Letters to the Editor

Housing issues

October 9, 2009


To the editor:

I’m glad the City Commission voted to override the Planning Commission’s decision to allow more apartments to be built southeast of Clinton Parkway and Inverness. I agree with several friends who own homes nearby that more apartments would significantly diminish the attractiveness of the area. I’m disappointed, however, that some commissioners were apparently unwilling to discuss whether the current supply of apartments is more than enough, even for our college community. Shouldn’t that be the threshold question in any consideration of allowing the building of more apartments?

We know from recent history that we cannot always trust suppliers to measure demand responsibly, and reasonable market regulation is not inconsistent with democratic capitalism. So, if we as a community fail to consider whether more apartments are needed, don’t we run the risk of oversupplying demand in much the same way the broader housing market did? To anyone who intends to make a home and a life in Lawrence, the proliferation of new apartments all over town must be worrisome. Should supply too greatly exceed demand, prices will drop; then the quality of rental properties will decrease, with nearby property values following.

Our city leaders must sensibly manage growth in our housing market — much like our national leaders must measure and sometimes restrict growth in our financial markets — to avoid the destructive effects of growth too rapid for its market and community. If certain City Commissioners are unwilling to consider this most basic question of supply and demand on such an important issue, they are unwilling to do the job they were elected to do.


Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

This letter is on target. This situation is hard on our wallets as tax dollars continue to deplete our expendable cash reserves.

I say this is a huge problem at city hall in all areas of our local economy:

By Kim McClure

July 24, 2009

To the editor:

The July 14 editorial asks, “What’s downtown going to look like five, 10 or 15 years from now?” The answer can be known, and the picture is not pretty.


Lawrence has enough spending to support about 4.1 million square feet of retail space, but the City Commission permitted developers to expand the supply to over 5.5 million square feet.

Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown.

The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted. The taxpayers’ $8 million parking garage stands largely empty. The Hobbs-Taylor building and the 600 block of Massachusetts should be the top performing spaces in the community, but they have significant vacancies.

The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

The developers’ short-term gain is now our long-term loss. Managed growth would have prevented much of the problem and would have protected and enhanced our downtown.

It will take many, many years to absorb this surplus space and, until this happens, it will be hard for downtown to compete. We can only look forward to many years of high vacancy and disinvestment. We need a City Commission that knows how to pace the growth of supply so as to protect our unique downtown.

McClure is from Lawrence


Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

It is also reflected in the ongoing destruction of the downtown business district. This would be obvious to any newcomer. The current business trend is restoring downtown business districts.

Overbuilt retail is not compatible with profit = not good for business

Over built residential is not compatible with maintaining strong property values.

Over built light industrial notes this area as “high dollar ” rent district = not good for business.

The people trying to attract new tenants for over built retail locations are the same people who might put new tenants out business by bringing in new competition and continue to flood the retail markets = not good for business or taxpayers.

The “mismanagement growth team” is only interested in more and more new locations that fatten personal wallets. They are not interested in maintaining strong performing markets. This is unfriendly to existing business,new business AND taxpayers across the board.

How many ways do taxpayers subsidize this reckless growth?

Poorly planned development threatens our environment, our health, and our quality of life in numerous ways.

Bad planning spreads development out over large amounts of land, puts long distances between homes, stores, and job centers and stretches our city services such as trash pick up = increase in user fees.

Irresponsible planning increases traffic on our neighborhood streets and highways.

Questionable planning wastes tax money. It pulls economic resources away from existing resources and spreads them out over sparse developments far away from the core.

Taxes subsidize millions of dollars worth of new roads, new water and sewer lines, new schools and increased police and fire protection at the expense of the needs of the core communities. This leads to degradation of our older neighborhoods and higher taxes.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Can over building be avoided? Of course it can. However speculation is for Wall Street not for Lawrence,Kansas taxpayers.


Lawrence Taxpaying Voters should weed out the city hall “Free Lunch” program:

Here’s what happens. And this is a good example of where the news media hasn’t done a good job. I have tons of news clips that say, oh, this new shopping mall is coming or a new Wal-Mart or a new Cabela’s store, and thanks to tax increment financing, this store is going to be built. Well, what is tax increment financing? I’ll tell you what it is. You go to the store with your goods, you pay for it at Wal-Mart, and there’s a very good chance that that store has made a deal with the government that the sales taxes you are required to pay, that government requires you to pay, never go to the government. Instead, those sales taxes are kept by Wal-Mart and used to pay the cost of the store. And typically in those deals, the store is tax exempt, just like a church. ( Yes keep in mind shoppers ARE PAYING an additional 1 cent sales tax to shop the new Wal-Mart)

Now, there are two ways that it’s important to think about this. One is, that means your kid’s schools, your police department, your library, your parks are not getting that money. And you’ll notice we keep saying we’re starved for money. We’re twice as wealthy as we were in 1980, but we’ve got to close hospitals, and we’ve got to close schools, and we don’t have money for all sorts of things like after-school programs, even though we’re twice as wealthy. The second thing to think about is, imagine that you own Amy Goodman’s or Juan’s department store across the street. You suddenly have to compete with people whom the government is giving a huge leg up on. You think you would go broke after a while? Well, in fact, you will.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

Basic findings:

  1. Lawrence is overbuilt in housing: Homes were built faster than popualtion growth supporting these homes. Excessive subdivisions caused an outmigration from older neighborhoods causing a severe loss of value, a loss of dwelling units, and a variety of other problems such as school closings.

  2. Lawerence is overbuilt in retail: Stores were built faster than retail spending growth supporting these stores. This excessive growth has hurt the public and private investment in downtown redevelopment (e.g.: the empty $8 million parking garage, the empty Hobbs-Taylor space, etc.) and has caused deterioration and blight in existing shopping centers (e.g.: Tanger Mall, Food-for-Less, etc.)

  3. Douglas County is overbuilt in manufacturing and warehousing; employment in these sectors is declining, not growing. Yet, the Chamber calls for more and more space in the false belief that more supply creates more demand.

  4. Office space in Douglas County is relatively well balanced, but the market for office space is severely crippled by the excessive supply of unused retail space which is competing for office tenants.

Basic strategy:

Lawrence should adopt a policy of "cooling off" the pace of development. Note: This is not a moratoriam; it is a consicous effort to redirect growth to existing neighborhoods and districts where it can be beneficial.

Housing: The city should stop approving new subdivisions until the existing supply of surplus homes is eliminated. It should direct housing investment back into older neighborhoods so as to preserve and protect the existing public and private investment there.

Commercial space: The city should stop approving plans for new commercial space until the existing surplus is eliminated. It should direct investment into the preseration of the downtown and other existing commercial districts so as to preserve and protect the existing publid and private investment there.

We need to find candidates who who will support this strategy.

Education Ph. D., City Planning, University of California, Berkeley, Department of City and Regional Planning, 1985. Concentrations in Housing Economics and Public Finance.

Master in City Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 1978. Specialization in Housing Policy Analysis.

Bachelor of Arts, University of Kansas, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1974. Special Major in Urban Studies.

Bachelor of Architecture, Graduated With Distinction University of Kansas, School of Architecture and Urban Design, 1973.

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

The author of the basic findings memo is Prof. Kirk McClure of Kansas University. A respected and active citizen.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 7 months ago

"...we cannot always trust suppliers..."

Read: The government cannot trust its citizens, so the government has to give us permission slips to engage in business.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 7 months ago

"So if we as a community fail to consider..."

In this case, replace "community" with "government." Sadly, too many in society think of government as community.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 7 months ago

"...don’t we run the risk of oversupplying demand..."

That's none of the government's business.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 7 months ago

"...the proliferation of new apartments all over town must be worrisome."

That's your opinion.

SettingTheRecordStraight 8 years, 7 months ago

"Our city leaders must sensibly manage..." "...our national leaders must measure and sometimes restrict..."

Why does this guy even pretend to understand "democratic capitalism"?

Richard Heckler 8 years, 7 months ago

As many as 9 million homes could be in foreclosure by 2012.

So the flood of foreclosed homes continue thus flooding markets further with available homes on the market.

So many of these people are without jobs, So many of these people had good jobs at the time homes were purchased but now are losing jobs.

Where are the jobs? Not here.

Job numbers will likely take a dive as seasonal work comes to an end. Holiday jobs are also at stake as retailers and distributors are nervous about holiday spending or lack threreof.

Where did the jobs go? Where did Wall Street retirement nest eggs go?

  1. The Reagan/ Bush Home Loan Scandal http://rationalrevolution0.tripod.com/war/bush_family_and_the_s.htm

  2. The Bush/Cheney Home Loan Scandal http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2009/0709macewan.html

  3. What did Bush and Henry Paulson do with the bail out money? http://www.democracynow.org/2009/9/10/good_billions_after_bad_one_year

  4. Why did the RINO Lie About Social Security? http://www.dollarsandsense.org/archives/2005/0505orr.html

George Lippencott 8 years, 7 months ago

What makes merrill think the government can do any better? When private citizens invest in opening businesses and are wrong they pay a big price, too. We had a government here committed to such policies and all they accomplished was to cost us a lot of wasted money on litigation while driving away jobs and raising taxes.

KU is a blessing and a curse as we have to put up with "expert" opinion from people that selectively quote examples and tout failed government policies. Just who is government to decide who wins and who looses? Maybe there is a role to try to make the playing field a bit more even but never to select the winners.

After the fact, we punish those on the West side to favor those on the East side. How about acknowledging that there is a majority of our citizens who do not live “downtown”. What about us? Talk about balkanization. Just who are these people? Let them pursue their social experiments with their own money somewhere else!

thelonious 8 years, 7 months ago

Excellent letter - hopefully the city commissioners will read it.

The builder/developer community in Lawrence has done themselves in with their overbuilding. They are suffering - cue the violins, for they have done it to themselves.

Unfortunately, the rest of Lawrence suffers as well through declining property values, loss of businesses, etc.

The city does not have to rubber stamp every building project that is proposed - for example, I am pretty sure Lawrence does not need any more $350,000 and up homes, nor any more apartment complexes, nor any more retail. If the builders need something to do, perhaps they can start repairing Lawrence infrastructure at a discounted price for the city. Taking care of what we have, instead of keeping on building more.

Unfortunately, this is what you get when too many city commissioners' campaigns are funded by developers.

thelonious 8 years, 7 months ago

There are no such things as slow growth PACs. There are smart growth PACs - smart growth is not the same as slow growth.

The Lawrence city commission had traditionally been dominated by representaives of the developer community. If the smart growth folks ever had control (debatable), it wasn't long enough to have made any difference.

Lawrence is where it is today because of overbuilding by the growth at any cost developer crowd. Well, they got their "at any cost" - cratered real-estate markets due to supply exceeding demand. Apparently builders and developers slept through basic economics, and their enabler bankers (who most certainly SHOULD get the economics) bear a lot of blame as well.

But don't try to blame the problems on smart growth factions. That is just disingenuous.

George Lippencott 8 years, 7 months ago

thelonious (Anonymous) says…

Sorry, but I do not think so. I watched and paid for the previous commissioners who tried to block or channel growth with little success and at much cost

We also seem to have the notion that those who live in the parts of Lawrence that the slow growth crowd does not like are somehow responsible for sprawl and other bad things. They seem to be out of favor and not worthy of respect.

I clearly know the difference between smart and slow growth. I support many smart growth notions and think we need to move toward them with due regard to where we are and where we have been. Some of the ridiculous arguments I have seen on these blogs just flat turn me off. We are where we are and finding fault is very counterproductive.

I am here in West Lawrence and I demand due respect. All of Lawrence is Lawrence not just down town. I want civic amenities out here and reject the notion that I am second-class and have to go "downtown" to do anything. The local idiots are even making that harder by raising parking fees and limiting parking time. I guess you have unilaterally assigned me to take the bus with all the inconveniences that entails. I guess that is just some of my punishment.

Some of you are crazy and clearly have no notion as to real sprawl. Lawrence is no more than a neighborhood (and a small one at that) in our eastern and western megalopolises.

We have a development plan mostly created by the former regime. Why do we not just implement it slowly with due regard to all the citizens of Lawrence!

I also reject the notion that progress should be suspended. New, clean, neat and modern apartments for the captive student crowd are just fine with me. Condemning them to the downtown “ghetto” is just plain wrong. If you were truly interested in smart growth, we would demand more effort by the owners of the slums to maintain and upgrade those properties so they would compete with the newer ones on the west side.

I think the entire slow (smart) growth crowds hereabouts are self-serving narrow-minded greedy people wrapping a neat term about their desire to feather their own nests.

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