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News and notes from around town:
• Here’s a question for you: During this hot summer, would fake grass spur real envy? It is always green, it never needs mowing, it never calls for water. So, I can see how it may sound appealing to some, but it is not winning many rave reviews from Lawrence-Douglas County planners at the moment.
If you remember, we reported in May that an apartment development by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel was using the artificial turf instead of sod. We also reported that the development — which is replacing the old Boardwalk Apartments in West Lawrence — had jumped the gun. The developers mistakenly thought the city’s code allowed the use of the artificial turf, but it does not.
Now, Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commissioners are being asked to rewrite the code to allow the ever-green grass. Planning commissioners will consider the issue at their 6:30 meeting this evening at City Hall. The request may have an uphill battle. The city’s planning staff is recommending against the use of artificial turf. Planners say they recognize the desire to have a low-maintenance landscape in certain situations, but they said there are plenty of natural options that require very little water or care. The staff report also expressed concern that artificial turf “contributes nothing to the environment and does not function as living components of green infrastructure.”
The report also brought up concerns that the turf degrades the quality of the underlying soil and that it is not easily recycled once it wears out — which might be in about 15 years.
Lawrence architect Paul Werner has pushed for the rule change, saying the reduction in water usage, pesticides and fertilizer are important considerations. The city’s planning staff did find that there are several communities that the allow the use of the product in certain situations, but most of those communities are far from here and are in areas that receive significantly less rain than Lawrence.
Planning commissioners will get their say on the subject tonight, but ultimately city commissioners will debate the topic in the coming weeks.
As for what happens to the artificial turf that already has been installed at the apartment complex, it potentially could have to be removed. There’s also a chance, I think, it could be granted a variance even if the rules aren’t changed. That all will play out later.
• A quick bit of trivia or whatever you want to call it. The former Boardwalk Apartments — where this fake grass has been installed — was of course the site of a tragic fire several years ago. What you may not remember is the name of one of the streets that ran along the edge of the Boardwalk complex. It was Fireside Drive. That has always been kind of eerie. Well, it won’t be any longer. The apartment developers have asked the city to change the name of the street to Frontier Lane. City commissioners have agreed to the change. The apartment complex was the only property that had an address of Fireside Drive, so the name change shouldn’t be much of a problem for other people.
• Also up for discussion tonight at the Planning Commission is the future of the old Varsity House at 1043 Indiana St. Planning commissioners are tentatively scheduled to consider a rezoning request and preliminary development plan that would allow the old home to be move down the block a bit to make way for a new apartment complex.
The project calls for five one-bedroom apartments, 41 two-bedroom apartments, 4 three-bedroom apartments, and the old Varsity House would be converted into a boarding house with six bedrooms. The whole project would have two levels of underground parking, which would be a new feature for apartments in the crowded Oread Neighborhood. Planning staff members are recommending approval of the rezoning and the development plan. Whether the Planning Commission really ends up debating the project tonight, though, is uncertain. That’s because the project’s design needs to win approval from the city’s Historic Resources Commission. That group was supposed to consider the plan last week, but the meeting was canceled because a quorum of the group’s members were not available for the meeting. Ultimately, this project also will end up before the City Commission.
• If Planning Commission items aren’t your thing, maybe pottery-making is. (They both can get kind of squishy at times.) There’s a new business that’s up and running aimed at getting people involved with pottery-making. Muddy Waters Studio has opened in the Hillcrest Shopping Center at Ninth and Iowa. (Now that I think about it, Muddy Waters Studio wouldn’t be a bad name for City Hall either.) The business is around the corner and south of The Merc. The business offers seven-week classes for both adults and children. It also rents out studio space to established artists on a monthly basis. Owner Kara McKamey previously operated studios back in Vermont and New York before moving to Lawrence. She said so far interest has been strong in the business. She said people like the idea of learning an art that is functional, and both kids and adults are taking to the idea.
“It has been really neat to see how many adults want to just learn something for themselves,” McKamey said.
The multi-week classes range in price from about $125 to $185, depending on the class.