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Archive for Saturday, October 10, 2009

Details matter

October 10, 2009

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The height of four cellular telephone towers may be a small detail in the planning for The Oread hotel at 12th Street and Oread Avenue, but details matter. They matter to the community and they certainly should matter to the city’s planning staff.

Although city planners said they were not surprised by the 50-foot cellular towers atop the hotel, many other people who had seen the official drawings of the hotel submitted to the city were taken aback. That’s because the towers, which double as flagpoles, were shown as only about 17 feet tall on the official drawing. The taller towers were mentioned in a footnote and added to the plan after most of the project had been approved by city and planning commissioners.

City planners said they were aware of the footnote and the increased height of the towers, but many other people who may have been concerned about the addition were not.

Even city commissioners may not have been entirely clear on the subject. A staff memo they received before voting on the project said the overall height of the building had increased from 114 feet to 123 feet because of the addition of elevator equipment on the roof. With the addition of the cell towers, the overall height of the hotel now is 156 feet.

Perhaps there was no intention to deceive anyone about the plans, but it raises some questions. The height of this building, which towers over the surrounding area, was hotly debated by city and planning commissioners, as well as many local residents.

The bottom line for this project is that the towers are there, they are legal, and they likely are going to stay. Whether or not people are concerned about this particular outcome, they perhaps should be concerned about the process that led up to it.

The whole point of planning is to deal with the details of a project and, especially when a project has drawn criticism, to make sure those details are disclosed as fully as possible to the public. City planners appear to have fallen short of that goal in this instance.

Also, developers should be totally honest and aboveboard about their intentions, particularly when dealing with a controversial matter.

We hope it is a lesson learned and that city officials and developers handle such details more carefully in the future.

Comments

guy 4 years, 6 months ago

oops!

March 29, 1997 Background:

In December, CMT Partners had intended to install a 125-foot tower on the site, but backed off before it could be considered by the planning commission.

At the time, all communications towers were required to receive a special permit before installation.

In February, city commissioners agreed to amend the city code to remove permit requirements for towers less than 100 feet tall.

CMT now is seeking approval through the site planning process -- a more defined and limited review, which does not face examination by planning commissioners.

Neighbors had complained that the 125-foot tower would have caused health problems, increased blight and lowered property values in the area.

No word yet on neighbors' opinions regarding the proposed 99-foot tower.

Rod Bremby, assistant city manager, said more tower requests likely would surface in the future along the city's major thoroughfares. This latest request appears to accommodate the needs of the company and concerns of surrounding neighbors.

"We think it's a good balance," he said.

bottom line

Bottom line:

A 99-foot communications pole would be installed at 1548 E. 23rd, under a site plan up for approval Tuesday night.

Cellular One wants to install the communications tower to update its communications grid in the area. Stan Zaremba, who owns the property, has granted Cellular One's CMT Partners permission to install the pole.

The pole would include the ability to take on additional communications equipment. Any increase in height, however, would require a special permit reviewed by the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and approved by the city commission.

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guy 4 years, 6 months ago

regarding the TIF financing of $11 million in project costs:

16 March 2008 at 7:35 a.m. Suggest removal Permalink

merrill (Anonymous) says… Nothing wrong with the contemporary. Build it to LEED specifications…. does not need to be certified just follow LEED rules to the letter.

Make the buiilding self sustaining… add new powerful solar panels to the roof.

Build Oread Inn to last at least 200 years.

Put more windows in new contemporary buildings for ambiance and daylight for energy savings.

I'm with Dan Sabatini and Bo Harris. Harris recently completed a modern look project at 18th& Broadway(KCMO) and it looks awful…that's the customers fault.

Big cities are transforming older solid contemporary structures into luxury living quarters in the rehab of their downtowns. I'd say contemporary is still okay.

Use pervious concrete… when it rains or thaws it drains thus reducing stormwater control costs. Sinks into the ground. http://www.perviouspavement.org/benef

This luxury upscale project should fly on it's own and be truly private. No to TIF assistance…go directly to the bank.

Just because speculators purchase property does not guarantee that construction will be allowed for it is NOT the duty of the taxpayer or local government to maximize profits for speculators.

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guy 4 years, 6 months ago

16 March 2008

emu (Anonymous) says… Stuck in the status quo … well, that's Kansas, right?

The proposed hotel is ugly and ridiculous, like so many buildings built in the Southwest … and by the way, Kansas is becoming part of the Southwest. That's why you have armadillos now as desertification proceeds. This sort of building looks like something from Texas or Saudi Arabia. Pretentious and slightly ludicrous. It doesn't look traditional. It looks like some developer's interpretation of traditional with cheaper materials. You want to see a great modern traditional building? Google the Hale Library at Kansas State U. I love that building. Yeah, the stone work must have cost a fortune, but it is a building built to last a century or more.

But most of the “contemporary” stuff pictured on this site today reeks of Kansas to me … boring. It all looks so … so Lutheran, or maybe Methodist.

You're a college town, and the only den of free-thinking people in a state that politically, religiously and socially is more like Afghanistan than anywhere in the United States. You should be puttin' up all kinds of really wild-ass buildings. Unfortunately, these decisions are made mostly by your local real-estate/development industry. You get the buildings you get because of that, just as your state's social welfare policies are those that look good to small-town merchants and rich right-wingers. The public, as usual, is damned.

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guy 4 years, 6 months ago

March 2008 LJW article:

Domer said the hotel project represented an outstanding opportunity to build a "building of our time." Something that doesn't look back to Greece or Rome for its inspirations but rather grabs the here-and-now and molds it into an edifice. He thought the building should have had modern lines, been narrower at its base, and - here's the real kicker - taller. It should have been a true tower-like structure that would have rivaled the Campanile and Dyche Hall. The third piece of an architectural trinity, of sorts, atop Mt. Oread.

Paul Werner - a Lawrence-based architect who helped design the project - respects Domer. The Fritzel family, who is behind the development of the hotel, even made some design changes to the building at the urging of Domer and KU Architecture Dean John Gaunt. But here's what Werner also knows about this community: If the developers had tried to put a tall, modern tower on the site, the response would have been predictable.

"They would have killed us," Werner said.

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swan_diver 4 years, 6 months ago

The cell towers, and other 'alterations' to the presented plans are 'legal?' Who says? Oh. The Planning Director? What a surprise.

Legal indeed. Until challenged in a court of law.

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guy 4 years, 6 months ago

again, from February 2008 LJW article cited above:

Jacob Dorman, a professor of history and American studies at Kansas University, called the site "oceanfront property," prime land that would benefit the neighborhood and the university if a hotel were built. But he worried that an already tight budget would be damaged by spending on the hotel.

"At a time when the city says we're too poor to afford these basic services" such as bus service, which has been reduced, funding a hotel should not be a priority, he said.

Dorman added, "If we're going to use monies that are used to fund this project, these are monies that belong to the community."

Longhurst countered by again explaining that the TIF would postpone public obligation to pay for the hotel. He said the 92-room inn would generate $264,000 in sales tax during its first year of business, compared with the $37,000 yielded by the most recent occupants, The Crossing and Beat the Bookstore.

Additionally, Longhurst brought up the possibility of designating the Oread site as a transportation development district, which would yield an additional 1 percent of sales tax annually.

Opponents also complained the proposed design of the seven-story building would blight the neighborhood.

"What will this do to the campus skyline?" asked Dennis Domer, who sat on a panel with Longhurst and several others. He said the building must be a modern design that would complement the campus for years to come.

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guy 4 years, 6 months ago

David Longhurst, a representative of the development company, tried to diffuse criticism of the hotel, which would be built at 12th and Indiana streets, by explaining the benefits of such a structure. He said that tax increment financing, or TIF, and the designation of the site as a transportation development district, would defer development costs from the public.

Initially, the development group - led by executives of the Gene Fritzel Construction Co. - sought to rely on bonds to make improvements to the neighborhood, ranging from sewer adjustments to improving pedestrian access.

But the $5.3 million needed for the neighborhood improvements, and the $6 million it would cost to build the underground garage, would now be funded by a TIF, which uses tax revenues generated by a project to help fund infrastructure costs.

The specter of public dollars funding private development did not sit well with the project's opponents, but City Manager David Corliss attempted to calm their fears by explaining that the city would not be responsible for financing the Oread Inn.

"All of these improvements are going to be paid by the developer," Corliss said. "Initially, the developer pays for the improvements. Then there's the TIF; they request that over 20 years, they are reimbursed."

He said that if the hotel is not profitable, the developer will not receive any reimbursement.

Longhurst listed other potential benefits for Lawrence. He said that over a period of 22 years, the city could expect a financial windfall from the inn, including an additional $45,000 annually in property tax that would go to the school district; a projected payroll of $40 million; public revenue of $8.5 million; and an estimated $21.3 million in visitor spending.

But that did little to sway opponents, who worry that other parts of Lawrence would suffer as attention is paid to building the infrastructure in the Oread neighborhood, and complained that a slowing economy should lead to curtailed spending.

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guy 4 years, 6 months ago

oops, from LJW July 6, 2009:

“It will be an attraction for Lawrence,” said Nancy Longhurst, general manager for The Oread and two associated properties, The Eldridge and The Eldridge Extended, in downtown Lawrence. “We have a wonderful opportunity to showcase both the university and Lawrence.”

The project won approval at City Hall based upon a plan that limited the building height, both in terms of its actual height and its effective appearance. The building itself cannot rise beyond 114 feet above the floor at the lobby entrance; the rooftop of the seventh floor cannot surpass 105 feet.

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guy 4 years, 6 months ago

oops, details do matter:

The building design presented to the Historic Resources Committee for review was not over 95 feet. The City Commissioners & Planning Director and his staff bear responsibility for subsequent approvals in which the height was increased over that presented to HRC.

later approvals raised the height to 114 feet and later 123 feet without public hearings before the HRC to review these changes.

can you say 'spoon feeding' of a local investment group?

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just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 6 months ago

"Perhaps there was no intention to deceive anyone about the plans, but it raises some questions."

Of course there was. As the editorial states, the height of this building was a BFD in discussions/negotiations. At some point, likely both developers and city staff (and commissioners?) involved in these discussions/negotiations knew that the height as related in public hearings was considerably less than what has actually been built.

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KU_cynic 4 years, 6 months ago

Details didn't matter when the city commissioners' unfettered instinct for boosterism enabled the Oread Inn backers to successfully bamboozle them in obtaining TIF subsidies for the project.

Why should a detail as small as cell phone tower height matter now?

Get serious, LJW editors -- you should have been in on this scam from the start if you wanted to be crusading public-interest-minded journalists. Poo-pooing about aesthetics now just doesn't cut it.

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