News and notes from around town:
• This is turning out just like one of my home improvement projects — it gets started a little later than I planned. A proposal to build a Lowe’s store just west of the Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa was tentatively slated to go before the Planning Commission in September. Now, it will be October at the earliest. The delay comes as the home improvement retailer changes the proposal it is presenting to planning commissioners. The company is now asking the city to change its comprehensive plan to accommodate the project. This may sound as boring as sanding drywall (man, I hate that) but if there is going to be a fight over this Lowe’s, this is what it will be over. The city’s comprehensive plan — Horizon 2020 — spells out how that area around Sixth and Wakarusa will develop. For a variety of reasons (you can choose to agree with them or not), the plan doesn’t call for the intersection to become a major commercial and retail center. But the problem is, there already is more retail development at the intersection than the plan calls for. So, Lowe’s is asking for a new designation for the area — a CC 600. That means it would be a Community Commercial Center with up to 600,000 square feet of development. (Those planners with their hip slang.) Don’t hold me to these numbers, but I believe the plan currently calls for the area to have about 200,000 square feet of commercial development, and it has something north of 400,000 square feet today. Lowe’s wants to add another 150,000 square feet or so. All this will create heartburn with some neighbors, who fought vigorously against the Walmart that is now at Sixth and Wakarusa. They said that Walmart would open the floodgates for future development and would overwhelm the intersection and the neighborhoods around the area. That hasn’t happened yet, but the argument will be whether it will happen. But let’s be honest, this is Lowe’s and not Walmart. That may dampen the opposition of some neighbors.
I’m not sure any of this is going to create a tremendous amount of heartburn for city commissioners, and at the end of the day it is their votes that count. Instead, I would keep my eye on a different issue that will derail this at the City Commission level. Sources tell me that Lowe’s recently has been inquiring about the possibility of a special taxing district for the project. But sources also have told me that the city has communicated very clearly to Lowe’s that such a special taxing district could make the project much less politically palatable. Nothing is written in stone, of course, but I think the Lowe’s project without a special taxing district has a very comfortable three votes with the City Commission, probably has four votes, and there is an outside chance it could get to five.
With a special taxing district, it very well could end up looking like one of my home improvement projects — paint would be thrown, there would be cussing about why my level isn’t level and my square isn’t square and there would be a smug wife just shaking her head with that I-told-you-so look.
• While we are talking about big projects, a big one in Topeka was scheduled to get started today. The Mars Chocolate plant was scheduled to break ground at 8 a.m. over in Topeka’s Kanza Fire Commerce Park. I bring this up because it was June 29 when Mars made its announcement that it had chosen Topeka for the $250 million project that will create about 200 full-time jobs. So that will be a little less than two months from announcement to ground-breaking and — remember — the project also involved approving about $9 million worth of local incentives. Where would the project be at the two-month mark in Lawrence? You all can answer that, but we obviously will be in competition with Topeka on projects in the future. It seems like they have set their bar. (And it is a candy bar. Get it? It’s Mars. They make candy. The governor can use that in his speech, if he wants.)
• Look for a used children’s clothing store to open Downtown Lawrence. The vacant spot at 816 Mass. (it previously was About Time and long before that it was the old Fun & Games spot) will be home to DoodleBugs. Lawanna Huslig-Hanks plans to open the store by mid-September. The concept is that the store will sell “gently-used” children’s clothing, toys, maternity wear and hand-made craft items that have a children’s angle. Huslig-Hanks is former human resources professional, who decided to get into retail after buying clothes for her 1-year old. Huslig-Hanks said that when she was buying clothes for her older child — now 12 — there seemed to be more options for buying used clothing and toys.
“I’m in a position to do this, and I just feel like there are a ton of parents looking for deals for kids,” Huslig-Hanks said.
She said most items in her store will be priced for about half of what the item sold for new. She’ll also be buying clothes and items from area residents. She’ll offer either cash or store credit. She expects to open the store around Sept. 1 to begin buying items, and then plans to begin selling items by Sept. 15.
• Want a slice and a little sunshine? New plans have been filed for a sidewalk seating area for Pyramid Pizza at 1029 Mass. The area will seat 12. City commissioners are scheduled to approve the plans at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today.
• Mark your calendars for a couple of events. Lawrence Parks and Recreation plans to host its annual Fall Arts & Crafts Festival on Sunday, Sept. 11. The event will require Massachusetts Street from North Park to South Park streets to be closed for the day. On Friday, Sept. 30, look for a street party event in the 900 block of New Hampshire Street. The Lawrence Arts Center is proposing to close a portion of the block to host an event that will be held as part of the Final Friday arts event that will be happening downtown. The event will include a number of art-oriented activities, and also will include alcohol sales. (I know some people who have made an art of that.) City commissioners will consider approving both events at their meeting this evening.