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Archive for Saturday, August 16, 2008

Improvements cited in town-gown relations

Communication increases between neighborhood leaders, chancellor’s office

In this May 2006 file photo, Kansas University students unwind with a keg of beer on the lawn of the Hawk's Pointe 3 apartments. Student behavior is still a concern cited by neighborhood leaders with properties near campus.

In this May 2006 file photo, Kansas University students unwind with a keg of beer on the lawn of the Hawk's Pointe 3 apartments. Student behavior is still a concern cited by neighborhood leaders with properties near campus.

August 16, 2008

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It has been six short years since Kansas University and Oread Neighborhood leaders clashed over a controversial demolition of several houses in the 1300 block of Ohio Street to make room for a new scholarship hall.

The project generally was seen as a low point in town-gown relations in the community. Today, the scholarship hall has been built, but neighborhood and KU leaders say some bridges have been, too.

"I would say the relationship is going well now," said Carol von Tersch, an Oread resident who has long been active in KU-neighborhood issues.

Neighbors and university leaders cite two major changes: a more open-door policy on the part of KU and a 3-year old agreement between the city and KU that requires the university to follow all city codes on projects that are outside a boundary surrounding campus.

"The neighborhood people know they can call me any time day or night," said Jeff Weinberg, assistant to Chancellor Robert Hemenway. "It doesn't always mean I can solve the problem, but I will jump on it."

Von Tersch said the chancellor's office initiates meetings with Oread leaders about every six months. Weinberg said he's also met regularly with other neighborhoods that are adjacent to the university.

"Before that agreement between the city and university, I don't think we would have had many calls from the chancellor's office to have lunch," VonTersch said.

VonTersch said the meetings have been helpful in working with the university on housing-related matters. Neighborhood leaders recently successfully lobbied KU and the Kansas University Endowment Association to put two homes in the neighborhood up for sale.

The city and KU agreement required that noncampus property owned by the university would be required to go through zoning, building permit, demolition permit and other city regulations.

"We believe the agreement with the city has worked very well for all concerned," Weinberg said. "It has opened regular lines of communication, and it has made very clear what the responsibilities are of the university."

City leaders also said they are generally pleased with town-gown relations. Lawrence City Commissioner Boog Highberger, who lives in the Oread Neighborhood, said the cooperation is extending beyond just neighborhood issues. He said he was impressed that the city and university have taken new steps to merge the KU and city bus systems.

He also said a proposed partnership between KU, the city, the county and the Lawrence-Douglas County Bioscience Authority to build a new life sciences incubator building on West Campus was positive.

"I think that is a really big step forward," Highberger said.

Highberger said the one area he would like the university to do more work on is student behavior issues. Noise issues, litter issues and alcohol-related issues are still a concern.

"My observation is that alcohol-related behavior by students has gotten worse in the neighborhood," Highberger said. "I think something more needs to be done."

In past years, some residents have advocated a system where the university would send letters to the parents of students if the students had received a certain number of alcohol- or behavior-related citations in municipal court. The university, however, has expressed concerns about the idea because it would involve serious issues related to student rights.

"What has led to those extreme measures at some other universities are problems that we've been blessed not to have," Weinberg said.

But Weinberg said the university has increased the amount of emphasis it is placing in orientation session on being good neighbors and respectful members of the community. That's also reinforced during sorority and fraternity pledge periods, he said.

"We want all of our students, even if they live in our dormitories, to understand that they are part of a broader community," Weinberg said.

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