Add the threat of a lawsuit to the list of reasons Lawrence city commissioners may reject a proposal to move the community’s homeless shelter to a site near the Douglas County Jail.
City Commissioner Mike Dever on Friday said he had concerns that landowners near the area may be able to wage a lengthy lawsuit against the Lawrence Community Shelter’s plans to locate in a warehouse at 3701 Franklin Park Circle.
“That is what concerns me, the time that a lawsuit might take away from the project,” Dever said.
Dever’s concerns bring to three the number of commissioners who have expressed reservations about the shelter’s proposal. Because of a legal protest petition, the shelter’s plans must win four of the five votes on the commission to proceed. Commissioners will hear the issue at their 6:35 p.m. meeting Tuesday.
Commissioner Lance Johnson and Mayor Mike Amyx both previously said they had concerns about the management plan of the shelter. Neither has said he absolutely would vote against the proposal. Dever did not go that far either. But he said new issues about covenants that have been placed on the property could be a deal-killer.
“I need to get some reconciliation with the potential land use restrictions on the property before I could feel comfortable moving forward with this location,” Dever said.
At issue are covenants that have long been on the proposed site. The covenants require any plans to modify the property be reviewed by trustees of the Franklin Business Park. Todd Thompson, an attorney who represents landowners in the park, said plans have not been submitted to the park’s trustees.
A larger issue is that Thompson contends a homeless shelter is prohibited by a covenant clause that requires all improvements be in keeping with a “park of the highest quality for business, industrial and governmental uses.”
In a letter to shelter leaders, Thompson said the property owners “will take legal action seeking to enforce the covenants,” if the shelter continues with plans to purchase the property.
Shelter leaders remain undeterred, and now are telling city commissioners that about $1.1 million in pledges are at stake if the site is not approved.
“The board is concerned that donor support will begin to wane if the issue continues to drag on,” Price Banks, an attorney for the shelter wrote to commissioners.
Among the $1.1 million in pledges are $215,000 in tax credits that expire at the end of 2010.
When reached Friday, Banks reiterated the shelter wanted to move forward on the proposed site, but said he did not want to comment on the covenants issue.
“I don’t want to get involved in talking about potential litigation,” Banks said.
The site near the jail marks the third location that the shelter formally has brought before the city. Previously, the shelter sought support to move to a former nursing home facility near 31st and Kasold, and then more recently sought approval to relocate to the former Don’s Steakhouse site on 23rd Street. Both times neighborhood opposition was strong.
Thompson, though, said his client — which is PDO Investors, a group led by Lawrence businessman Steve Glass — would offer assistance in finding another site for the project.
Thompson proposed three:
• The former Farmland Industries building on the eastern edge of Lawrence. The city is in the process of receiving ownership of the former fertilizer plant, including the building.
• The Veterans of Foreign Wars building, 138 Ala. The building is near Lawrence Memorial Hospital and other health care services, but also is near the densely populated Pinckney neighborhood.
• The former Poehler grocery warehouse building, 619 East Eighth. The multi-story building once was the centerpiece of a proposed redevelopment for the area, but Thompson said the property recently became part of a foreclosure action.
Thompson said the Farmland property offered a unique solution because the city could offer it to the shelter rent-free on a temporary basis, which would give the shelter time to prove to the community that its new management plan was working.
Dever, though, said he was concerned about the amount of money needed to improve the building, which largely has been empty for years. Long-term plans call for the Farmland site to be turned into a business center, and for the building to be demolished.
“I do know making improvements to a city building that ultimately will be demolished wouldn’t be the best use of funds,” Dever said.