City commissioners Tuesday night balked at issuing a demolition permit for a 105-year-old vacant home near Kansas University after they found themselves in a "showdown" with the property owner.
On a 3-1 vote, commissioners essentially delayed a decision on whether to issue a demolition permit for 1232 La., despite strong objections from Mayor Mike Dever, who said the property was so structurally unsound that it could pose an immediate safety hazard to neighbors or people who illegally enter the vacant home.
"The house was beautiful at one time, but right now it is a death trap for whoever might enter it," Dever said.
But leaders with the Lawrence Preservation Alliance and the Oread Neighborhood Association asked commissioners to delay the demolition at least until the point that the owner of the property submits plans showing what would be built in its place.
Price Banks, a Lawrence attorney representing the property owners, said such plans weren't forthcoming because the property owner did not want to spend money on developing plans until there was certainty that the home would be demolished.
All four city commissioners - Commissioner Mike Amyx was absent - said they thought it was good policy to have some idea of what would replace the torn down home.
"I have a hard time with a property owner saying not now but never will he produce a replacement plan unless he has a demolition permit," City Commissioner Rob Chestnut said. "I kind of feel like we're in a showdown situation here, and I definitely do not like that position."
Oread leaders urged commissioners to stand strong. Speculation in the neighborhood is that the property owner has aspirations to buy several houses on the block, raze them, and do a major redevelopment on the land - which is just east of the Kansas University Alumni Center.
"The concern of the neighborhood is that if we lose that house, we will lose that block," said Carol vonTersch, a member of the neighborhood association.
Banks said he couldn't comment on that speculation because no plans have been developed by the owner. But adding to the intrigue is that Banks said he is not at liberty to disclose who the principal investors are in the ownership group - 1240 Louisiana Street Associates.
According to a 2007 annual report filed with the Kansas Secretary of State, the lone member of the company is R. Dean Wolfe.
Commissioners agreed to hear the issue again at their Aug. 12 meeting after city staff members have done more research on whether the owner could be compelled to present some plans for what would be located on the property.