Whether a new Lawrence City Commission would be more receptive to allowing a Wal-Mart at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive is still an open question.
City Commission candidates at Wednesday's Voter Education Coalition forum were split on whether they would agree to reopen talks with the developers who have sued the city over a denial of building permits for a Wal-Mart store at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive.
A trial for the case is set to begin in Douglas County District Court about two weeks after the April 3 general election. One candidate, James Bush, said he would like the city to explore reopening talks with developers to see whether a mutually agreeable plan for the property could be reached.
"I would be willing to reconsider that," said Bush, who said it "reflected poorly" on the city to have to settle its conflicts in court.
But the two incumbent commissioners seeking re-election - Boog Highberger and David Schauner - both told the forum crowd at City Hall that they were comfortable with the case going to trial.
City commission race 2007
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"The city makes rules and expects everyone to follow the rules," Schauner said. "And I think going to court actually is a very civil way of resolving conflicts. It beats the heck out of massing armies."
Highberger also said he thought a settlement was unlikely. He said the city previously tried to settle the suit with Wal-Mart, but that fell apart when Wal-Mart brought back a plan for the corner that was "nowhere near" what the city expected.
That plan was denied on a 3-2 vote in October. Highberger, Schauner and outgoing Commissioner Mike Rundle voted against the proposal, meaning all three seats that decided the issue are up for election.
Candidate Carey Maynard-Moody on Wednesday told the crowd that the Wal-Mart lawsuit was unfortunate, but that it was important to protect neighborhoods. She said she was willing to allow the suit to go to trial if that's "the only recourse."
Rob Chestnut said he was concerned about the mounting legal costs the city was incurring, and said that he thought they could climb significantly because he believed Wal-Mart and the developers likely would appeal the case if they lose the upcoming trial in district court. But Chestnut said he wasn't going to comment on whether a settlement would be appropriate because he was uncertain that it would be possible to reach one at this stage of the process.
Mike Dever stopped short of saying he would reopen settlement talks, but said he did think both sides should strive to come up with a site plan that works for everybody.
"What is best for Lawrence is not to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on this," Dever said.
Candidates split on funding for homeless issues. Highberger said the city should make it a goal to fully fund the recommendations previously made by a city-appointed task force, but said it would take a combination of public and private funding.
Schauner said he wanted the city to look at the model used in Topeka, which includes a significant effort from the faith-based community.
Chestnut said he thought a future report from the city task force would provide much-needed information on what a new homeless shelter might include, and could include innovative funding methods.
Bush said he thought the issue would require the community to get creative, and likely would have to include encouraging more volunteer activity and an education program for businesses who might be able to hire homeless individuals.
Dever said the city needed to designate a lead agency to coordinate a homeless services plan, and said some consolidation of services to create more efficiency should be examined.
Maynard-Moody said she was looking forward to seeing the task force's next report, and said she would encourage the community to be creative in how to address and fund the issue.
The entire candidate forum can be seen on Sunflower Broadband Channel 6 at: 8 p.m. Friday, noon Saturday, 8 p.m. Tuesday, and 9 p.m. March 29.