Archive for Friday, February 17, 2006

Sewer crisis putting people out of work, builder says

City says if it had foreseen problem developers would have been alerted earlier

February 17, 2006


The sewer crisis that has gripped the city the past five months is beginning to cost the construction industry real jobs, a Lawrence builder said Thursday.

Tim Stultz, president of Highland Construction, said he's laid off two employees and plans to lay off another two now that city administrators have refused to grant his company a building permit for a 70-unit apartment complex at Queens Road and Overland Drive.

Administrators aren't allowing the project to move forward because they're concerned the area's sewer system can't handle the growth.

"It's frustrating," Stultz said. "I've been planning this for a year and a half, and now I can't do it. And I just can't go out and buy new land and start building on it because the approval process in this town takes years."

Chris Williams, Lawrence, an employee with Stubbs Construction, works at a house on Legend's Drive being built by Highland Construction Inc. Tim Stultz, president of Highland Construction, said he's laid off two employees and plans to lay off another two now that city administrators have refused to grant his company a building permit for a 70-unit apartment complex in northwest Lawrence because theyÃre concerned the areaÃs sewer system couldn't handle the growth.

Chris Williams, Lawrence, an employee with Stubbs Construction, works at a house on Legend's Drive being built by Highland Construction Inc. Tim Stultz, president of Highland Construction, said he's laid off two employees and plans to lay off another two now that city administrators have refused to grant his company a building permit for a 70-unit apartment complex in northwest Lawrence because theyÃre concerned the areaÃs sewer system couldn't handle the growth.

Stultz said the four jobs - mainly those of managers who were supposed to oversee various aspects of the apartment project - are just the tip of the iceberg. He said the entire project had a $6 million price tag, and he estimated $2 million of the project would have been wages for subcontractors that range from roofers to carpet layers.

"I don't think people understand how big of a hit the Lawrence economy takes when you start putting the brakes on the building industry," said Stultz, whose company had about 15 employees before the layoffs.

An engineering report due out in late spring is expected to spell out what improvements are needed to the area's sewer system, but Stultz estimated it would be two years before he would be able to start his project because it will take time to build the sewer improvements that must be finished before his project can come on line.

Costs mounting

James Ryant, Lawrence, frames a skylight in a house under construction on Legend's Circle by Highland Construction Inc.
Tim Stultz, president of Highland Construction, said heÃs laid off two employees and plans to lay off another two now that city administrators have refused to grant his company a building permit for a 70-unit apartment complex in northwest Lawrence because theyÃre concerned the areaÃs sewer system couldnÃt handle the growth.

James Ryant, Lawrence, frames a skylight in a house under construction on Legend's Circle by Highland Construction Inc. Tim Stultz, president of Highland Construction, said heÃs laid off two employees and plans to lay off another two now that city administrators have refused to grant his company a building permit for a 70-unit apartment complex in northwest Lawrence because theyÃre concerned the areaÃs sewer system couldnÃt handle the growth.

City leaders acknowledge that the situation is a difficult one. But Debbie Van Saun, assistant city manager, said it is very apparent to the city's utility staff that the pump station in the area is undersized to serve the amount of development for the area, and that several pipes downstream of the development need to be enlarged to handle the additional flow that would be created by the project.

"I know Tim is frustrated, but we can't just let all this sewage come in here and not worry about how it gets pumped," Van Saun said. "It will go somewhere, and if we don't do it right it will go in people's basements."

Stultz's frustrations were compounded by the fact that he has paid a special assessment on his property taxes for approximately the past two years to pay for the pump station. He's also built roads that serve the property and had water and electric service extended to the site. He estimates that, including design costs, he's spent about $1 million on the apartment project already. It was the project that was expected to keep his company busy through the important summer construction season.

And the situation is complicated by the fact that part of the reason the pump station is at its capacity is because city leaders made a decision to begin using the pump station to handle sewage from nearby Free State High School. The school previously had been served by a different pump station. But Van Saun said the city decided to make the switch because the amount of sewage coming from the school was creating concerns downstream. Moving the school to a different pump station freed up capacity in other parts of the city's system.

And Van Saun said the city was justified in making the switch because, just like Stultz, the city paid for a portion of the pump station's cost. And Van Saun noted that Stultz has been allowed to use the pump station to service a single family neighborhood that he has built in the area.

Process changes

Van Saun, though, acknowledged it would have been better if Stultz and other developers in the area had been alerted to the sewer issues when they first began planning their projects. They weren't alerted because the city did not foresee the problems, she said.

She said a new engineer has since been added to the utility department, and that the city is requiring more downstream analysis to be done before projects are approved.

City commissioners said they believe the changes should prevent future projects being approved without the necessary infrastructure considerations. But commissioners also have been alerted that there are several other projects that were approved - or deep into the planning process - before the changes were made that may face delays similar to what Stultz is facing.

"I think with the hiring of the additional engineer in the utility department, and with all the time that Debbie and staff have been spending on this, that we're on top of things for the future," City Commissioner Sue Hack said. "But I know that doesn't alleviate the frustration with where we are right now. I'm very, very sorry that some projects haven't been allowed to move forward."


rtwngr 12 years, 2 months ago

Boo Hoo. Poor Highland Construction can't build another apartment megaplex. 4 people laid off. OMG the wheels of commerce in Douglas County are coming off.

bmwjhawk 12 years, 2 months ago

More 70-unit apartments! How can the city stand in the way of such a necessary development project? Poor guy has had to lay off 4 workers. I'm sure that's what he's upset about. The pity plea is ridiculous. What he really wants is to build more 70-unit apartments.

cowboy 12 years, 2 months ago

ok rtwngr ,

because of the citry's incompetence your company is shut down effective tomorrow , oh and also your investments if you have any are frozen , oh and by the way we have no idea when you can work again.

How do you like that .

tim should sue the city !

chzypoof1 12 years, 2 months ago

I agree with both sides a little. The city is wrong in approving a project, then not allowing it to continue (see lawsuits for Walmart). And, people being out of jobs is not cool. But I also side with bmwjhawk that we don't need more apartments in this town. It seems like every piece of land out there is being used to build apartments or townhomes, instead of homes.

StrangerCreek 12 years, 2 months ago

Obviously some of us have little in the way of economic education. Drop the University and the Construction Industry and this town has squat for employment. Four people out of work, four family's beginning a struggle to survive, four more name to the unemployment roles, another fraction of a percentage in price increases for goods and services to cover the increased unemployment rates.

Add in another 4-5 canceled projects and now it's 20+ people out of a job. What an idiot comment. I hope you're all independently wealthy or have a great jobs to begin paying the price that's coming.

craigers 12 years, 2 months ago

I definitely think Tim should sue the city. They approved the project without doing their due diligence. They wouldn't have approved this project had they done their homework and researched the sewage problem. And the fact that he has paid for the pump that was supposed to service this project and now the city chose to move Free State to that pump? I think that is a complete hose job. The city admitted that they didn't look forward to analyze (not even 2 years forward) the sewer capacity. I thought successful planning occurred by not only looking to the near future but long term and it looks like the city just approves projects and then says, "Oops I didn't see that coming, it looks like you will have to let your investment be dead in the water for another year or two even though you already did your part for improving our sewer system." This would be very frustrating to me and yes no matter if it is only 2 or 4 jobs lost, like kingman said that is 4 families that will have to struggle now.

KsTwister 12 years, 2 months ago

So Commisioners want a pedestrian bridge over the Kansas River to justify raising our property taxes but the taxpayers living in areas of the city don't get the sewers with the homes they are paying those taxes on.It is time to clean out the above ground sewer at city hall.

bmwjhawk 12 years, 2 months ago

OK. Good point. The city is harming Mr. Stultz. I take back my rude mocking comments. I guess I'll hate the city two times-- once for approving another 70-unit apartment complex and again for the sewer problems. Oh, and a 3rd bonus hate for the traffic lights and speed limits in that area. And, I am not in favor of the death penalty in this particular case.

delta77 12 years, 2 months ago

Those Free State bathrooms must be real nice to generate all that sewage. I remember school bathrooms being disgusting and I went out of my way to not use them. ;)

lunacydetector 12 years, 2 months ago

a typical liberal (a.k.a. progressive) philosophy: the rich should suffer because they are rich and more people should get government assistance - because this is what this sewer debacle has created or will create when people start losing their jobs. i guess it is more important for people to suffer than have more "smart growth" (a.k.a. new urbanism) apartments.

.......and it sure sounds like the builder paid his fair share of infrastructure improvements the "progressives" claim are never paid for by the developer. i guess this is what happens when you let a bunch of beatniks run a city. pass the doobie and maybe it will all go away...heh, heh.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 2 months ago

Stultz is in the construction business, and he should know that things rarely if ever go completely as planned, and no one has a more difficult task than planning for all the additional infrastructure that growth necessitates than the city does.

That doesn't mean that the city shouldn't look at its processes to see how they might avoid situations like this in the future, but things like this will happen again. They don't call them "growing pains" for nothing.

dviper 12 years, 2 months ago

This highlights out how poorly our local government is managed, and how much incompetency we have with many senior and middle city managers. This is just one reason why local developers, builders, and business people distrust the city of Lawrence, especially the city commission. He should probably sue the city if he thought he could win, but in this case I would highly doubt it.

I understand both sides of this, however public health and safety trump all other concerns. It is extremely unfortunate that this has happened, but as the saying goes "S**t Happens". If the city allowed him to proceed and then if basements started being flooded with sewage we would have an even bigger problem. When you're one of the biggest developers and builders in Lawrence, you always have to a contingency plan for situations like this, especially when this potential sanitary sewer problem surfaced over 7 months ago.

I'm not really too worried about Stultz. He and his daddy already have plans to build a 114 unit apartment complex at 6th and Stoneridge, plus he still has a big duplex project he is building off of Bob Billings Pkwy and Legends, and they own a couple other large chunks of undeveloped land out on west 6th. I think they will be fine and could easily shift plans and not layoff any employees. He could have some employees do maintenance on the Aberdeen apartment complexes they own, that would keep them busy for at least a couple of months.

dviper 12 years, 2 months ago

The city recently approved a massive 'new urbanism' project at 6th and Wakarusa. I guess someone from the city better get on the horn and tell Mr. Trainer to forget about his project until the new sewer treatment plant is built.

lunacydetector 12 years, 2 months ago

...just another bozo -growing pains? --on the bus....what do you say about the city paying more fees for the new firestation at 19th & iowa because of the "supposed" gasoline price increases - OF COURSE this was BEFORE Katrina hit. GROWING PAINS? no word about needing more money to finish the job. guess that excuse may have been perhaps a little white lie.

the guy must be paying a lot of interest. i wonder how many other contractors are paying a lot of interest.

look at New Orleans, the bastion of liberalism, look at Boulder CO, another bastion of liberalism,...look at Lawrence, KS another bastion of liberalism, and of course there is San Francisco. WHERE IS OUR UTOPIA??! why is it so expensive to live in liberal towns? why weren't the people in new orleans saved by their local progressive government and why were all the school buses left to sink in the high water? Liberalism (AKA being Progressive) is the reason.

Lawrence, KS business UNfriendly

Lawrence, Kansas Utopia (bwahahahaha)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 2 months ago

Well, there appear to be only three fool-proof ways to avoid problems like this in the future.

  1. Stop all growth, since this is 100% an outgrowth of growth, so-to-speak.

1.Spend a lot more money on sewer expansions and other infrastructure upgrades. If new building is going to be determined almost solely by the development industries, that growth will happen fairly willy-nilly. The only way to never get caught like this is to have a large overcapacity of new sewers, streets, fire protection, schools, etc. (which will cost a lot more than the ECO2 proposal.)

  1. Have very controlled and highly planned growth. Developers will have to go where the city allows them to go, but at least when they start a project, they won't have to wonder if the city had guessed right about what they, the developers, would do.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 2 months ago

For those of you who can count, I apologize for omitting "2" in the above list of 3.

badger 12 years, 2 months ago

Marion said:

" "Growing pains" have just Stults a MILLION DOLLARS and several people their JOBS!


That's odd.

Personally, I don't find that funny at all. I find it sad and upsetting.

I guess I just don't get your sense of humour, Marion.

Linda Aikins 12 years, 2 months ago

Bozo, there are three kinds of people in this world - those who can count and those who can't.

Not to worry.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 2 months ago

I think I'm in the third group, but don't count on it.

ike0000 12 years, 2 months ago

These problems could all be avoided if people would just stop pooping.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 2 months ago

You may be on to something there. It's a fairly established fact that if you drastically reduce your food comsumption, to about a 1500 calorie diet for an average person, you increase your life expectancy dramatically. And if you eat less, well-- the rest follows, or doesn't.

Lulu 12 years, 2 months ago

Boo~hoo. Poor little daddy's boy. Use the apartments for the homeless!

crackers 12 years, 2 months ago

Lay offs? Take a drive through some of the new developments under construction. A lot of the construction workers are from out of state.

J Good Good 12 years, 2 months ago

To be fair, this was not the city commission that BUILT the 1/3 of the roads that need to be rebuilt. Don't kill the messenger on that one.

nonimbyks 12 years, 2 months ago

Yes, I agree with all of the above, no matter how silly the comment. Silly-er yet is that it's not "property tax payers" that live here, instead it's the students that attend the schools. "We" have it backwards, it's not the town that should be appriciative of KU, KU needs to be appriciative of the city to be dealing with the problems a univeristy brings a small community. It's the student body that lives here, but they don't OWN property here! Therefore they don't pay property taxes. Again, the burden for the city lies on those who actually own the property that the students could give a crap less about. And care even less about where their crap goes. Our city funding, planning, and common sense fails because of competing views, city property owners, and KUs gaggles of students who continue to put demands on the city council and the city as a whole.

What a mess of a community, so many problems.

Ceallach 12 years, 2 months ago

The city was asleep at the wheel. . . . . again!! What's it going to take before people stop making excuses for the inept manner in which these decisions are made? Many cities have development plans that span 10 years or more . . . yet, we can't get it right two years at a time!!

Tim S should sue. Although that means that we will end up paying for the damage done by the Dodos. . . . . er. . . I mean Dadas!!

Martina 12 years, 2 months ago

First, if you paid for something for your business and followed the rules you would expect to get what you paid for. Second, it doesn't matter how many other businesses or projects Tim Stultz has or his family. He is paying the way so put your money where your mouth is! Lastly, there is more than 4 families losing here...what about his subs and their employees, taxes not paid on the completed value and the bank that doesn't get the loan? This is American and the Free Enterprise at work so if you don't like it get out!

Godot 12 years, 2 months ago

"To be fair, this was not the city commission that BUILT the 1/3 of the roads that need to be rebuilt. Don't kill the messenger on that one."

No, but they have wasted hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past few years on traffic calming devices, on the T, on Eagle Bend, that would have been better spent on fixing the roads. The problem is, they claim they didn't even know there was a problem. If they had been focused on the the nuts and bolts of city governance, the mundane issues of fixing roads and sewers, rather than on building reputations for themselves as visionaries, we would have a better outlook on infrastructure.

Now that news of Lawrence's crumbling infrastructure has surfaced, how do our commissioners respond? By funding a study for a sports complex, by proposing a 2 mill property tax increase to purchase polluted property that they hope to turn into an industrial park so that they can exert even more control over what kind of businesses can locate here, and to encircle the city with a green belt to restrict growth; proposing that new neighborhoods have a park (requiring tax dollars to maintain) every two blocks, proposing a multi-million dollar library/convention center that will be funded with yet another tax increase, and approving a $700,000 addition to a vacant building that, as yet, has no intended purpose.

Our commissioners remind me of the people who buy the biggest home their credit will allow, and who then lack the funds to buy furniture to fill it, or of people who buy luxury cars, go on lavish vacations, have big screen TVs, iPods and Blackberries, and then claim that they can't afford health insurance.

To wit, our commission is more concerned with image than with substance.

Martina 12 years, 2 months ago

I agree with Godot!!! Would you like to run for City Commission?

Martina 12 years, 2 months ago

At least the City Commission did pass the tax abatement for Packerware!

Richard Heckler 12 years, 2 months ago

So many say Lawrence is unfriendly to business. The housing business has little room to complain. Lawrence taxpayers have made some residential construction people very rich. The city needs to be practical, frugal and prudent not friendly. We now know being friendly doesn't pay. The only recourse at this moment in time is to be patient. Rushing into a quick fix will cost taxpayers way too much money. Whatever needs done I say take the time to do it right.

The city commissioners did not create the problem. By the time projects reach them it is assumed that city staff said OK for it is staff that has the data. Somewhere city staff was not watching closely or it could have been an honest error. Likely staff depends on research handed down by a consultant.

Some of the matters showing up in todays conversation involves your three county commissioners.

Eagle Bend was created long ago. Ridership on the T is up far more than some know.

Highland Construction is likley doing what some other"Lawrence" builders are doing. Building houses and apartment complexes in Baldwin,Tongie,Ottawa,Eudora, Desoto. They are looking very cookie cutter like the new neighborhoods in Lawrence.

I noticed a Compton partner was trying to get Topeka to move on some property. The owners want more than these guys want to pay. Imagine that. The phrase " imminent domain" was being tossed around.

Martina 12 years, 2 months ago

There are some folks in residential construction that have become very rich as you say...but not without risk and capital investment. If you do not provide a product people want then you will not make a profit. It is the law of supply and demand you know. Perhaps it is a sin to own a business that is profitable and provides jobs in America!

Richard Heckler 12 years, 2 months ago

Your tax dollars are used by local government to provide funding for roads, parks, fire protection, police protection, health and other services. Property taxes also fund public school districts. All property tax dollars received by the state are redistributed to public school districts or to educational building funds.

Perhaps it is a sin to own a business that is profitable and provides jobs in America! Then again perhaps not.

Godot 12 years, 2 months ago

So the commissioners are not at fault because they rely on advice from staff who rely on advice from consultants who are engaged by the commissioners. No one is responsible, no one is in charge.

We need a new form of city governance. We need a full time mayor who presides over city commissioners who are elected by precinct, and who SUPERVISES the city manager. We need accountability. And we need to transfer the responsibility of many of the unaccountable, appointed boards and commissions to city employees who are accountable to the mayor for their actions.

Lawrence is no longer a small town that can get by on volunteer boards, rotating mayors and part time commissioners. We need, we deserve, a professional city government.

Godot 12 years, 2 months ago

There are enough diverse interests in Lawrence to justify representation by precinct. The needs of Oread are distinct from the needs of those in the old east lawrence area, as opposed to the southeast lawrence, as opposed to old west, middle west, new west, southwest, old north and new north west. We need representation by precinct.

Without precincts, which would guarantee representation for property owners from all areas of the city, I could see justification for those west of Iowa forming their own city. It could be called New West Lawrence.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 2 months ago

Kind of forgotten in all the ranting here is that the problems we now have were largely created by the policies of the developer/commissions of the past, who would absolutely revolt at a "ten-year plan" as proposed by Martina.

Problems of infrastructure need to be addressed, but that doesn't mean that other problems that have been ignored for decades should have continued to be ignored.

So you can blame the current commission for decades' worth of accumulated mess that haven't solved over the last couple of years, and bring back the same mindset and policies that created them, but don't expect a different result by going back to the "good ole days" that never really existed.

Godot 12 years, 2 months ago

ljreader, regarding the parks, here it is:

Welcome, Godot (log out)

E-mail story Printer-friendly E-mail editor Comments iPod friendly Decision on new Parks and Rec plan delayed J-W Staff Reports

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Commissioners delayed a decision on a new Parks and Recreation plan that would be included as part of Horizon 2020.

Mayor Boog Highberger asked commissioners to send the plan back to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to consider adding language that would recommend neighborhood parks within a quarter of a mile of each new housing development. The current standard is a half-mile.

Highberger said he would like to do more to allow people to more easily walk to city parks.

moron 12 years, 2 months ago


Instead of offering meaningless, anecdotal commentary why don't you announce your candidacy for office- any office, mayor, commissioner, dog catcher, anything.

Then you could actually present your detailed plans and perform real public actions to improve all the things you childishly complain about.

C'mon Marion- be part of a legitimate, sensible solution instead of taking the easy way out with chronic complaining and criticism. C'mon Marion- why don't you actually do something about the problems you like to rant about instead of being a self absorbed whiner on a public internet forum.



just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 12 years, 2 months ago

I guess you've shown that you're not a poet, either, Marion.

But why do you hate Rundle so much. Is it your latent closeted whatever?

bearded_gnome 12 years, 2 months ago

Thank you GODOT! 1 vote for you here!


Martina 12 years, 2 months ago

I am all for City Parks which is the big story in the paper today. Just don't think we can afford them when we can't get the poop to flow. Is there really a problem or is this just another way to restrict growth in this town? Let's see the facts. What did the flow meters say and can we trust the city to read those and come to an accurate conclusion? If so off with the mask and let's get some folks who can prioritize and make this City great for the next 30 years so my kids can stay here and enjoy what this town has the potential to be!

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