Archive for Friday, April 15, 2011

Town Talk: Jefferson’s set to reopen; East Lawrence concerned about proposed demo of early-1900s home; Lawrence signs that the season is changing

April 15, 2011


News and notes from around town:

• Indeed the downtown restaurant Jefferson’s soon will reopen. Brandon Graham and Jefferson’s Downtown LLC have applied to the City Commission for a liquor license to reopen the restaurant at its original location of 743 Mass. According to the license the restaurant will keep the Jefferson’s name. No word on whether the menu of burgers, oysters, wings and such will be the same, although you would assume it would be. I got in touch with Graham on Thursday morning, but he said he was too busy to talk. So, no word on many details, such as when the restaurant’s first day will be.

The restaurant was shuttered by state revenue officers after the business failed to pay $46,848 in back taxes. The Kansas Department of Revenue seized all bank accounts, on-site cash, business inventory and personal property belonging to the business. According to the application filed with the city, the restaurant will be operated by a new ownership group. The restaurant previously was operated by Jason Franklin and FatLab Inc.

• Several East Lawrence residents aren’t happy about plans to tear down an early 1900s home in the 700 block of Connecticut Street and replace it with a new multifamily apartment building. Several city officials aren’t too pleased with the idea either. The city’s Historic Resources Commission has denied a request to tear down a 2.5-story 1910 home at 711 Conn. But now property owner James Dunn has filed an appeal asking the City Commission to reverse that decision.

711 Conn. Street.

711 Conn. Street.

As is often the case with these types of requests, the issue is whether the house has deteriorated to the point that it can’t be feasibly rehabilitated. Dunn’s attorney, Michael Tubbs, argues that it has. He said the foundation needs replaced, there has been significant water damage, and that termites are a serious problem on the site. He’s offered to conduct a tour of the property for city commissioners, but said each would have to sign a waiver of liability to enter the house because of its poor condition.

But several neighbors came to the Historic Resources Commission meeting and argued the house is in its current condition because the owner allowed it to get into that state. City Hall-types call that “demolition by neglect,” and it is a practice that particularly irks historic preservationists.

“It is very frustrating for a historic preservation planner,” said Lynne Braddock Zollner, the city’s historic resources administrator. “But more importantly, I think it is very frustrating for the neighbors to watch a property in their neighborhood deteriorate like that.”

Tubbs has disagreed with the contention that the property is a demolition by neglect case. He said his clients — who have owned the property since 2004 — have made efforts to maintain the property. The property has been condemned by the city and deemed unfit for habitation since August 2010.

Zollner’s office at the end of the day provided a recommendation that the house could legally be torn down because it does not “encroach upon, damage or destroy the environs” of the nearby historic properties. But Zollner also told historic resources commissioners that it was her professional opinion that the house could feasibly be restored. And she said doesn’t have any question that the house reached its current condition because of demolition by neglect.

Ultimately, Dunn wants to change the zoning of the property from RM-24 to RM-32 to allow for a six-unit apartment building that would include a paved parking area that would take much of the current backyard of the lot, Zollner said. Zollner’s office is recommending denial of those plans, but the City Commission won’t deal with the rezoning and site plan issues on Tuesday.

Instead, it will just be a good, old-fashioned demo debate. Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.

• None of this will directly come into play Tuesday night, but Zollner told me she would like the city to have a broader discussion about ways to prevent demolition by neglect. She said Lawrence has fewer demolition by neglect cases than many of our peer cities, but she thinks we could still improve. Some cities create some hefty penalties for demolition by neglect. For example, some have a system that requires a property owner to pay a higher demolition fee if the city determines a demolition has been caused by neglect. Some charge higher fees if a property owner doesn’t reuse some of the material from the house being demolished. Others also charge fees based on how much material is taken to the landfill. Some of the communities will then use the fees charged from these projects to establish a historic preservation fund that can offer grants to property owners to help them with chores like painting, wood maintenance and other tasks that need to be done to keep a historic property looking ship-shape.

• Trivia question: How many gazebos does the city’s Parks and Recreation Department have, and where are they located?

Of course, there is the highly visible one at South Park. Only a real Lawrence rookie wouldn’t know that. There also is one at Watson Park at Sixth and Kentucky streets — also not too tough for a moderate Lawrence onlooker. But what about the third one? Congratulations if you answered the Lawrence Rotary Arboretum, 5100 W. 27th St. (If you actually got the address, I’m really impressed.)

No, I haven’t gone all Alex Trebek on you (a Canadian I will not be, sir.) Instead, this is all just a sign that spring is really here. Beginning today, the city is taking reservations for all its park shelters and gazebos. Restroom facilities at the parks also open today. Reservations for shelters or gazebos are taken at any of the city’s recreation centers.

UPDATE: I knew this whole trivia thing was going to bite me in the behind. One of my editors (evidently not the one who read this before it got posted) tells me she's quite confident there is a gazebo in the pocket park next to Watkins Museum. She seems to remember getting married there. So apparently what I meant to ask is where are the three gazebos you actually can reserve from the city's Parks and Recreation department. As I said, I'm no Alex Trebex (not Canadian, never will be.)

Other signs that the season really is changing:

  1. City commissioners will give some necessary approvals Tuesday for the Lawrence Swap Meet — a sight more beautiful to gearheads than blooming tulips — to take place from May 5 through May 8 at the Douglas County Fairgrounds.
  2. Commissioners also will approve the closing of Mass. Street from North Park Street to South Park Street on May 1 for the Lawrence Art Guild’s annual Art in the Park event.


hujiko 6 years, 9 months ago

What about the gazebo in Centennial Park, eh?

Chad Lawhorn 6 years, 9 months ago

Obviously, gazebos are kicking my rearzebo today. Thanks, Chad Lawhorn Journal-World

PhogPhanatic 6 years, 9 months ago

Yes, thank god! I was having Jefferson's withdrawals!

mseybold 6 years, 9 months ago

There's a gazebo at Brook Creek park, E 12th & Brook street... don't think you can reserve it though.

Maddy Griffin 6 years, 9 months ago

Nope. Tried once. It's strictly first come first serve basis.

Cait McKnelly 6 years, 9 months ago

I had my daughter's birthday party at that gazebo one year. We quite literally had to chase the street people out of it. They had laundry drying on bushes around it and were sleeping on the benches under the gazebo. I don't necessarily want to shield my kids from the "realities of life" but this wasn't exactly what I had planned for an 8 year old's birthday party.

Shane Garrett 6 years, 9 months ago

Make sure that house has a proper asbestos survey and a lead based paint inspection.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

"I can't help but think how ridiculous this is, since the house is no worse now than before the Dunn's bought it."

Even if true, it begs the question of why they bought it.

Even if demolition is allowed, no rezoning should be.

jafs 6 years, 9 months ago

Why not simply require landlords to keep their properties maintained?

cowboy 6 years, 9 months ago

This is a perfect example of the uselessness of the historic preservation process. Here is a house that in it's current state is a hazardous waste dump. To tear it down is really an easy decision. Do it. The historic preservation folks would be much better serving the city if they provided architectural guidance for new structures. Make the new look like the old but instead be new . Get it ? Fighting battles for these old decaying structures is the wrong end of the argument. You would receive broad support to require some historical integrity in new structures , improve the infill of the city , and increase the tax base , rehab and inject new life into the neighborhoods. These folks have way too much power at present.

imastinker 6 years, 9 months ago

I couldn't agree more. Requiring these old houses to stay around is not helping. Allowing folks to build a new structure that fits in the neighborhood and looks good would be a boon for everyone. Obviously, things like parking need to be addressed, but why not help him figure out what he can do there?

DeMontfort 6 years, 9 months ago

Obviously, you've never been screwed by parking waivers in your neighborhood.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

It may, or may not, be salvageable. It'd take a close inspection to know for sure.

But it certainly shouldn't be rezoned for 6-8 units.

Edwin Rothrock 6 years, 9 months ago

Not the first time Mr. Dunn has run up against zoning/demolition regs.

Nobody would mistake the house at 1146 RI for an historic one, even if some of the bones are that old.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 6 years, 9 months ago

Yea, he scammed the system pretty good on that one. Pretty sleazy if you ask me.

Crystal Patterson 6 years, 9 months ago

Seriously, do we need an apartment building on the corner of 7th and Conn? No.

MyName 6 years, 9 months ago

It's not exactly about history, but also about preserving their own property values. That being said, an empty house that is unlivable doesn't do much for valuation either.

J Good Good 6 years, 9 months ago

Even if they tear down the house, it is a neighborhood of single family homes. There is apartment zoning all over this town. Build your apartments where it is already zoned! Tear the house down it it can't be saved. Not everything can be. But NO apartments in it's place. Seriously, why is that even considered?

kernal 6 years, 9 months ago

Pretty sure jg means single family detached residence. Being in real estate, I'm sure you know what that infers.

George_Braziller 6 years, 9 months ago

I rented from Dunn for one year in 1985 and couldn't wait to get the hell out of that place. The roach infestation was so bad I couldn't deal with it any more.

Guess it was better than the first apartment he showed me. The one I rented didn't have live ants inside the refrigerator.

pinecreek 6 years, 9 months ago

Want to stop demolition by neglect? Make the penalty an automatic one-zoning category downgrade for a property determined have been neglected to the point of demolition-need. Remove the economic incentive to destroy a property, remove the behavior.

muddfoot55 6 years, 9 months ago

At one point the church on the corner had that property and the vacant lot between them. The city didn't have a problem when the church tore down that old apartment house right next door ( currently the vacant lot) in anticipation of expansion. That house was a dump then. It may be zoned single family but used to be 2 apartments and a garage apartment out back. The downstairs apt. reaked of cat urine that it made your eyes water, the upstairs....window dressed: new carpet and a coat of paint fixed nothing. I agree, let the historical society buy it at market value. Then they can preserve all they want. But the down side of that plan...restoration would be so costly they could never sell the place because of what they would have to set the price at to cover costs, the whole neighborhoods property value might go up but so will their taxes, no one with that kind of credit (money) is going to want to live across from 2 businesses, and the city just might have to redo the alley so the "soccor mom' SUV won't bruise its tires. I don't mean to sound heartless here but ,,,East Lawrence: a vacant lot is quiet and not a security risk, empty and unsecured always means trouble.

George_Braziller 6 years, 9 months ago

The church tore that house down without a demolition permit. The city didn't even know about it until after the fact.

KU2011 6 years, 9 months ago

I heard that a religious group or church wants to build a six unit apartment building that is low income and used Mr. Dunn as a middle man in the process since from what I heard they could not directly purchase the building for some reason. Also whats with the bashing of him? I rent a property from him and it's a beautiful house in good shape. Most of the buildings I have seen of Mr. Dunn's are well taken care of though I will admit they are old. That being said, you got to expect bugs and some wear in an old house. I may be all for historic preservation but unless this group wants to build a new foundation for a house built in 1910 when there are hundreds of houses from that time period in town, I say tear thing down. It needs more historical significance other than being old. The Varsity House has more reason to remain standing than this structure.

MamaC0908 6 years, 9 months ago

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MamaC0908 6 years, 9 months ago

The unoccupied house at the corner of 11th & Rhode Island NEEDS to be torn down. It is housing a LOT of raccoons, skunks, and possums and with the close proximity to new housing, its unsafe. I hope something is done about it soon.

imastinker 6 years, 9 months ago

Swan_diver - Is all profit selfish? Or is that only profit that other people make?

George_Braziller 6 years, 9 months ago

I remember that one as well. Mr. Dunn has a long history of being a spin doctor.

George_Braziller 6 years, 9 months ago

Not a Dunn deal yet. The project has been shot down through every single review board.

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