Archive for Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Town Talk: A look at how heavily city sidewalks are used; OMG! Oak Park Mall is closed; City Commission cancels; Borders update; Northwest Lawrence industrial appeal and mill levy bragging

February 1, 2011


News and notes from around town:

• It looks like there will be some sidewalks to shovel again. As I think most everybody knows, Lawrence has an ordinance that requires public sidewalks that traverse your property to be shoveled within 48 hours following the end of a snowfall. (Warning: If you wait until the end of this snowfall, you may well buy yourself a hernia.) So, I thought you might be interested in some data that shows how heavily sidewalks are used.

The city conducted pedestrian and bicycle counts at 12 locations across the city in September. (The city didn’t get very specific with exact locations, but I’ve asked for more detail and will post later if I get it.) The city then used that data to estimate how heavily sidewalks are used throughout the year. Whether this makes you more or less excited about shoveling, I don’t know. But here’s the data:

• Naismith Drive: 571 per day or about 208,000 per year.

• Massachusetts Street: 509 per day or about 186,000 per year.

• West Ninth Street: 431 per day or about 157,000 per year.

• West 27th Street: 290 per day, or about 105,000 per year.

• North Second Street Bridge: 230 per day or about 84,000 per year.

• East 19th Street: 101 per day or about 37,000 per year.

• Harvard Road: 94 per day, or about 33,600 per year.

• Monterey Way: 92 pedestrians per day, or about 33,700 per year.

• West Sixth Street: 71 per day, or about 26,000 per year.

• Bob Billings Parkway: 60 per day , or about 22,000 per year.

• Iowa north of 15th Street: 55 per day or about 20,000 per year.

The report — which the city did as part of the National Bicycle & Pedestrian Documentation Project — also compares the amount of pedestrian traffic along the roads with the amount of vehicle traffic. West 27th Street had the highest percentage of pedestrians at 8.97 percent. When you throw in bicyclists, the number of non-motorized users grew to 13.95 percent. Iowa Street north of 15th Street had the lowest percentage at 0.22 percent. At six of the 12 locations, pedestrians accounted for more than 1 percent of the total usage. The other locations were Naismith Drive, 8.22 percent; Harvard Road, 4.35 percent; W. Ninth Street, 3.13 percent; Massachusetts Street, 3.03 percent; Monterey Way, 1.23 percent.

• As you've probably heard, or at least surmised, the Lawrence City Commission has canceled its meeting for tonight. Items on tonight's agenda will be heard at the Feb. 8 meeting.

• All right, now I’m officially scared. The Oak Park Mall this morning sent out a news release announcing it is closed today because of the weather. But perhaps there is still some hope that Armageddon can be fended off: Dillard’s and some of the exterior restaurants will remain open.

• Speaking of retail, the national news about Borders bookstore continues to be troubling. On Sunday evening Borders announced that it once again would delay payments to publishing houses and its landlords in an effort to “help the company maintain liquidity while it seeks to complete a refinancing or restructuring.” A New York Times story speculated that a bankruptcy filing was likely, and at least one source indicated that perhaps as many as half of the company’s stores could close.

“Now, the conversation is going to shift to what is the best way to make sure that the successful stores, which is about half of the stores, can go forward as some kind of viable business,” an executive with a major publishing house told the Times, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “And it feels like that’s going to be in some form of in-court restructuring.”

The stakes are high for downtown Lawrence. Borders, at Seventh and New Hampshire, occupies one of the larger retail spaces in downtown.

• Also from the national news, J.C. Penney announced last week that it was closing several stores. The Lawrence store is not among them. The company is closing six stores that it said no longer meet the company’s “profitability threshold.” None are in Kansas. The closest is in Des Moines, Iowa.

As we previously reported, several neighbors northwest of Lawrence were not pleased with the City Commission’s decision to annex and rezone 51 acres of property at North 1800 Road and East 1000 Road near the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. The rezoning will allow for heavy industrial uses in the future. When commissioners approved the rezoning last week, a representative of the neighborhood group said a legal appeal likely would be filed or already had been filed. He was unsure. We did some checking, and indeed an appeal has been filed in Douglas County District Court by Lawrence attorney Ronald Schneider on behalf of the Scenic Riverway Community Association. The filing is an appeal of action taken by the Douglas County Commission, which previously made a finding that cleared the way for the city to annex the property. The appeal calls the county’s actions “unreasonable, capricious,” and several other stock legal terms. The same group of neighbors filed a similar appeal when the city annexed 155-acres near the Lecompton interchange. The neighbors have lost a ruling in Douglas County District Court in that case. But as the say in the investing world, past performances are not a predictor of future results.

• One other thing about that northwest area: During the City Commission discussion the argument of urban sprawl was brought up and how annexing lands will put more pressure on city finances. Commissioner Rob Chestnut decided to address it in an interesting way. He noted that in 2007 when he took office, the city’s property tax mill levy was about 26 mills. Today, it is still about 26 mills. The county, he noted, had a mill levy of about 30 mills in 2007 and today it has a mill levy of about 35 mills.

Chestnut said his point was that “we’ve proven that we can be fiscally responsible.”

County officials weren’t at Tuesday’s meeting, but they might have noted that during that time period the city has added three new sales taxes to their revenue stream, and the mill levy will increase in the future for an expansion of the Lawrence Public Library. City voters, though, approved all three of those tax increases.

Make what you will of Chestnut’s comments, but there is a definite source of pride at City Hall that the city has the lowest mill levy of the three major governments in Douglas County.


tomatogrower 7 years, 2 months ago

• Also from the national news, J.C. Penney announced last week that it was closing several stores. The Lawrence store is not among them. The company is closing six stores that it said no longer meet the company’s “profitability threshold.” None are in Kansas. The closest is in Des Moines, Iowa.

This “profitability threshold” probably has nothing to do with any profit, but enough profit. In other words, if a store is making a respectable profit and providing a living for it's employees, but the profits haven't grown enough, then they are out.

jhawkinsf 7 years, 2 months ago

Certainly the profit threshold has to offset the risk of potential loss. No business stays in business if it's profit is $1. per year. I have no idea what threshold Penney's has so it's impossible here to comment on whether or not the closures are a good business decision.

Steve Jacob 7 years, 2 months ago

The Penny's Outlet on I-35 and 75th St. will be shut down, so a store in Kansas will be shut down.

deec 7 years, 2 months ago

My son works at Oak Park. I'm very glad he won't have to be out driving today.

pooter 7 years, 2 months ago

I conducted a pedestrian and bicycle count at my location and here's the data:

.010 per day or about 3.65 per year.

Not worth the pavement it's made out of.


appleaday 7 years, 2 months ago

What's the average BMI of the population out your way?

kuhusker 7 years, 2 months ago

So any word on whether the Lawrence location is one of the profitable Borders?

A couple years ago, I heard from one of the managers that for its size, the Lawrence store was one of the most profitable Borders in the chain, but that's old data.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

Is annexation expanding our tax base or our tax bills?

There is one consequence that usually goes unmentioned - annexation is draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

Annexation taxpayer subsidization range from the obvious to the obscure and include big projects-like the billions we spend on new roads as well as smaller ones-like the tax-breaks that encourage businesses to move to the edge of town. We've subsidized annexation at such a basic level for so long, that many people believe the status quo is actually fair and neutral. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of developers and the local real estate industry.

How we subsidize annexation:

  • building new and wider roads
  • building schools on the fringe
  • extending sewer and water lines to new developments
  • extending emergency services to the fringe *direct pay-outs to developers

Is it the taxpayers responsibility to guarantee the real estate industry and developers a nice tidy profit on their speculation and/or risky investments? absolutely not!

Is annexation expanding our tax base or our tax biils?

Flap Doodle 7 years, 2 months ago

If we unannexed east Lawrence, look how much we could save on sidewalks.

livinginlawrence 7 years, 2 months ago

Considering the fact that much of east Lawrence came before most other parts of town, what you're proposing would accomplish little good.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

Maybe the mill levy remains constant but many other fees have gone up and a sales tax needed to be voted in to maintain the older city roads. These fee increases are tax increases any way you look at it. Fee increases can mask the cost of growth quietly while mil levy increases are far more obvious.

In reality the general fund should have been able to maintain the costs of older infrastructure ....... after all taxes from those areas have been filling the cookie jars for many decades.

You cannot tell me that the city owning more responsibility does not come at a price.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

Inflated real estate values = business unfriendly

irvan moore 7 years, 2 months ago

good news about the cancelled commission meeting, a week they can't figure out some new way to screw up the city. why don't we buy Borders and turn it into a parking garage instead of the library parking lot or it's big enough to make a dandy homeless shelter.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

From: Kirk McClure

Education Ph. D., City Planning, University of California, Berkeley, Department of City and Regional Planning, 1985. Concentrations in Housing Economics and Public Finance.

Master in City Planning, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Department of Urban Studies and Planning, 1978. Specialization in Housing Policy Analysis.

Bachelor of Arts, University of Kansas, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, 1974. Special Major in Urban Studies.

Bachelor of Architecture, Graduated With Distinction University of Kansas, School of Architecture and Urban Design, 1973.

Basic findings:

  1. Lawrence is overbuilt in housing: Homes were built faster than popualtion growth supporting these homes. Excessive subdivisions caused an outmigration from older neighborhoods causing a severe loss of value, a loss of dwelling units, and a variety of other problems such as school closings.

  2. Lawerence is overbuilt in retail: Stores were built faster than retail spending growth supporting these stores. This excessive growth has hurt the public and private investment in downtown redevelopment (e.g.: the empty $8 million parking garage, the empty Hobbs-Taylor space, etc.) and has caused deterioration and blight in existing shopping centers (e.g.: Tanger Mall, Food-for-Less, etc.)

  3. Douglas County is overbuilt in manufacturing and warehousing; employment in these sectors is declining, not growing. Yet, the Chamber calls for more and more space in the false belief that more supply creates more demand.

  4. Office space in Douglas County is relatively well balanced, but the market for office space is severely crippled by the excessive supply of unused retail space which is competing for office tenants.

Basic strategy:

Lawrence should adopt a policy of "cooling off" the pace of development. Note: This is not a moratoriam; it is a consicous effort to redirect growth to existing neighborhoods and districts where it can be beneficial.

Housing: The city should stop approving new subdivisions until the existing supply of surplus homes is eliminated. It should direct housing investment back into older neighborhoods so as to preserve and protect the existing public and private investment there.

Commercial space: The city should stop approving plans for new commercial space until the existing surplus is eliminated. It should direct investment into the preseration of the downtown and other existing commercial districts so as to preserve and protect the existing public and private investment there.

Scott Morgan 7 years, 2 months ago

No formal education in city planning here. Do a sack and burn raid on KC,KS Legends and Mall Row in Topeka. Become business friendly attracting new business like the ones Lawrencians drive to on a regular basis. North Kansas City has Zona Rosa, we have Zona NOAH.

Not trying to be rude, but Lawrence has a anti business reputation now. No need to start one.

tomatogrower 7 years, 2 months ago

Then why did the Wine store that is now downtown, leave the Legends to come here? You do know that the Legends is one of those special tax districts, don't you? You know the ones that are selling you something that seems at a discount price then they add the extra tax that goes to the developer? Can't that be called taxation without representation? We aren't on the board of the company that developed the Legends. Come on developers. Man up and charge what you need to pay back the investment. Instead you buy off politicians who let you "tax" the people.

deec 7 years, 2 months ago

The Legends area also profits from STAR bonds, UG use of eminent domain to confiscate the land in the area from its original owners, TIF, I think property tax abatements, and reduced utility rates from BPU. Everyone who pays taxes in Ks. is subsidizing Legends/NASCAR/Ne. Furniture and Cabella's.

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

Time to do away with all Free Lunch's! Lawrence Taxpaying Voters should weed out the city hall “Free Lunch” programs!

Here’s what happens:

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

Big-box retailers and isolated business parks are unwittingly subsidized by our own tax dollars which brings on over built communities and economic displacement instead of economic growth.

Subsidies are also built into the development/annexation process itself. Most new development costs more to build and service than the taxes or fees it generates. I say the city mil levy has been kept artificially in check by a wide range of user fee increases and other tax increases. For instance the money for the $100 million sewage treatment plant I believe has been attached to our city water bill..... this should have been paid by the developers or created a benefit district so all new development tenants and home owners will pay.

Is it the taxpayers responsibility to guarantee the real estate industry and developers a nice tidy profit on their speculation and/or risky investments? absolutely not!

When a new residential or commercial development is built outside of an existing community, roads, sewer systems and water lines have to be built. As the development expands, it requires schools and emergency services. Where does the money for all this come from? In most cases, neither the developers nor the new residents pay their full, fair share - it is the rest of us who make up the difference.

The bottom line is that new development is costing us too much money.

Is it the taxpayers responsibility to guarantee the real estate industry and developers a nice tidy profit on their speculation and/or risky investments? absolutely not!

Instead of expanding our tax base we are expanding our tax bills!

Richard Heckler 7 years, 2 months ago

Let the Voters Decide When Spending Their Tax Dollars! Why ?

Simply because the Chamber,City Commission and Planning Commission cannot seem to make the most practical and prudent decisions.

Let The Voters Decide every November!

Residential growth does not pay for itself because the funding of revenues generated by residential does not pay for the services they require from a municipality.

*Yes or No on light industrial sites – Let The Voters Decide Every November!

Let the voters decide on new retail development. Being more than one million square feet over built is an indication voting taxpayers need to become an active part of the equation annually.

How many is the question?

Which sites are fiscally prudent?

What does the Cost of Community Services Indicate?

What do the market impact studies Indicate?

The only real urgency is the developers lack of patience and accustomed to getting their way upon demand which is usually at a cost to taxpayers with no real benefit in the end.

Are tax increases to increase the wealth of local developers considered a benefit .....NO!

Growth over the last 20 years has been promoted based on a "boom town economy" model = unsustainable and high taxes.

Why Do YOU Think Lawrence Economic Growth Is Lagging?

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