News and notes from around town:
• Lawrence, Kansas as a resort town — it is an idea that evidently has some appeal. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department has received another application to rezone rural Douglas County property to allow “rural tourism” uses. Officials with Treanor Architects have filed a request to rezone 208 acres surrounding a watershed lake just off of U.S. Highway 59 south of Lawrence. According to the paperwork, resort may not be exactly the right word to describe the project but it definitely would have the corporate retreat type of feel. Plans call for cabins around the lake, a couple of vineyards, horse stables and riding area, and a lodge/conference center. The plans indicated the development at 778 E. 1300 Road would be built in multiple phases, and probably would begin with just a couple of cabins. The rest of the work would come in future phases.
In addition to Lawrence-based Treanor, the documents also indicate that members of Doug Compton’s First Management Inc. are involved with the project, which is being dubbed Sadies Lake. Attempts to reach officials with Treanor and First Management weren’t immediately successful.
This project is in addition to one previously approved for a rural area northwest of Lawrence. Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel previously won approval to build cabins, a lodge/conference center and other outdoor amenities on property just west of the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. That project got put on the back burner for awhile because Fritzel switched gears and sold part of the property to Berry Plastics to build its massive warehouse, after other sites near the interchange got tied up in litigation. Berry is expected to begin work on the 675,000-square-foot warehouse soon, but it is not expected to stop the resort project from moving forward. Lawrence architect Paul Werner told me the project is still very much alive, and now that the warehouse project will be bringing utilities closer to the site, work on a few cabins may begin relatively soon.
So, if you are keeping track, two of Lawrence’s larger developers are now both pursuing cabin/lodge projects. In perhaps another sign that great minds think alike, both also have similar mixed-use, multistory downtown buildings in their sights. Compton already is building one at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, and Fritzel has expressed an interest in building one at Ninth and Vermont streets. Fritzel’s project still has a way to go before it becomes reality, though. Werner, who also is working on that project, said he’s still reaching out to property owners near the Ninth and Vermont site to get more feedback. City commissioners also will have several decisions to make on that project, because the proposed site currently is a city-owned parking lot.
• Some neighborhoods may start seeing a different type of trash truck going down their streets. City Hall officials confirmed they are in the process of taking bids for a new type of trash truck that would allow the city to reduce the size of its trash-truck crew from three workers to two. The truck would have special side lifts that would allow up to four plastic garbage carts to be emptied at once. It also is a low to the ground truck that would allow the driver to get in and out more easily and thus, theoretically, allow for the size of the crew to be reduced by one person. In addition, the truck would be equipped so that it could be driven from either the right or left seat, also making it easier to operate with a two-person crew.
The city is planning to buy just one of the trucks to see how it works. The city’s new Solid Waste Task Force will be talking about truck issues, so the city doesn’t want to commit to adding a new fleet of vehicles before that process is complete. The new truck is expected to cost about $230,000, which is a bit more than the $160,000 price tag for a standard trash truck. If the city does end up buying the vehicle, it probably wouldn’t be ready for use for another eight to nine months.
• The city is holding a bit of a birthday bash for Lawrence’s public transit system. The T is now in its 10th year, and the city is giving away several items — such as reusable shopping bags, drink containers and bus pass holders — to riders today. City workers will be out from 11 a.m. to 1 pm. and also from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. today at Ninth and New Hampshire streets and 31st and Iowa streets. The service also will be offering free rides to everybody on April 16 as part of the city’s Earth Day Celebration.
The T began its first day of service on Dec. 16, 2000, on a very snowy and icy day. Here’s a look at how ridership on the T has grown over the years:
• 2001: 155,737 one-way trips
• 2002: 234,743 one-way trips
• 2003: 267,82 one-way trips
• 2004: 327,780 one-way trips
• 2005: 387,790 one-way trips
• 2006: 421,864 one-way trips
• 2007: 388,325 one-way trips
• 2008: 387,938 one-way trips
• 2009: 499,017 one-way trips
• 2010: 620,592 one-way trips
As you can see, there has been a big jump over the last two years, and that is because the city started running coordinated routes with the KU bus system. In particular, the city also started letting KU students and faculty with proper ID ride the city buses for free. City residents who have a T bus pass also can ride KU buses for free. The result has been a spike in ridership. But it is also worth noting that the number of people who pay a fare to ride the bus has decreased during the last two years. Farebox revenue for the T was $165,995 in 2010, down from $201,264 in 2008. City officials are hopeful that the decline in farebox revenue will stop, but they have said that the increased ridership that has come from the cooperation program with KU has been a good trade-off.
The city gets large amounts of federal dollars to fund the transit system (in addition to local sales taxes), and some of the federal funding is based upon ridership numbers. The T had expenses of about $2.5 million in 2010.