The City Commission meeting featuring discussion about the city's 2008 budget and plans for a Wal-Mart at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive begins at 6:35 p.m. But the action already has begun. About 30 protestors are in front of City Hall with signs of "Save the T," "Let Lawrence Live," and "This is Class War: Hands off the T." One of the major budget items commissioners will consider tonight is whether to cut the hours of T from its current closing time of 8 p.m. to 6 p.m. The cuts would save about $600,000.
Protesters said tonight served as a perfect example of why the T hours should not be cut. David Smith, a member of the local Grassroots Action group, said at 6:15 p.m. the temperature still was hovering near 100 degrees.
"People would be forced to walk home in the heat, if they couldn't afford to buy gas," Smith said. "Six p.m. is too early to stop the T."
Protesters were massed underneath one of the few shade trees in front of City Hall. They had a table with cookies and rasberry and iced tea. They called the event a T party.
Inside City Hall, there also is a large crowd. The commission meeting room is standing-room only and a good 20 people or more are in the lobby area.
We'll get started shortly. Commissioners have a few routine items to take care of first. The order of the agenda tonight is that the city budget will be discussed first, and then the Wal-Mart plans will be considered.
As always, I apologize beforehand for any spelling errors or grammar mistakes. This report, unlike convential articles, does not have the benefit of being edited. I also will do my best to identify speakers, but sometimes that is difficult if they do not clearly state their names. Also, I will remind people that this is called a blog, but unlike traditional blogs it will not include author opinions.
Commissioners are about to begin discussing the 2008 budget. As a reminder, several issues exist. They include the hours of the T, the city's mill levy rate, pay raises for city employees, and the possible creation of a new sales tax (which would require voter approval). As it is currently proposed, the budget would require a mill levy increase of 0.425 mill. A mill is one dollar in tax for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.
6:43 p.m. City manager David Corliss reminds commissioners that they do not have the ability tonight to increase the mill levy more than the 0.425 mill levy increase that has been proposed. That is because the budget already has been published, and state law prohibits raising the mill levy after the budget has been published. It can be reduced. Corliss also explains that the budget as proposed does not provide $250,000 in funding for Bert Nash's WRAP program. To fund the program, the city commission will need to spend its fund balance - a type of saving account - down.
6:46 Corliss said there has been discussions about reducing the proposed mill levy increase. He said that essentially is going to require spending down reserve funds or fund balances. Said he and Commissioner Mike Amyx has discussed ways to reduce the mill levy increase. Those discussions have included talk of a new half cent sales tax to help fund streets and sidewalks. "The street maintenance issue is of such a magnitude that you're either going to need to tell me to reduce services, or we need a new revenue source," Corliss said. Corliss tells commissioners that there is $800,000 in an equipment reserve fund. It was placed there with the idea that the city will need to buy new transit buses in the future. Using some of that money is a way to reduce the proposed mill levy increase.
6:50: Corliss said that the budget does need to be adopted tonight. Needs to go to the County Clerk so property tax bills can be prepared. City Commissioner Boog Highberger said he wants to present information related to property taxes versus sales taxes. Says he has used Bureau of Labor statisics to estimate how much money people of various incomes spend on taxable items. "The sales tax is going to hit some people harder than others. When we talk about a sales tax, we need to be thinking about the kind of magnitude we're talking about."
6:55 Highberger continues. He shows several charts that he says illustrates "how regressive our current local taxes are." Mayor Sue Hack opens public comment section. Said she is limiting total public comment on the budget to 1 hour.
6:57 Mike M., leader of the Lawrence Police Officers Association, Lawrence police department's collective bargaining organization. Wants to speak about ideas related to city wages. Says this is different than how a business operates. "We don't make widgets. As police officers and detectives, we're providing needed services. We feel like we are holding up our end of the deal."
"In the short term you will save $250,000 if you don't provide a wage adjustment, but in the long term it will decrease the morale of these police officers and detectives and the entire 800 city employees."
Said it will impact the level of trust between the city and its employees. Said he believes the citizens of Lawrence expect high quality services. Urges commissioners to vote for 2 percent wage adjustment.
7:05 Dave Kingsley. Member of the city's alcohol tax advisory board. He wants to speak to Comm. Highberger's remarks about the regressive nature of the city's tax structure.
Kingsley continues. Said he thinks the sale tax will impact families greatly. Also wants to speak to budget process as a whole. "It has been intransparent." Also said, "citizen involvement in this process has not been real good." He also said he is a member of Grassroots Action. That advocacy group supports a 2 percent pay raise for city employees. Said he is concerned about cutting a "fragile public transportation system." "When you look through this budget there are areas we have major increases. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has a major increase. I'm not sure why. In a year when we're all supposed to suffer a little pain, I don't know why the Chamber of Commerce isn't being asked to do the same."
Kingsley continues. Says he can't see how another sales tax is going to do small businesses any good. Questions why the city projected a 4 percent increase in sales tax last year. Says that was clearly too high. Questions the projections used for the 2008 budget, which is 3.5 percent. "I don't understand this budgeting process." Also says that sales tax is the "most insidieous thing going on in taxation in this country" because it is taxing the poorest people.
Anthony Duran. Is a driver of the T, the city's public transit service. "The cuts you are suggesting doesn't just impact myself. It impacts our customers, our friends. The people you are looking to sit off to the side and forget about are the people who go to work everyday and runs this town. You need to start thinking like us, not like those at the top of the hill. You need to look at us and tell us that we can trust you to keep this service going."
Says the cuts will cause him to lose $200 per month because he will be cut to part-time. "You have to look into your budget and find the money somewhere to keep this going. We are the people who voted you into office and we can change that. I hate to make threats but this town needs to change. This town has become a KU holdout. If you aren't part of KU, your voice doesn't matter."
Chris Burger, president of Downtown Lawrence Inc. The organization's funding is uncertain for the 2008 budget. Said that downtown is doing wonderfully. Said vacancy rates are lower than other areas when you take out property that is vacant but not available to be rented. Says DLI plays an important part in downtown's success.
Bob Suderman, member of the Douglas County Community Corrections Board. Said cutting the T hours to 6 p.m. would have a "tremendous impact" on our clientele. Said that availability of transportation "is everything in being able to help people avoid probation problems." Said a lack of transportation options can lead to people missing appointments or jobs that would cause a violation of probation requirements.
7:23: Ms. Elkins, president of the city's fire fighters union. Supports the wage adjustments. Said should be noted that there is no increase in personnell for the fire department. Said 20 percent of firefighters have bunker gear that is not safe. "We have to take care of the people who are going to take care of our community." Asks the community to think about "her brothers and sisters in the fire department."
David Smith, a member of Grassroots Action. Asks people to think about the heat today at 6 p.m. Said that 8 p.m. is a "vastly" more logical time to close the bus system. Said that the T is an "enormous Lawrence success story." Ridership has more than doubled since it was founded. "Our sense is the community is deeply concerned about a serious cutbacks in this important city service." Said during the last 7 hours, the group has collected about 400 signatures urging commissioners to not cut the service to the T.
7:29 Smith continues. "We hope you won't balance the budget on the backs of people who can least afford it."
Carrie Lindsey, director of the Resident services office of the Lawrence Douglas County Housing Authority. Said T provides important transportation options to clients of the Housing Authority. Said some housing programs require residents to work at least 15 hours per week. "Many of the families rely on the Lawrence Public Transit system." The current hours already are challenging to some of her clients, she said.
7:34 p.m. Laura Routh, Said in 2005 a resource plan for the Lawrence Police Department was created. Said that in the 2008 budget, there is no mention of the resource plan. Says that the police department is not taking the resource plan seriously. Said that since 2005 there has been a nearly $3 million increase in police department's budget. Said there has been a marked increase in theft and burglary. "We don't seem to be getting a police department that is actively engaged in community policing and crime prevention." She continues. "I ask you again, who is this police department accountable to?"
David S. Says this budget is setting up a class war. "You are sending a message to the poor and working class that they are expendable." He continues. "We are at a breaking point, where people who are poor are giving and giving and giving. People ont he other side of the line are taking, taking and taking. Waht is going to happen when working people in this city do not have any more to give."
Michael Pomes. Says raising pool fees to $3 for children is going to make it difficult for many families to attend the pool. Also addresses funding for WRAP program. Says the school district should provide funding for the program. "But how much are we willing to pay if there is going to be a Columbine style incident at one of our schools." Also asks the city to look at Eagle Bend Golf Course, which has not been historically profitable for the city. Says city does not charge user fees for skateboard park. That might be something to look at, he said.
Carley B. A KU junior who is advocating for funding for Hawk Night events at KU. The program has traditionally received city funding from the special alcohol tax. It is a program that provides nonalcoholic event for KU students. "We have been good stewards of this money," she said. Said the organizers would appreciate any financial contribution. Previously has been $20,000 to $25,000 from the city. The money currently is not in the city's proposed budget.
Kelly Barth. Said she is speaking for Carey Maynard-Moody, who could not attend tonight. Tells a story about a young woman who depends on public transit. (Sorry, it was more detailed than that, but I had technical difficulties and was not able to convey all of it.)
7:53 Not sure of name. Woman rides the T. Thinks there are six things that could increase T ridership. Said visually impaired people have a hard time reading the city's public transit maps. 2. Allow water and food on the bus. 3. Pick you up where you need to be picked up and drop off at where you need to be. Sometimes have to walk about one miles. 4. Said she wasn't allowed to talk to people about her home-based business to patrons of the bus. Wasn't able to market her business on the T. 5. Need more bike racks on the bus. 6. Buses need to go beyond 10 p.m. Said that would increase number of health care workers and other workers. Also has concerns about the city's water rates. Doesn't think they are equitable. Thinks people who use minimal amounts of water are charged too much.
7:59 Joe Douglas. "Morally we can not balance our budget by taking things away from those who need it the most. People who are on the edge of collapse." says he sees these people everyday as a doctor at Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center.
8:02: Mayor Sue Hack said that ends public comment for the budget session. Hack said she would first like to talk about water, sewer, trash service and other rates the city are setting tonight. Comm. Highberger said the rates seem to be within reason. Highberger said he would like to talk in the future about having an increasing rate system, which would charge large users of water a higher per gallon rate. Currently, all users are charged the same per gallon rate, regardless of how much water they use. The increasing rate system would encourage more conservation, Highberger has said.
8:07 p.m. Comm. Rob Chestnut said he agrees that we ought to review the rate structure, but said must be careful to make sure that we have a rate structure that can continue to support the large amount of debt the city has taken out for improvements to the water and sewer systems. Hack takes a motion to approve the water, sewer, trash and impact fee increases. It is approved 5-0.
8:10 Discussion about raising swimming pool fees. Would increase to $3 for children. "I don't see another way to do it," Amyx said. Highberger will support it but would rather have a fee increase to $2.50. Highberger said he is concerned about reducing park maintenance activities to help pay for the pool. He would rather find money elsewhere. Amyx said he also would like to see the money come from somewhere else, but said he doesn't see a way to do that right now.
Commission approves pool fee increases. 5-0.
8:13 Discussion about public guest tax revenues. Commission agrees to approve a new administrative policy setting a $150,000 reserve fund that the city will use to promote tourism, rather than giving that money to the Lawrence Convention and Visitors Bureau. The CVB still will receive some city funding.
Also have a discussion on waiving impact fees for the Tenants to Homeowners program that provides affordable housing. Staff has recommended against it, unless the money comes from the general fund. Highberger would like to waive the fee. Commissioner Mike Dever would like to support it,but perhaps make it a rebate instead of a waiver of the fee. Chestnut agrees with Dever. Said waiving the fee wouldn to be as transparent as abating the fee would be. Said it is a matter of process to him. Wants to support the affordable housing program, though. Hack said she can't support the waiver request at currently proposed. Wants to talk about it more at a later time to see what the city can do for the organization. Amyx said he wants to discuss the issue at a future city commission meeting.
8:20 Discussion of fee waiver continues. Corliss said he is concerned about the unconscious shift to water and sewer ratepayers if the fee is waived. Amyx wants the city to think about other situations that the impact fees may be asked to be waived. Hack said there is no question about the "worth of the organization and what it does." She wants to have a study session on the whole issue of affordable housing and creative ways to do some rebating of funds and other ways the city can address affordable housing issues. Motion is to defer the request from Tenants to Homeowners and place this as a future study session item. Motion approved 5-0.
Hack wants to have discussion about funding for WRAP, the usage of $250,000 of money that previously had been earmarked for WRAP to fund school resource officers in the Lawrence Police Department, and the desire of the commission to give a 2 percent wage adjustment for city employees. Amyx asks Corliss to go over his most recent recommendations. Corliss said money could be transfered out of the equipment reserve fund to keep transit services operating at current hours. Said the 2 percent wage adjustment for city employees will cost about $700,000. About $500,000 of that is coming from the city's fund balance, a version of a savings account. Corliss said we "have to be careful about spending the fund balance down." Need contigency to deal with what the "economy may throw at us during the next 18 months." But he also said the city can spend the fund balance. "We joke about it, but we can have a mill levy of 20 and give free snow cones to everyone, but we're going to have less money." Does say that if the city uses the equipment reserve fund to help fund transit operations, it will make it more difficult to purchase new buses in the future, but not impossible. To eliminate the mill levy increase of 0.425 mills for transit and keep hours to 8 p.m., the city needs to find $584,000 worth of cuts elsewhere in the city budget. Corliss said using the money from the equipment reserve fund would be his recommendation. Commissioner Amyx has said he wants to look at cutting existing street maintenance and replace it with a future sales tax that he hopes the voters will approve. If the city wants to fund WRAP, Corliss said he recommends the city spend down its fund balance by $250,000. "I can not recommend decreasing resources to the police department."
Amyx: "I understand how regressive a sales tax can be but if we are going to have a budget that we can balance in future years, we have to have an additional revenue source," he said. He said next year's budget hearings probably will be "horrible." Says a 5-year sales tax would allow the city to create a plan to deal with major street and sidewalk issues. "I in no way want to raise anyone's taxes, I really don't, but I don't know where we are going to get the funding unless we are willing to just start saying no to the services that we are currently funding." The only other option is a 2 to 4 mill property tax increase. On employee pay issue: He supports wage increase. "I challenge anyone totell me what our employees don't do well. They work their tails off. I'm proud of them.: On the T system. Said two weeks ago he was wiling to cut the Ts hours. "I have visited with a whole lot of people over the last two weeks. You would be amazed at how I can cut hair with one hand and answer the phone with the other," said Amyx, who is a barber. Said the city has to put togetehr a program where we "will see people on thsoe buses." May not be able to serve "every square inch" of the community. Said he wants to look at changes to how the T system opertes. "I think what we must do is we need to figure out a way to fund" T services and keep the T hours at currrent level. "I think we need to make a recommendation, really an order to come up with a better T system." Said that may mean a merger with KU bus system. "We need a plan on how to fund the next several years."
Comm. Chestnut. Doesn't want to decrease street maintenance but agrees that we need another revenue stream to "move past just climbing up the hill. I agree with the current revenue stream we won't be able to get over the hill." On the T, said it has been underfunded for a number of years. Have spent $1.7 million of reserve funds in the last two years to fund the T. "There has been a reluctance to fund it." Said he is more concerned about 2009 and beyond. T operating contract expires at end of 2008. It treats the city very favorably in terms of fuel costs. New contract likely won't. It may cause the city to increase the mill levy by 2 mills to operate it as stand alone. He said there are people who do depend on the T after 6 p.m. but said it is relatively small number compared to the overall needs of the city. Says he can support cutting T hours to 6 p.m. On WRAP, he said he can not support funding since it appears the Lawrence School District likely will not fund it in 2008. He said he supports raising the mill levy by 0.425 mills, cutting T hours to 6 p.m. and using $250,000 of money earmarked for WRAP to fund school resoure officers in the police department. Willing to consider a sales tax. Does not support transfering money from either equipment reserve fund or cutting street maintenance to fund the T.
Highberger: Supports keeping the T hours at current 8 p.m. level. "I think it would be irresponsible to cut the hours to the T. It is a crucial city service." Wants to keep the 0.425 mill increase and transfer money to support the T. On WRAP: He thinks the school should fund the entire program. "But even if they don't do the right thing and fund the program, I don't think that is an excuse for us to not do the right thing because it helps so many children." On city pay raise. He supports it. The city employees work hard. Also said he wants to transfer money out of equipment reserve fund and not cut street maintenance. "I made that mistake once," Highberger said of cutting street maintenance. He would support moving forward on a sales tax because he doesn't see another way.
Comm. Dever. This comes down to level of service we want to have, he said. On the T, thinks we need to keep the T service where it is at today. "It is only fair to give people a chance to figure out how to get to their jobs." Supports keeping the 0.425 mill levy increase. Wants to get the additional money to keep the T at the current 8 p.m. service hours from the equipment reserve fund. Does not want to cut the street maintenace budget. "I'm afraid if we do that we're going to get further down in a hole." On WRAP, if the school district can't afford the funding of the WRAP program, he is not sure the city can afford to fund it either.
Amyx says he agrees that city can't afford to fund WRAP this year.
Hack says she supports funding a pay increase for city employees. Can't support WRAP funding. "I've made a lot of difficult decisions on WRAP funding," said Hack who is a former teacher, "but that may be the most difficult. It kills me that I can't support funding that program." On the T: Supports keeping the 0.425 mill levy increase. Also supports transfering money to keep the T hours at 8 p.m. Note: That should give the T the three votes it needs to avoid a cut in service hours.
Hack also says that the T operations need to be reviewed. Does want to consider merging with KU, but thinks cutting hours would make that more difficult.
Hack says it is time to vote. Amyx asks whether there will be a discussion about a new sales tax. Hack suggests having it during the last meeting of August.
Amyx said it is important that nobody got everything they wanted in this budget. Amyx notes that in a $140 million budget, they are down to talking about $600,000. Doesn't want to support a 0.425 mill levy increase but will do so as long as have a serious discussion about sales tax. Hack said she supports Amyx's plan for a half cent sales tax. "I will tell you that now," Hack said. Thinks it should be spent largely for streets and sidewalks and some money for improving land to make it suitable for industrial development.
Highberger said he wants to talk about new impact fees as well. He also said the state allows for an "intangibles tax." Said it should be researched.
Motion on keeping T at 8 p.m. and increasing transit fund mill levy by 0.425 mills and transfering money out of equipment reserve fund. Approved 4-1 with Chestnut opposed. He had said he did not want to transfer money from equipment reserve fund. He would have cut hours to 6 p.m.
Motion on using $250,000 once earmarked for WRAP to fund school resource officers with that money. Also provides 2 percent wage increase. Approved: 3-2 with Dever and Highberger opposing it. Highberger wanted to fund WRAP. Dever had previously expressed concerned about providing 2 percent wage increase.
Motion on overall budget. Approved 5-0.
Taking 10 minute break.
We're starting the Wal-Mart discussion. The lobby is ful as is the commission meeting rooms. There are several signs, including one that says "Not Local. You're Loco." Mayor Hack asks for the signs to be put down because it is distracting from the meeting.
City Planner Lisa Pool begins the presenatation. She said there is one feature building, which is for Wal-Mart. There are four smaller buildings as part of the project. Said Horizon 2020 designates the area as future commercial development. Planning Commission recommended approval of the plans on an 8-0 vote.
Since the Planning Commission meeting, staff has requested language be added to the plan clarifying that Wal-Mart and the developers will pay for 2/3rds of the cost of a new traffic signal at Sixth and Congressional.
Goes over some history. Oct. 26 city commission tabled the rezoning requests and denied a previous preliminary development plan.
A change from the previous plan is that there is 1.6 acres that has been designated as open space.
Hack asks for the protest signs to be put down again or else the people will need to leave. A member of the crowd says the First Ammd. still exists, but the signs are put down.
Bill Newsome. Who owns the property with Doug Compton. "I think we all want Lawrence to be a place where if you follow the rules you will be given an opportunity. That opportunity exists for Wal-mart as well as it does for mom and pop operations.
Angie Stoner, a spokeswoman for Wal-Mart. "Wal-mart provides good quality jobs for our associates." Several members of the public laughs. Hack says people must behave themselves. Says this is a business meeting and people should act accordingly. Stoner continues. Says every store gives $30,000 to $50,000 per year to charity. She contiues. "One thing Wal-mart does focus on is saving working families money." Says store will provide more than 250 new jobs. She continues. "Wal-mart is committed to being a good neighbor."
Todd Thompson, a Lawrence attorney representing Wal-Mart. He notes the project has been embroiled in litigation. He also notes that this city commission asked Wal-mart to submit new plans for consideration. Said it is important to note that this corner of the intersection has always been identified as appropriate for commercial development. Says the school district was aware of that when it bought land for nearby Free State High School. "A lot of the folks here tonight do not like one of the biggest users of the corner, Wal-mart. But the issue before you tonight is not about Wal-mart." he continues. "The reality is this plan exceeds the guidelines that were in effect when it was filed. We have made attempts to go the extra mile." Said it is important to get this property generating property tax and sales tax "and not consuming dollars on litigation, so maybe some of the discussions you had earlier tonight can be avoided in future years."
Thompson continues. On the issue of Wal-mart paying for 2/3rds of the traffic light at Congressional and Sixth Street: He said Wal-mart and the development agrees to pay for 2/3rds of the cost.
Ray Frankenberg. Site engineer for the project. Goes over a map of the site with commissioners and the crowd.
He continues. He said he believes the main entrance for the public will be off of Congressional just north of Sixth Street. Says they have made changes to the design so that the parking lot traffic is farther away from the front door of the store to make it more pedestrian friendly. Also, said a small portion of the parking lot will be constructed out of impervious pavers to test that product in Lawrence. Said there are numerous sidewalks in the plan. Said there is a protected pedestrian crossing for shoppers to use to get to the store. Said the open space area will be planted with native plants. They are plants that should not have to be irrigated for the longterm. Says the open area will include a meandering stream.
Hack says she will limit public comment time to one hour.
Gwen Klingenberg, a west Lawrence resident. Says the plan does not conform to the city's comprehensive plan or other nodal plans. Says nodal plan clearly says that no building should be larger than 80,000 square feet. Wal-mart store is proposed for 100,000 square feet. Says that Horizon 2020 says no discount store should be larger than 65,000 square feet on that site. Says the plan should be denied on that basis alone. "You have the right to say no to Wal-Mart," she said. Says the overall intersection will have more than 400,000 square feet. Says city plans say that is too much. Says that the KDOT and city traffic modeling is incomplete because it did not consider traffic that originated north of Overland Drive that would use Congressional Drive.
She continues. Says that evidence from other Wal-mart stores in the country show that neighorhoods near the store will be hurt. "These applicants do not even try to conform with our codes and comprehensive plans," she said.
Klingenberg's comments bring applause. Hack tells the crowd that applause is not allowed. It is a business meeting.
Kirk McClure, a professor of urban planning at KU. "One of the most important standards is it has to be beneficial to the community. If we have developers proposing more stuff that the community can absorb, it is bad for the community." Says retail space has been going up by about 3 percent per year. He said increase in retail spending, adjusted for inflation, has been growing by 0.9 percent per year. "From 1995 to 2007, we have been growing by about three times the amount we can sustain."
Says that retail spending should be growing a little faster than population. From 1995 to present, retail spending is lagging behind population growth. He says there is not evidence that shows the city is losing significant retail spending to other communities.
He said Wal-mart will not create new jobs. He said there will be a net loss of jobs because other retailers in the community will lose jobs. He said it will not create new sales tax revenue. It only will be a shift in sales tax revenue.
Says there are signs that Lawrence economy is troubling. North Lawrence has commercial vacancy rate of 42 percent he said. He said there are only two communities that you see that type of vacancy rates: Ghost towns and the "inner city slums of Kansas City, Kan." "We are replicating all the mistakes of Kansas City, Kan."
He said in the pipeline and in the ground right now, we have enough retail space for the next 22 years based on the current demand.
"Do what is best for this community and say no to this project."
Susan Winter. Said traffic is really her concern. "I'm concerned about what a big box brings to that intersection." Talks about the traffic study done by KDOT and city engineers. She thinks there will be significant improvements needed to the roads near the site. She is concerned that the city doesn't have improvements in the budget. Says there needs to be five new traffic lights. Wakarusa and Overland, Sixth and Congressional, DiVilibiss Place and Wakarusa, entrance to Arby and Dillons off of Sixth Street and Harvard and Wakarusa. "This intersection was not built for a big box retailer."
She continues. This is a very residential area, she said. Said you do see people biking, walking and jogging at that intersection. Says this development will make it like 31st and Iowa intersection. She said that the school district knew that this would be a commercial area, "but they didn't know it was going to be a big box store. The game plan changed after Free State already was built."
Barbara Paschke. Says there is no evidence that Lawrence residents want a second Wal-Mart store. "We will have yielded again to powerful private interests," she said if the plan is approved. "I think it says a lot about Lawrence today that the only big retailer we're attracting to this site is one of the most reviled businesses in the country. Are you powerless to stop this?"
Bob Bechtel. Says this store will duplicate services that are already available in town. Said he is concerned this development could promote blight in the community. Said this situation is similar to when Columbia/HCA hospital chain wanted to come to town and compete with Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The city said no to HCA and protected the hospital. "Is this project something Lawrence really needs to maintain its uniqueness, and what will be the longterm consequences?"
David Smith, a member of Grassroots Action. Submits a petition that was circulated for seven or eight hours that has 300 names calling for a referendum on Wal-Mart. "A lot of people feel very strongly about this issue." Also Grassroots Action conducted a phone poll. Tried to be as neutral as possible, he said. The results were 53.2 percent oppose, 26.8 percent favor and 20 percent had not opinion. "If this poll is close to accurate, if anything close to 2 to 1 people oppose building Wal-mart, I think it really behooves the commission to poll the public through a referundum."
Jolene Bechtel. Speaking on behalf of someone who wasn't able to be here tonight. She opposes the store. "I would urge you to have the bravery that a previous city commission had when they turned down Columbia/HCA," she said. "You do have the right to turn this down."
Ms. True (Not sure of spelling): She supports the Wal-Mart project. Thinks speed on Sixth Street and Wakarusa should be reduced to 35 miles per hour. Need more pedestrian activiated crossings. Commends Wal-Mart for continuing to allow the Salvation Army have their bell ringers at the store, when many big box retailers do not. Also Wal-Mart allows many nonprofits to do fundraising at their stores. She said Wal-mart hasn't caused empty retail space. She said that is the result of poor management or over-regulation. She said that area of town would be well-served. "Where can you at nine or 10 o'clock at night for a gas gan or over the counter prescriptions.
Jim Turrentine. Said he is concerned about the safety of the intersection. Said Wal-mart will generate more than 3 times the amount of traffic as many other retailers. Believes it will create injuries and death. "Overdevelopment kills people and businesses," Turrentine said.
Mark O'Lear: Says he questions how much Wal-mart will really help the city. He said it won't save people any money because there already is a Wal-mart in town. He said it won't create new sales tax. "People aren't going to raid their retirement accounts to spend extra money at Wal-mart. This isn't going to cause people to spend more money." Said he wants to know what Lawrence is going to gain by this?
Paula Pepin: She has concerns about traffic safety. Concerned about cut-through traffic through the neighborhood. Wants assurances that Wakarusa will be fixed before this store opens.
Hack asks for the protester signs to be removed. She asks a Lawrence police officer to have the signs removed. He asks for clarification. Ultimately, Hack says that the signs are fine, if they aren't waved and made to be distracting.
Dave Strano: Opposes the Wal-Mart. Says this amounts to class warefare.
Joe Douglas: Is a doctor at Bert Nash Mental Health Center. Said he has treated a worker at Wal-Mart who were not able to afford a $25 per month prescription. "People across the country are subsidizing Wal-mart's low prices." he continues. "I don't think Wal-mart is the type of business you envision when you talk about high quality jobs."
Mike Treanor. He is part of the development team for the northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. He supports the project. He thinks the presence of a strong retail anchor will help develop other retail around the area.
That ends the public comment. Shoeb Uddin, city engineer, said he feels good about the most recent traffic study that shows the area roads can handle the anticipated traffic. Neighbors disagree. He said the city and state worked hard to get good estimates of future traffic.
Todd Thompson, attorney for Wal-mart, said that no city subsidy will be flowing to Wal-Mart at any time.
Thompson continues. "People can certainly have difference of opinions, and clearly there is a difference of opinion, but your professional staff has reviewed this project and recommended it for approval." He also said Planning Commission has recommended approval of it unanmiously. Also said KDOT has reviewed it and said that the street can handle more traffic.
Upon questioning from Comm. Highberger, City Planner Lisa Pool said there was some language in city plans that limited the size of a single building at the site to 80,000 square feet.
Comm. Rob Chestnut said that traffic was his main concern. Said need to be focused on designing roads that connect to Sixth Street to discourage cut through traffic into neighborhoods.
Chuck Soules, the city's director of public works, said staff members agree and are looking at design issues.
Comm. Amyx asks if Wal-mart could expand at this site in the future.
Comm. Highberger said he believes any future city commission could allow them to expand there as long as there is three votes to do that.
City Manager David Corliss said he believes that is correct. Said it probably would require some type of contractural agreement.
David Woosely: Traffic engineer for the city said that Sixth Street has been built to handle the traffic. Wakarusa will need some improvements in the future.
Chestnut: Said design of side streets can be made to show people "that this is not a place to go to get someplace fast."
Comm. Highberger: Said he supported the agreement that the city reached about a year ago with the developer in an effort to settle the lawsuit. He thought that agreement was a step in the right direction toward limiting the total amount of retail space at the corner. But he is concerned that a Wal-mart will generate three to five times more than other retailers. Given that, he can't support rezoning the property.
Amyx: Is ready to support the plan. "I think the decision ultimately should be made by this body, not by a court of law. That's where we are heading. We could end up with a 154,000 square foot store." Does say he wants to talk about ways to correct traffic that may come through the neighborhood.
Motion to approve the rezonings. 4-1 approved. Highberger oppossed.
Hack. Thinks this plan is even better than the one presented previously. Supports the preliminary development plan.
Corliss: Clarifies that 2/3rds of the traffic signal at Sixth and Congressional will be paid by the developer. The other 1/3rd will be paid by a benefit district. None of it will be paid for by the city. Corliss also said there will need to be a traffic signal at Overland and Wakarusa. Need to look at the timing, but "I think it will need to be sooner rather than later." He said Wal-Mart has agreed not to protest a benefit district to pay for that traffic signal.
Amyx said he wants the development to be part of a benefit district to pay for traffic calming improvements on Congressional drive to help control traffic.
Dever asks about turning issues on Wakarusa Drive south of Sixth Street. Corliss said as the community grows with this project and others it will become more difficult to turn into the driveways of some of those businesses. Whether a median or something else will be needed is unclear. Corliss said what other off-site improvements are needed to this area in regards to traffic is a good question.
Amyx said he would like to place conditions on a preliminary development plan about requiring the development to pay for at least a portion of West Lawrence traffic calming issues. Corliss said it could be placed on the final development plan, which is not before the City Commission tonight. The preliminary development plan is before the City Commission tonight. Corliss said the question is how far away from the store should developers be made to pay for projects.
Chestnut said can't forget about large developments at Sixth and the SLT. That will contribute to traffic issues as well. "I'm not sure it is fair to tie it to a single development, but we do need to make sure the issue is a priority," he said.
Note: Sorry folks, but these blog entries are going to slow down quite a bit. I must start writing stories to get into tomorrow's newspaper.
Motion made to approve preliminary development plan. Approved. 4-1. Highberger opposed.