News and notes from around town:
• The Dillons debate is heading to City Hall. City planners have received a new set of site plans for Dillons’ project to replace its existing store at 1740 Mass. with a larger, more modern version. City commissioners are set to consider the plans at their Tuesday evening meeting.
The new plans include a slightly different look to the exterior of the proposed building. Scott McCullough, the city’s planning director, said the new design attempts to break up the facades of the building by adding different brick patterns and colors, creating recesses and undulations, and varying heights for the roof line. Click here to see the new renderings.
“It is an attempt to make all sides of the building more architecturally interesting,” McCullough said.
Plans also now call for a fenced area on the south side of the building that will be used to store pallets, bread racks and other equipment that neighbors were concerned would be unsightly.
McCullough also said the New Hampshire Street access point for the store has been changed. Originally, the project called for a two-way access point that would allow motorists to both enter and leave the store on New Hampshire Street. After homeowners along New Hampshire expressed concerns, Dillons proposed that the access point would be limited to an entrance only during peak morning and afternoon hours. That plan was going to involve bollards that could be added and removed to restrict access during certain hours of the day.
But now McCullough said the plan calls for the New Hampshire Street access point to be an entrance only. That means all motorists visiting the store will have to exit onto Massachusetts Street. The plans do still include a drive through pharmacy lane that takes its access off New Hampshire, but motorists using that lane will be routed into the parking lot and will have to use the Mass. Street exit to leave.
The plans do still include an area where fire engines and the “very occasional semi-truck” could enter and leave the store via New Hampshire. McCullough said his office was still looking at the specific design of that area. He said it could include a gate or some other device to ensure that it won’t be available for the general public to use.
One element that hasn’t changed with the store’s plans is its orientation. Plans call for the store to face north rather than west like the current store. McCullough said his office won’t make any effort to change that part of the plan.
“The justification that Dillons has offered to us is that they just can’t make a different orientation work for the type of store that they need to build,” McCullough said.
The new orientation of the building does require the project to receive a variance for how much parking the store will provide and a variance that eliminates the requirements that the store be set back a certain number of feet from both Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets. Both those variances already have been approved by the city.
City commissioners normally don’t consider site plans. City code calls for that to be done by staff members. But McCullough said because of the high degree of interest in the project, the site plan is being taken to the City Commission for approval. It may ultimately save a step in the process anyway. Neighbors had the option of appealing staff’s decision on the site plan to the City Commission.
• Another battle is set to take place in City Hall the night before commissioners deal with the Dillons issue — and there likely will be lots of angry Eudora residents. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on Monday will again consider a request to allow a sand dredging operation on farm ground just north of Eudora. The project drew stiff opposition from several Eudora residents when it was heard and deferred by the Planning Commission in February. But now a former Eudora resident is doing to more to make sure Eudora residents show up and make their voices heard in even larger numbers.
Lois Hamilton of Hot Springs, Ark., has sent out a postcard to every Eudora resident who receives a water bill urging them to show up at the Monday planning commission meeting. The title of the postcard is “Act Now to Protect our Water.” Hamilton — who grew up in Eudora — owns the farm ground across the road from the proposed sand dredging operation. In addition to farming the ground, she has donated nine water wells on the property to the city of Eudora. Those wells are the city’s main water source. Hamilton and others are concerned the sand dredging operation — which will be pit dredging rather than in-river dredging — will disrupt the underground water flow and will jeopardize the city’s wells.
“I just don’t think the citizens of Eudora realize what is happening,” said Hamilton, who left Eudora and had a successful career in buying and selling hotels. “I don’t think they realize how much money it will cost the city if we lose this water.”
Officials with Kaw Valley Companies, who are proposing the dredging operation, said they’re confident the city’s water supply is not at risk. They’ve provided an engineering report that comes to the same conclusion.
Planning commissioners will make a recommendation on the project, but ultimately Douglas County Commissioners will decide the issue.
The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at Lawrence City Hall.
• Keep an eye out for some antennae-like devices showing up on West Lawrence utility poles. A California-based telecommunications company — NextGNetworks — has filed paperwork with the city to become a new telecommunications provider in the city. But no, don’t expect to buy any service from the company in the future. Instead, NextG does business with the large wireless companies like Verizon, AT&T and others. The company offers a service that improves the coverage — and especially data speeds — of wireless users. The idea is that the company places antennas on utility poles, which are then connected directly to a fiber optic network. That speeds up the process compared to relying on a tower site. The technology — called Distributed Antenna Systems — is expensive, though, so you won’t likely see it all over Lawrence. Current plans call for the company to focus on an area that includes Kasold Drive between Bob Billings and Clinton Parkway, and Clinton Parkway between Kasold and Iowa Street.
A company representative told me he wasn’t involved with the project enough to know exactly why that area was chosen, but he said the technology is often used in areas where locating a tower would be difficult or wireless usage is so prevalent that one tower would struggle to meet all the demands.
NextG has to get a franchise agreement with the city — which means it will have to pay the city for use of city rights-of-ways — before it can install the system. But the construction crews have begun to do “make-ready work” in Lawrence in anticipation of being able to install the network soon.