Archive for Friday, July 14, 2006

Neighbors ready to fight East Lawrence project

July 14, 2006

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Members of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Assn. are promising to do their best to torpedo a proposed large development in the 800 block of Pennsylvania Street if city commissioners don't bow to their demands that it be scaled back.

For months, neighbors have complained the proposed Harris Construction Co. Inc.-led development would be too much for the neighborhood, increasing traffic and putting strains on parking.

The project would bring dozens of apartments, stores and businesses to the block in compact, mixed-use buildings.

"We think we can create a real life, work and play zone - a zone that is very pedestrian-oriented and linked to the vitality of downtown," developer Bo Harris has said. Harris built the Hobbs Taylor Lofts at Eighth and New Hampshire streets.

But now, neighbors say legal action and a campaign to dissuade the project's prospective tenants are all possibilities if the City Commission won't limit the project's residential density and assure the retail component of the plan excludes pawn shops and liquor stores.

The City Commission is expected to take up the issue at its meeting Tuesday.

"This is Trojan horse gentrification," association member Robert Myers said at a neighborhood meeting Monday. "It's guaranteed to bust low-income housing."

A petition

Members of the association, led by resident Nicky Proudfoot, created the Old East Lawrence Neighborhood Preservation Alliance earlier this year to oppose what some members felt was a fast-moving project that would disturb the neighborhood's balance.

"It's almost like a loaded gun," Proudfoot said at Monday's meeting. "He can do practically anything he wants there."

In a petition circulating among East Lawrence residents, the alliance lists demands it plans to make of city commissioners. So far, the petition has about 140 signatures from property owners in the area.

The petition disagrees with the Harris plan to include 54 housing units in the project, a number neighbors fear would create a block too densely populated.

The petitioners want the project reduced to 36 condominium-style homes - fewer than Harris figures would be necessary for the project to work financially.

"It certainly has gotten to the point where it appears (the neighbors) have drawn a line in the sand," said Hunter Harris of Harris Construction.

Hunter Harris said if the city agreed to restrict the project to fewer than the planned 54 homes, neighbors could say goodbye to the promise of affordable housing in the development.

"Our financial models are very clear," he said. "We didn't pull 54 units out of a hat."

The project also would include a renovated historic district across the street in the old East Bottoms.

The cost of doing that part of project requires the 54 housing units if the project is to succeed financially, Hunter Harris said.

But Proudfoot said if the city didn't scale back the project, her group could use other tactics to stall the development, including court actions and trying to dissuade prospective tenants from buying into it.

"Then we're going to get lawyers and we're going to fight," Proudfoot said. "We'll make sure people know that it sits right on top of a sewage treatment plant."

Mayor Mike Amyx said Thursday that he has just recently reviewed the proposal and that his decision Tuesday will hinge on information provided by other commissioners who have met with the two sides, and the arguments presented at City Hall then.

"I'm not trying to prejudge the project," Amyx said. "We'll just see as we go through this."

Heated meeting

At Monday's neighborhood meeting, Realtor and East Lawrence resident Ed Tato told neighbors that in talks with Bo Harris he had learned the affordable housing component would be dropped if the city limited the project's density.

Tato was the neighborhood association president when Harris first approached the neighborhood about the project.

Tato said Monday he had been working as a consultant on the project for the last three years and in that time Harris paid him about $5,000 for his services.

He has disclosed the same information at several public city meetings.

Tato also works for Reece & Nichols real estate, and said his firm likely would list the for-sale units if they are completed.

Tato's relationship with Harris has been alarming to some neighbors, current neighborhood association president Janet Good said, because they view it as a conflict of interest.

But Good said she didn't think Tato was backing the project out of self-interest.

"I don't think he's making any decisions based on anything except what he thought is best for the neighborhood," she said.

At the meeting, Tato also said he only supports the project if it includes the affordable housing component. Tato is a former member of Tenants to Homeowners, a group that promotes affordable housing.

Rebecca Buford, executive director of Tenants to Homeowners, said she began talks with Bo Harris about the affordable housing component of his project last month, and that the developer discussed in a letter the likelihood that six of the 54 units would be affordable units.

Buford said Tenants to Homeowners likely would be willing to buy and search for funding to subsidize those units, just as the city would need to help pay for infrastructure such as street and sewer improvements.

"It's going to serve the community and create affordable housing units forever," Buford said of the project.

Buford said Harris proposed selling the group 700-square-foot units for $90,000 each, which is more than the group considers affordable for those with low income.

"We're really hoping that the Harris proposal lives up to its proposed goals," she said.

Comments

Richard Heckler 9 years ago

700 square feet would be difficult for anyone with a family and at $90k that seems a bit expensive considering the small square footage. TTH also has energy efficiency mandates that would need to be fullfilled.

justsomewench 9 years ago

did harris ever start paying their bills? i pity the vendors that get involved with this company.

Sigmund 9 years ago

New construction in East Lawrence? Unthinkable! $90,000 @ 6.00% for 20 years $645/month principle and interest, or 30 years $540/month, only filthy rich republicans can afford that! To boot, they will probably be built to current new construction code and they will be added to the tax base. Crazy, simply crazy!

Richard Heckler 9 years ago

700 sf ft for 90k $ is how big? 1400 sq ft for $180k...not exactly low income possibilities.

We've been adding new residential to our tax base for the last 20 years. Our property tax bills seem to include a non declared mill levy increase annually as a result.

Raider 9 years ago

I live in E. Lawrence and I think this project is great. Mixed use neighborhoods are quite common in other cities throughout the country. It's unfortunate that the narrow-minded people who haven't seen life beyond DG County are attempting to block this. If the project is done right then it would be a boost to both E. Lawrence and downtown.

Sigmund 9 years ago

Doubling square feet does not linearly double costs, most everyone understands that. But even assuming that it did, have you looked at real estate prices here in Lawrence lately?

Would this be great for a family of four, no. But for singles that want to OWN their first place 700 square feet near downtown, brand new and built to code, it might be a deal at $540/month especially compared to renting from evil landlords (because all landlords are evil as we all know).

You constantly complain about a lack of affordable housing. How in the world are we ever going to get affordable housing if you are opposed to every single new project? Or do you just like to complain without ever doing anything about it?

So you do it cheaper better quicker? Quit throwing darts at everyone else and you do it yourself! You'll run every other developer out of business and own the market yourself. Lead by doing or get out of the way.

cutny 9 years ago

There's too much empty, unaffordable retail space on the outskirts of downtown already (i.e. anything east of Massachussetts). Nobody can afford the rents and still turn a profit. Even the franchises aren't convinced this area is profitable. On top of it all. For developers to come in and destroy a neighborhood that's been there for four generations is unconscionable. Harris has no where to turn now that most of the land in Lawrence has been developed. Maybe when the shoddy houses they've already built start falling apart, they can spend their time razing and rebuilding on those lots. Their plan is an architectural abortion anyway. Put an end to it already.

cutny 9 years ago

Hey Tato, is $5000 all your "good" name was worth? Sounds like somebody got a bargain.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years ago

Raider:

"If the project is done right then it would be a boost to both E. Lawrence and downtown."

The neighbors don't oppose the project. They oppose the scale of the project, so they agree with your statement.

Raider 9 years ago

Bozo: "The neighbors don't oppose the project. They oppose the scale of the project, so they agree with your statement."

Then why not seek a compromise rather than hiring a lawyer to block the whole thing? I wish they could see how the neighborhood will benefit from this project.

Think of how nice it would be to walk a few blocks to a grocery market rather than to drive across town when you only need one or two items. Think about how nice it will be getting rid of some of the run-down shacks that are in that neighborhood and replacing them with something nice. All they are concerned with is the fact that their tax bill might go up.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years ago

I don't live in the neighborhood, but I know quite a few people who do, and their concern is strictly about the density of the development on the west side of the 800 block of Pennsylvania. None of the streets feeding that area are designed to handle the increased traffic load without overwhelming the neighborhood.

One of the biggest complaints from these neighbors is that Harris and his representatives flat out lied about what their intentions were when they initially brought it to the neighborhood assn.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years ago

Harris is the one holding affordable housing hostage. It reminds me of the National Lampoon cover many years ago. There was a gun pointed at a dog with the caption, "Buy this magazine or the dog gets it!"

9 years ago

get your facts straight about the REAL # of affordable housing units proposed:

"the developer discussed in a letter the likelihood that six of the 54 units would be affordable units."

SIX UNITS -- what this means is that there will be appx 48 luxury and high-end units. There are luxury condos going up all over this town -- this would be the 3rd project currently under construction. Do we really have the demand for this many luxury condos?

hawkbygod 9 years ago

"The neighbors don't oppose the project. They oppose the scale of the project, so they agree with your statement."

Umm, I am probably the closest neighbor, and I don't oppose the project or its scale. I live on the east side of 8th and New Jersey. Litterally placing this project in my back yard. Right now there is a run down old industrial building and a bus grave yard. Not exactly a meca for single family homes.

Obviously my fellow "neighbors" living on the east end do not see this on a regular basis. If they did, they would not be so ready to "torpedo" this project.

jafs 9 years ago

I'm sorry, but $90,000 for a 700 sq ft "unit" (I assume that means condo) is not affordable housing. And the fact that 6 out of 54 units will be designed for this shows quite clearly that the intent of the project is not to build affordable housing.

delta77 9 years ago

$540 a month? That's cheaper than the rent at most nice 1-bedroom apartments here. Get a job, you whiners.

jafs 9 years ago

Also, if we want to "improve" neighborhoods in Lawrence, we should not be using private developers/builders to do this. What about low-interest loans to homeowners for repairs/improvements? Other cities have used this idea to help improve neighborhoods.

kujeeper 9 years ago

East Lawrence is in dire need of such a revitalizing project. It may not be as affordable as the some of the rentals the slum lords run in East Lawrence, but it will be a vast improvement for the area. Sometimes I think the East Lawrence Assn likes to live in run down homes on run down streets, I can't understand why.

kujeeper 9 years ago

Jafs, the city should give tax incentives for improvements, that's what a lot of towns do now.

ilovelucy 9 years ago

Thank you hawkbygod. If only your loony hippie neighbors would open their eyes. I believe that they are opposed JUST to oppose without really understanding the concept. They say Harris flat out lied. At least he attempted to open dialogue with the neighborhood. Once the commission changes and the three idiots are gone, the next developer who comes in won't be so nice. You talk about lying? If Harris loses, watch out. The neighborhood won't know what hit them. It is very sad that some people are so opposed and scared of change.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years ago

hawkbygod--

At this point, your neighbors, by about 150-1, don't seem to share your enthusiasm.

As far as "torpedoing" this project, it's Harris who is saying that if doesn't get it 100% his way, he's taking his ball and going home. That doesn't sound like "working with the neighborhood" to me.

"They say Harris flat out lied. At least he attempted to open dialogue with the neighborhood."

Lying is not a dialogue.

lakebum 9 years ago

This is just the type of development/redevelopment that needs to happen in Lawrence. Instead of continuing to expand westward with cookie-cutter neighborhoods, the city should provide incentives for developers to revitalize areas within the existing city limits(i.e. east and north Lawrence). I agree that 90k for a 700 sq. ft. residence is an over inflated price, but I think that most home values in Lawrence are over inflated. That is why when my wife and I were in the market to buy our first home, we turned to the home market outside of Lawrence, and Douglas County. In comparison we found a 3 bedroom, 2 bath, 1450 sq. ft. home on 2 large wooded lots near Lake Perry for 69k.

Godot 9 years ago

"$540 a month? That's cheaper than the rent at most nice 1-bedroom apartments here. Get a job, you whiners."

Make that more like $700 per month:

Add on $100 per month for property tax, and a condo- association fee ($40 or 50 per month, or so?) and insurance ($20 per month?).

dlhj 9 years ago

I live in East Lawrence and support this project. I think Harris is to be commended for approaching the neighborhood a number of years ago with this project. How many developers do that? We're lucky that a developer like Harris is proposing this project, we know it will be well built and not some cheap crap that will fall apart in five years.

I received one of the petitions currently circulating, and frankly I was surprised at some of the demands that the group was making, which had nothing to do with the project at all. It seemed to me that the group was using this project as a way to get some other things they want. I wish I hadn't thrown the petition away so I could quote them here, but I seem to remember something about a monument of some kind?

They worry about property values increasing- isn't that a good thing? Do you want your value to go down? Seems like a small group of folks are raising the fuss over this. The rest of us need to start attending these meetings and making our thoughts known as well.

I'd love to see a beautiful, well built, landscaped area in East Lawrence instead of all the slum housing that is not maintained.

Ward 9 years ago

Isn't there a rate or formula to determine what "Affordable Housing" actually means? If somebody's posted it here I missed it. Has a city planner or city development person reviewed, made recommendations and and approved this? How will the infrastructure of East Lawrence support this new burden? Is the south river bypass or whatever its called a part of this proposal?

A new scenario: One way for the project to work would for it to fail ala bialystock & blume. The project is built. It fails miserably. After several years the squatters get rights to the property, and it creates a new community. The current diesel pumps across the street are retofitted into a bio-diesel station. It all becomes the new city hall and town center.

Ward 9 years ago

Consumer1, if those are your true feelings, please do not bring them to East Lawrence.

One of the goals of housing assistance (federal aid for home loans, not transient living arrangements) is to encourage stability for communities and families. I seriously doubt the folks you're so afraid of will be qualifying for any loans of this sort. Sheesh.

ASBESTOS 9 years ago

BO used to be an idealist. It appears that he has found profit and money as an inspiration, instead of his former idealism. Sad to see. BO is much better with his architectural visions when there is real purpose.

Godot 9 years ago

Ward, I would call housing affordable if the monthly cost was no more one-fourth of a family's gross income. So, to "afford" the 700 sq ft condo in this project, one would need a monthly income of at least $2800.

ilovelucy 9 years ago

Bozo: Did you attend the meeting and hear these Harris lies?

01010a 9 years ago

This article should be renamed to "East Lawrence Slum Lords are ready to fight new Project"

I feel that the only people who are against this development are the slum lords. The New development will force slum lords to fix their houses, increase rent and possible get out of the business of renting house in horrible conditions.

I want this new development to go fowards and hopefully bring a new cleaner image to this Neighborhood.

Christine Pennewell Davis 9 years ago

I live in east law. and the traffic has gotten worse and it has nothing to do with business, all homes, but east lawrence does need more than just homes out here you have to drive all over town to find everything you need and that is a hassel with all the trafic in town.

Todd 9 years ago

I think most folks assume affordable housing means they can get a place they like on their income/savings. $24k/yr with $0 in savings seems to be a "regular person" type income/savings so...

A home is affordable if it cost close to $60k so the mortgage payment + insurance + taxes ~= $500/month or 25% of gross income. (that's assuming great credit which is not the norm)

How do you like this definition?

Godot 9 years ago

Todd, I guess that means the person you describe would have to move to one of the little, deserted Kansas towns if he wanted to buy a home. Either than, or buy a mobile home.

Godot 9 years ago

"I live in east law. and the traffic has gotten worse and it has nothing to do with business, all homes, but east lawrence does need more than just homes out here you have to drive all over town to find everything you need and that is a hassel with all the trafic in town."

Put a mini walmart in Hobbs Taylor

dlhj 9 years ago

There won't be affordable housing in this town until the demand goes down and the lot prices drop. You can't expect a builder to pay the high price for lots in town, build a decent house, and turn around and sell it at an "affordable" price, because they will lose money on the deal.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years ago

The complaint by the neighborhood has nothing to do with "affordable" housing. It has to do with the density of the development. What they are asking for is for Harris to build what he originally pitched to them, which would be 36 units, and not 54 units. If he wants to make some of those 36 "affordable," I'm sure the neighborhood would have no objections.

Even the scaled back version would increase density in that area considerably, but not so much that it overwhelms the rest of the neighborhood.

Christine Pennewell Davis 9 years ago

but where would you play baseball? the point is traffic is already bad over here and it is not going to make much diffrence. So Godot you scared of this side of town?

Godot 9 years ago

"So Godot you scared of this side of town?"

Nope. Actually, I wish I had bought there instead of where I am.

Richard Heckler 9 years ago

Old East Lawrence Neighborhood Association has supported commercial projects in their neighborhood. In fact they are supportive of the retail portion of this project.

Richard Heckler 9 years ago

There are affordable homes going up in this town through Tenants to Homeowners and Habitat for Humanity.

Give them a call.

gontek 9 years ago

I live in east lawrence and from what I know about this project I think it is great. Lawrence has a lot of room to improve it's existing neighborhoods, especially in some dilapadated areas of East Lawrence. We could also use some improvements to streets, sidewalks, and street lights. Traffic is OK except for the possible exception of Connecticut and the numbered Arterials. We are currently getting improvements in water and sewer. I hope we are moving forward and looking more like Boulder, CO. I do not understand the motives of some of my neighbors, and I am all for raising the property values in my area, I have enough low income neighbors and renters in my neighborhood as it is.

usaschools 9 years ago

I think the request of keeping liquor stores and pawn shops out of the retail sector is quite reasonable. I do think that there are traffic concerns and, even moreso, parking concerns that are very legitimate. I agree with the poster who suggested tax breaks for those fixing up older homes. This would be good throughout the core of central lawrence. It is good for the economy and the neighborhoods for owners to fix up properties.
That being said, there is a certain charm to living in that area (I used to live just a few blocks away, still spend a lot of time in the neighborhood and know a LOT of people living in the immediate vicinity). It is affordable, yet close to downtown. Some people think anything that isn't brand new is "run down," so if you don't see the charm, you just don't 'get it' and no logic will convince you of what you are unable to appreciate.

I don't think development of the area should be opposed, but careful planning and consideration of the lives of those who already live and own property there is only right. I can see some merits in this proposal and think it could be tweaked some to be successful.

Christine Pennewell Davis 9 years ago

I am not whining so blah blah blah, just kidding we do need many thing over here and I do not see this project as a bad thing just said traffic is already bad at least were I am and it is not from people trying to get into a bussiness area it is all residential traffic from a growing area. Been in the same house for 12 yrs so I do notice the increase in traffic from then. Build it does not bother me if the traffic is the hold up it is not a valid one is what I was trying to say. now mr editer erase this one...

Ward 9 years ago

Pilgrim Do you think the developer's interest is to "elevate the overall level of the neighborhood"? If that is the developer's intent, then fabulous. With that property there are probably tax incentives to rehabilitate existing structures, the land was cheap, and Harris has an interest in building for $ and selling for $$. Money and opportunity are the developer's means. I'm not saying developer=bad or opportunist, but if 36 units became 54 units without notice or discussion (per bozo), it changes the context of the issue. It betrays the trust of the neighborhood.

Imagine your mechanic, grocer, realtor, etc. pulling this stunt.

Godot 9 years ago

Ward wrote : "but if 36 units became 54 units without notice or discussion (per bozo), "

How 'bout it, Bozo? Cite your source on this one.

Godot 9 years ago

Sounds more likely to me that Bozo is using the 36 unit argument to bring a halt to the project because he knows that a 36 unit project will not work, financially. He is claiming that Harris lied, and sneaked the 54 units into the project. Yet, as usual, Bozo provides no proof to back up his libelous accusations.

What's the matter Bozo, are you peeved that you didn't get the design contract on this one?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years ago

The scale of the 36-unit project is what Harris used when he initially approached the neighborhood association. That's why they are so upset about his bait and switch tactic.

Harris also said that he couldn't do Hobbs-Taylor at anything less than 7 stories. Well, when he couldn't sell those, he built a 4- and 5-story structure. I haven't heard him complaining about losing money on that project.

Rationalanimal 9 years ago

bozo is a drive by blogger, all hat and no cattle. The statement is in and of itself the facts.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 9 years ago

Jeez, this forum is almost 100% innuendo and speculation, including most of the posts from two previous posters.

I'm merely stating what I have heard in conversations with those involved in these meetings. If there is merit to what I heard, it'll be presented at the proper time and place.

Not that that'll mean anything to the knee-jerk whiners on this board.

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