Archive for Tuesday, August 8, 2006

Condos may go back to drawing board

August 8, 2006


East Lawrence developer Bo Harris may have to start over.

After months of behind-the-scenes negotiations and public meetings, developers of a project along the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street in East Lawrence may have to submit new building plans to the city.

The original proposal - already recommended by city Planning and Historic Resources commissions - will go before the City Commission today.

"If we make substantial changes to that plan that's in everybody's interest, that plan will have to go back through the process," Mayor Mike Amyx said. "That's one of the real sticking points here."

Substantial changes - such as the density of the project or the height of the proposed buildings - would likely violate both the Urban Overlay District already recommended for the project and the legal guidelines the neighboring historic district requires.

But those changes appear to be the only way both Harris and the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. will sign off the condominium and commercial development.

"It looked like it had something for everybody," ELNA President Janet Good said. "But if there are any serious changes done, it will have to go back through the whole process."

The original plan that already gained recommendation called for a development with 54 residential units in five buildings coupled with retail and commercial property.

Last month, the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. backed proposals to limit the development to 35 housing units and limit what kinds of retail will be allowed there. Weeks later, it appeared Harris and the association had reached a tentative agreement on the scope of the condominium and commercial development, moving the 54 units into one building on the north end of the block and limiting the commercial development there.

That agreement would likely require a taller residential building on the north end of the block, creating an unbalanced multiuse development.

Still, East Lawrence leaders said that the compromise was a good one, something that both sides could finally agree upon.

"Everything we've asked for will only serve to make the Harris project that much more successful," East Lawrence resident Nicolette Proudfoot said.

Proudfoot is also president of the Old East Lawrence Preservation Alliance, which originally petitioned against the density of the project.

But in daylong meetings Monday at City Hall and elsewhere, neighbors and Harris learned from city staff that any such changes would violate the urban district guidelines and would likely violate laws surrounding the historic district on the east side of the block.

"That's clearly conflicting with the (urban district)," Planning Office Director Sheila Stogsdill said.

Now, former ELNA President Ed Tato, who has been handling some negotiations for Harris, said he's not sure what city commissioners will decide on today. The two sides are still talking, he said, trying to avoid restarting a project that has been in the works for more than three years.

"There is more agreement than people realized, but it's still not done yet," Tato said. "I imagine people are going to be talking up until" the commission meeting, which begins at 6:35 p.m. today, he said.

Harris did not return several phone messages left at his office Monday.

But all sides maintain that the agreed-upon changes would likely mean a restart of the project.

Good said she thought Harris would agree to send new site plans back through the city process if it meant the end of the neighborhood's density concerns.

"I think he's willing to respond to these issues," Good said. "It has a lot of value."


cowboy 11 years, 8 months ago

Complexity of regulations increases cycle time of process which increases cost of holding property for devo , which increases cost of end project which makes projects non affordable or less than cost effective or just plain expensive.

Lawrence needs to take a tip from business here , reduce the complexity of the process , cut the cycle time of the process , remove the unnecessary procedures. We have given neighborhood groups and advisory comittees the powers that only the commission should have.

Everyone is befuddled why things cost so much here one only need to look at the process.

cut the red tape , shorten the process , get the yahoo's out of the process.

prioress 11 years, 8 months ago

Good points; I hope this works out in the end; East Lawrence could use this type of development.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 8 months ago

This project will have a dramatic effect on the entire area. Taking a bit more time to thoroughly consider it isn't a bad thing.

If the neighborhood assn. and developer agree the on general design, going through the planning and historic resource commissions again probably won't take that long, anyway.

The city commission can overrule these commissions with a 4-1 vote, anyway, but at least it would be a fully informed and considered decision.

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 8 months ago

The idea of "compromise" always makes me think of Ambrose Bierce, who defined it as "Such an adjustment of conflicting interests as gives each adversary the satisfaction of thinking he has got what he ought not to have, and is deprived of nothing except what was justly his due."

fundamental 11 years, 8 months ago

In this case, Wilbur, both the neighborhood and the city will be getting, though perhaps not what either wants, what will benefit the neighborhood and the city for years to come. What the ELNA is proposing is that, by allowing the project to move forward (though not with the original design that Bo Harris put forward), the neighborhood will request certain concessions concerning further neighborhood development, such as tax rebates on increased property value, a fund to assist elderly residents pay for their increased property taxes, and other factors to help control the type of development in the neighborhood. There are about 20 points which the neighborhood will ask for, and none of them would be possible without the neighborhood's support of the project moving forward. This is a real opportunity for the neighborhood to have both a say in the current project AND a lot of clout in what the future holds for East Lawrence.

Wilbur_Nether 11 years, 8 months ago

Actually, fundamental, you're advocating for collaboration, not compromise. You're also really overthinking my post, which was meant merely to share a wry, pithy remark that I have always enjoyed. I apologize for having been unclear as to my intent.

fundamental 11 years, 8 months ago

As an aside, the Old East Lawrence Preservation Alliance (OELPA), which is headed by the article-mentioned Nicolette Proudfoot, collectively stormed out of the ELNA meeting last night, unwilling to compromise one iota on their plan. Their stubbornness on this subject is a real hurdle to the project going forward, as they have threatened litigation if their EXACT plan is not followed.

Unfortunately, I don't see how that kind of stance is any different than an unscrupulous developer not listening to anything the ELNA suggests and putting up, say a crappy duplex which is on the 800 block of New Jersey.

gaiapapaya 11 years, 8 months ago

Great. If this project doesn't go forward, that area will still be zoned industrial. Bo Harris is the one who got it changed for his project. If he decides to walk away, who knows what sort of industrial project will be there. He's done a great job with the other work on that block. I'd be glad to see the bus graveyard go and have those roads in better condition, which will happen with the development.

I remember an ELNA memeber complaining about how she didn't want five story buildings in the neighborhood at a school meeting last year. Now she's demanding one or else. I really hope the preservation alliance can realize that at least the Harris plan is for people to live in the area and not have factories near an elementary school, because that's what will happen if this project gets nixed. Harris has been working on this for years, and I don't think he wants to start all over now.

winwombat 11 years, 8 months ago

I do want to make a correction to the article. The four or five story building which has been proposed in the compromise plan is to be at the southwest corner of 8th and Pennsylvania. That makes it at the north end of the development directly across from the other 5 story building that is already there. What was mistakenly stated is that all 54 residential units would be in that building. That is incorrect. There will be 32 units in that building along with commercial space. The other 22 units are proposed to be row houses that stretch south to ninth street.

oldgoof 11 years, 8 months ago

I kind of get tired of everyone creating their own 'organization' so they can get quoted in the paper.

I hereby appoint myself the head of the 'Old East Lawrence Citizens for Common Sense and Moderation'

Anyone want to join? (of course, it is not really necessary, because I won't release my membership any more than other groups do)

fundamental 11 years, 8 months ago

No need to apologize, Wilbur. I must say, though, I think I understand your delineation between collaboration and compromise. As I stated in my first post, the ELNA is not getting what they want. Bo Harris is not getting what they want. What the project will be is something in between, which is why I would consider it a compromise. It is true, however, that both parties will benefit from the compromise, which I suppose could be defined as a collaboration. Not that that's particularly important in this discussion, but there you go.

What still befuddles me, however, is the OELPA folks who absolutely REFUSE to accept anything other than their "alternate" plan. Their position, as I understand it, has been that they are in favor of the development of zone 3, just that it be done the "right" way. Evidently, their way is the only "right" way possible, which makes it really hard for others in the neighborhood (of which I am one) to see how they are compromising anything.

The vitriolic rhetoric that comes out of the OELPA's leadership is damaging to their cause. Their arguments are devoid of reason, but heavy in anger and spite. They will not be taken seriously without a change in their style of communication. Well thought out, reasoned arguments are far more convincing than snide remarks and childish griping. These unfortunate type of comments were more than prevalent from the OELPA folks at the ELNA meeting last night, I assure you. It was frustrating to behold.

On top of that, the representatives of the OELPA charged out of the meeting before its conclusion, and missed the vote of the ELNA on whether to endorse moving forward or not. The "ayes" won by just a couple of votes, a vote that might have turned out differently had they shown more composure and stayed through to the end.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 8 months ago

"I kind of get tired of everyone creating their own 'organization' so they can get quoted in the paper."

The Declaration of Independence was written by a similar ad hoc group.

fundamental 11 years, 8 months ago


Don't be ridiculous. Comparing the Founding Fathers to the OELPA is quite the stretch. The OELPA splintered off from the ELNA (though its leadership is still active in the membership of the ELNA, as I have above noted) because they felt the ELNA was conceding too much. The OELPA made up a questionnaire that was both misleading and inaccurate, circulated it around the neighborhood and collected about 150 signatures "supporting" their view. Now, their membership is unknown to me, except the leadership, so it's difficult to tell how much actual girth they can throw behind their views. My guess is it's not much.

The majority of people in the neighborhood support this compromise and wish to see SOMETHING happen with regards to the 8th and Penn project. The majority of ELNA members support the project moving forward in a fashion that is something inbetween the OELPA plan and the original Harris plan. It is still possible that the OELPA plan could be enacted, though the wisdom of a 5 story building on the north end of the block is beyond me, but that's neither here nor there. The problem is the desire of a few to not allow anything but THEIR plan, a sort of "take my ball and go home" approach, which is neither helpful nor, in my own opinion, mature.

My hope is we can get the project moving and come to a solution somewhere in the middle, where all parties are satisfied. This will require the lines of communication being left open. My concern is that the OELPA is incapable of two-way communications. They don't seem to listen very well. They're just really loud.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years, 8 months ago

I wasn't really comparing OELPA with the founding fathers, but they were no less self-appointed than OELPA is.

From what I can tell, the density of the project is what's bothering OELPA, and the 5-story "compromise" doesn't really reduce that at all.

But it does at least concentrate it in an area further away from existing houses, and adds a bit more green space. My guess is that if ELNA and Harris agree on that, it will move forward, and litigation by OELPA probably won't get far.

fundamental 11 years, 8 months ago

Your comparison is understood, Bozo. The OELPA is actually the party behind the 5 story building compromise. I think they at some point understood that the Harris project was not going to happen if the 54 unit requirement wasn't met. So, they offered this compromise which is comprised of green space, row houses, and a 5 story building with 32 units and retail or commercial space, I believe (see winwombat's comment above).

Harris took what they proposed and tweaked it slightly and came back with a very similar proposal that moved the green space closer to the middle of the block. This redesign of their proposal has been met with disgust by the OELPA, even though it responds favorably to their demands. It's really difficult to understand what exactly they're looking for in this whole deal.

The sad part is they would rather lose all the concessions made to the neighborhood than accept a plan that is slightly different than their own, which is, to me, EXTREMELY selfish. The ELNA has a real opportunity to set the neighborhood up for great strides in the next 10 or so years and beyond that by setting strict guidelines for construction and development in the area. The ELNA will lose these concessions if Bo Harris walks away from this. I don't even want to consider what would happen to this land if a less-scrupulous developer were allowed to have free reign.

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