Town Talk: Something spooky coming to vacant Borders store; comedy, bum steers and elastic waistbands at 19th and Haskell; another big fight looming near the airport

News and notes from around town:

• Boo! You know, Boo, as in Boorders. I don’t think they’re going to take my name suggestion, but the rumor on the street is that the vacant Borders store at Seventh and New Hampshire will become a Halloween specialty store, at least for awhile. Word is that the Halloween Express chain is looking to locate in the building during the Halloween season. That makes some sense. There was a Halloween store last season near Kohl’s and Bed Bath and Beyond on South Iowa Street, but that location now is being filled by the new Hibachi Grill (yes, I’m trying to talk to those folks too). I’ve got some contact information for the people who I believe are the franchise owners of the new Halloween business. I’ll try to get in touch with them later today and give you more information. Something, though, certainly does seem to be going on at the site. Most of the for lease signs in the windows of the store have been taken down. I called the ownership group up in Michigan yesterday to get an update on the property, which I hear has been shown quite a bit. I’m still waiting to hear back from them. But as far as the Halloween store goes, what we hear is the store will open around Sept. 1. I still think Boorders would be a cool name. They could sell stock certificates from the Borders bookstore chain. Talk about scary.

UPDATE: I did get in touch with Gene Brake, who along with his wife owns the Halloween Express franchise in this area. Work is beginning on the store today. He hopes to be open by Sept. 1. The company has a lease through early November on the space, and yes, he plans to use pretty much the whole store.

“We’ll bring in just about everything you can think of for Halloween,” Brake said.

That means lots of kids costumes (they’ll be near the front of the store) but as you go farther back it becomes a bit more spooky and adult oriented. The store also will sell giant props for those folks who feel candy and a pumpkin aren’t enough. (Anybody up for an 8-foot Grim Reaper with wings?)

Brake also owns Halloween Express stores in Overland Park and Olathe. The store plans to be open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from noon to six on Sundays.

• Put this in the category of: Signs that caught my interest as I drove home from a City Commission meeting at 11:30 at night on Tuesday. (I wonder why they don’t let me write headlines here.) In the 19th and Haskell shopping center there is a new sign promoting something called the Very Serious Comedy Office. Is it a comedy club? A paper company run by Michael Scott? I don’t know. Maybe I wasn’t clear enough in the category title, but I saw this at 11:30 at night on Tuesday. I was on my way home from a City Commission meeting. It is now 7:30 a.m. when I write this, so I haven’t found anybody yet that can tell me about the business, but I’ll keep looking. The comedy sign is just north of the Crosstown Tavern that also is located in the shopping center. Just south of the Crosstown Tavern is a sign for Bum Steer Catering. Bum Steer has been around Lawrence for a long time, and once had a storefront location on South Iowa Street many years ago. Not sure whether this location will be just strictly about catering or whether people will be able to drop in and get some barbecue. I’ll let you know. And finally, it does look like the Haskell Diner that is in that same shopping center at 19th and Haskell is expanding, and is hoping to help a few elastic waistbands expand as well. The diner is now advertising an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. I believe those are new hours for the diner. (UPDATE: I stopped by this morning. The diner is actually closed today. It is going through a complete remodel for the buffett. It plans to open Thursday for breakfast and lunch, and hopes to have the buffet open by the end of the week.) Anyway, who knew you could see so much interesting stuff at 19th and Haskell at 11:30 at night? Well, maybe some of you knew.

• As I think I mentioned, I was at a City Commission meeting for quite awhile last night. The big topic? Well, you know the city was dealing with that unique SRS deal that involves paying the state to keep the state’s office open in Lawrence. So, that must have been it, huh? Not really. City commissioners heard about two hours of public comment on the Northeast Sector Plan — a plan that will provide a blueprint for development of Grant Township and the area near the Lawrence Municipal Airport. So, the plan must have been at its critical juncture last night, huh? Not really. In fact, it was already known before the meeting what was going to happen to the plan. It was going to get sent back to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission for more debate. Douglas County Commissioners — who also must approve the plan before it can become final — set it on that path weeks ago.

All city commissioners were doing was deciding whether they wanted to ask the Planning Commission to review anything in particular about the plan. So, in other words, there is going to be at least three more public hearings on this plan — one at planning, one at city and one at county. (And the smart money is betting there will be a lot more than three before we’re done.) I don’t bring any of this up to criticize the people who came to City Hall last night. Trust me, I’m used to hearing a lot of people talk on a Tuesday night. But I bring it up to highlight how much of a debate there is between industrial/development interests and North Lawrence neighborhood/environmental interests. They debated for about two hours on Tuesday, and the issue isn’t even close to being decided yet.

In a nutshell, I think it comes down to this: The area near the airport is seen as one that could attract a major industrial user. It is near the interstate, near air service, and perhaps rail service could be extended to the site for the right user. But it also is in a low lying area, next to North Lawrence, which has suffered plenty of stormwater flooding problems in the past. North Lawrence residents say any new development in the area would require millions of dollars of infrastructure improvements to ensure that flooding doesn’t get worse in North Lawrence. Simply put, North Lawrence residents worry the city would not follow through on those improvements. But economic development types say they understand those concerns. That is why they’re only asking for about 200 acres of industrial land to be included in the plan. The rest of the 10,000 acres of Grant Township largely would remain as farmland, under the proposed plan. And, the eco devo types say the city has plenty of rules in its site planning regulations to ensure a new project doesn’t make flooding worse. North Lawrence residents say Bahaaaaaw! (That is a laugh, by the way. Not a wounded sheep.) North Lawrence Neighborhood Association President Ted Boyle points out that the neighborhood has been waiting for 20 years for a needed stormwater pumping station at North Fifth and Maple streets. So, the last compromise was that the industrial development in the area would be geared to “soil-conserving agri-industry.” But that term is never really defined in the plan.

The debate takes an interesting twist in that it is not the traditional set up of neighbors vs. industry. Many of the largest farmers and landowners in Grant Township have supported the plan as written, or even would like more industrial development included in it. The opposition has come from the North Lawrence neighborhood, some smaller specialty farmers in the area, and environmentalists. The environmentalists are concerned about allowing prime agricultural soils to be built upon. They’re convinced we’ll need those soils in the future to grow local food, plus the soils are good at naturally sucking up stormwater.

I think the prime ag ground issue worries the eco devo types as much as anything. I believe that they think that if they don’t get this plan through, that the precedent will be set that you can’t build on good ag ground anytime. Then that creates a scenario where we spend a lot of time arguing about whether a piece of soil is good ag ground. Whether that would be the reality or not, I don’t know. But I do think that is the worry among some groups. If you are keeping score (at this point I’m just happy if you’re still reading), the Planning Commission has narrowly approved the plan. The County Commission has narrowly rejected it. City commissioners are still waiting on the bench. All this has happened over the course of about two years. Now, the process returns for a new round. The planning commission has several new members, so who knows what it thinks about the debate these days. Probably the biggest question is whether it will take another two years. In the meantime, Lawrence still doesn’t have a major site along I-70 to offer to industrial prospects. The sites near the Lecompton interchange are still in litigation. What, you don’t know about that fight? Forget it. My summary machine is out of gas for the day.