - productive citizens are a burden on government.

Once again, you both point to the solution to Lawrence's fiscal problems: ban houses, ban businesses, ban people.

dviper 11 years, 9 months ago

Bozo, if the city / county governmant is spending more money than it is generating from taxes and fees, then it is time to clean house at city hall and on the city / county commissions. Lawrence doesn't need more tax, tax, tax and spend, spend, spend politicians.

BTW, it is the responsibility of the city not the developers to determine sewer capacity. And, as it turns out, the city does not even have a clue if the sewers are at capacity or not.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 9 months ago


Yes I would be in favor of less housing yet more light industrial type whether it be high tech white collar or highly skilled blue collar/white collar so long as they are paying everyone on the payroll $15.00 per hour or more plus medical. Light industrial pays a higher rate in property taxes which helps balance out what residential does not generate.

Less people would provide less traffic congestion

diviper says: Merrill, you are flat out wrong. A benefit district is NOT created when the developers pay for everything.

Then it's a better deal for developers who I assume make a profit on everything they install. Which also means taxpayers are no longer subsidizing near as much which is a good plan.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago

Good job, Marion. Add to that

The endless parade of costly consultants.

The sale of 1.1 acre of west lawrence commercial land to a close friend of the city commissioners for less than one-third its value.

Moving forward the plan for a $30,000,000 library downtown even after publicity about the need for millions and millions of dollars to rehab the existing sewer system and the 33% of city streets that need to be REBUILT, not just REPAIRED.

Moving forward with a feasibility study for a sports complex, turning a blind eye to the negative experience of running a golf course, and to the negative result neighboring cities have had with such city-owned complexes.

Remodelling the Carnegie Library with the plan to allow it to be used by a new, unproven non-profit with ties to one of the commissioners, rent-free.

Richard Heckler 11 years, 9 months ago

Developers and builders should pay for most every aspect of new housing or commercial venture. That puts them on level ground with most any other business on the planet or at least in Lawrence,Kansas.

Why? Most all businesses finance their own way in hopes of making a profit. Very few have ever received taxpayer assistance to insure their business is profitable.

I say that City Commissioners should slow the process until we the taxpayers are able to determine why our personal property taxes experience large increases. That would be the practical and frugal approach.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

Well, Godot and Marion, pretty much everything on your lists fall into three categories:

1) Problems that have been decades in the making, and won't be cured overnight, or even in a couple of years, or by a new commission of your buddies the good ole boys.

2) Problems that exist nowhere exept in you own imaginations.

3) Initiatives that have the support of the majority of Lawrencians, though you'll whine just for the love of whining and promoting your own poor pitiful martyrdom at the hands of the evil progressives.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

Yea, Marion, that's a real zinger. I doubt that anybody looking at that would have the slightest curiosity about which context you wholly removed that therefrom.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

Why not include the couple of minutes worth of minutes immediately before and after, and a little other background information? Otherwise, the quote has zero meaning one way or another.

But you don't really have any particular point other than continuing in your consistently hissy ways, do you?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

Still pretty sketchy, and hence, still pretty hissy, Marion.

BTW, I'm careful what I bite, and you most certainly belong on the list of things I don't bite.

But I'm sure there's someone out there who might satisfy your fetish. Keep trying. Steady gets the biting worm.

lunacydetector 11 years, 9 months ago

you know what i like all you so-called 'progressives?' what i like is the cornfield in the mall got approved by the city commissioners (though i think it is on hold because of the sewer fiasco that has been around for at least 4 years and the city commission knew about it though they deny it), AND wal-mart WILL win their lawsuit to locate at 6th & wakarusa AND the square footage of that intersection WILL far surpass the outdated Horizon 2020.

that is what i see happening.

mike keeney is correct from what i have heard from everyone in the know. the city is NOT business friendly at all.

lawrence, Kansas business UNfriendly

frankly, i'm surprised there isn't a soviet flag hanging on the flag pole at city hall.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 11 years, 9 months ago

I'll vote for anyone who doesn't expect me to pay for the new developments. If the developers need a new sewage system they can pay for it, then pass the price on to those who are going to use it. I'm tired of paying for the redoing Wakarusa every year and living with our road that are falling apart. The city shouldn't pay for new development the developers and the people who buy there shoud pay.

lunacydetector 11 years, 9 months ago

umm....let me correct my previous is a downtown in a cornfield NOT a cornfield in a mall :)

...and dorothy, the developers DO pay for their new developments, then they pass the cost on to the people who can afford to live in the new developments.

just look at all the infrastructure being replaced downtown.....why should I have to pay for it when it is benefitting the downtown? what is the difference if they upgrade downtown and upgrade somewhere else?

what is the freaking difference?

monkeyhawk 11 years, 9 months ago

I love the bozo/merrill tag team. I can just see them playing musical chairs at the keyboard.

bozo claims there is a "consensus" to build the SLT south of the place where it actually will be built when the state takes over the project. There is another world out here away from the Birkenstock store, so it's not just the bakers at Wheatfield's and the clerk at the incense store who dictate a "consensus".

The people I am involved with are thoroughly disgusted with trying to do business in this city, are sick of having their freedoms infringed upon by those of you who think you know how to run our lives better than we do, are are dreading the upcoming suck of more of our dollars due to mismanagement and waste.

merrill, of course, comes up with the solution of banning housing, probably condemn properties to build factories and insist on paying them above what the city leaders have determined is a "living wage". The only thing he didn't say is that the employees would have jobs for the rest of their lives without fear of dismissal. Richard, that is called socialism and it does not work!

Jay_Z 11 years, 9 months ago

Marion and Godot, nice job listing the "accomplishments" of the city commission. Add:

Meaningless ban on fireworks.

Dada celebrations.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago

And what about the licensing scheme for contractors? It is designed to prohibit the growth of new General Contractors and protecting the hold that "the big guys" have on the construction market. That whole mess probably started before this commission took office, but they allowed it to go through, and they deserve the blame.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago


Meaningless ban on fireworks.

Dada celebrations."

And, prohibiting furniture on porches.

And issuing a proclamation that Lawrence does not recognize the Patriot Act.

Refusing to accept the gift of a helicopter from the Dept of Homeland Security.

And making possession of marijuana a misdemeanor in a blatant effort to undermine a key strategy in the Federal war on drugs: giving KU students a route to circumvent the withholding of Federal aid to students convicted of possession of illegal drugs.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago

Right, Marion. And, help me, here. When did city inspections and licensing of single family rentals and the restriction of only three unrelated individuals in a single family rental become law? Seems to me it was 2003 or 2004, right?

Why just single family homes? Why not apartments? And why give city inspectors the right to demand entry into a private residence?

I believe this commission said this was a good law. If not, some of the current commissioners were on board the term before that got the wheels to turning on this.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago

Right. Has it worked? Why, then, did we need the new the "disorderly house" ordinance?

  1. PLC gained control in 2003.

usaschools 11 years, 9 months ago

The posts here just go to show, it doesn't matter what actually happens, what the facts are, what can be demonstrated to be true or false, people will just believe what they want to believe.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago

usaschools, do you have any specifics that you care to refute, or do you just want to blow smoke?

Jay_Z 11 years, 9 months ago

I'm sure Boog will blow smoke with you....LOTS of smoke.

usaschools 11 years, 9 months ago

Godot, You are proving my point! My comments could be interpreted as supportive of the commissioners or as supportive of those who don't agree with them. I didn't say.

Just goes to show you, facts won't deter people from drawing conclusions around here.

Godot 11 years, 9 months ago

USAschools responds with nothing. So go our public shools.

ouroboros 11 years, 9 months ago

Thanks usaschools, this place needs a window open to let in fresh air. Between the smoke from guns, tobacco, weed and just the steamy hot air...well, thank goodness most folks get it and don't play in this yard. But, the jesusland thing does make me laugh. The pro-business whiners aren't so funny.

badger 11 years, 9 months ago

I agree with usaschools.

People inclined to agree with and trust the government are going to accept the government's reasons for things if something the government is telling them doesn't quite wash or isn't immediately clear. People inclined to disagree with and distrust the government are going to assume incompetence and duplicity as the likely causes of any policy.

Sometimes the government is right, sometimes it's wrong, and at any given time some people will think one way and some another, but even if the progressives reversed course tomorrow and did exactly what their detractors want, many of the naysayers would still find fault and many of the supporters would still support, because mental habits are hard to break.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 9 months ago

The "detractors" don't really know what they want, except that they want it all, and they want it right now.

badger 11 years, 9 months ago

bozo, I think that generally tends to be what everyone wants.

We all think our demands and expectations with regard to government are perfectly reasonable. We want funding for the things we feel are important, and not to be taxed to pay for things we don't agree that the government should be doing. Some people object to roundabouts, some to tax breaks for large companies, some to art on the sidewalks. You'd be hard pressed to find people who say, "I think this project/item/program is trivial and frivolous/bad for the economy/totally misguided, and I'm happy the government is spending my tax dollars on it."

lunacydetector 11 years, 9 months ago

my crystal ball says: during the next election swing, the progressives will advertise out the wazzoo in the JW. any criticism against this political action group will be deleted - just like the last election swing.

the question to the moderators and/or editors: will you let history repeat itself, especially since any criticism comes from unorganized individuals, or will you let profits reign supreme?

....and to the progressives who claim to be believers of free speech: will you censor your critics, like the last election swing?

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