News and notes from around town:
• There has been a lot of talk recently about landing aviation-related industrial projects at Lawrence Municipal Airport, but the tiny Vinland airport between Baldwin City and Lawrence actually has one in the works.
The city-county planning office has received a request to rezone 41 acres at the Vinland airport to allow for a 20,000-square-foot warehouse and production plant for McFarlane Aviation Products. The company has been based at the grass landing strip airport — at 694 E 1700 Road — since 1979. Business has been good for the company, which makes several types of airframe parts.
“We are focused on making parts that make airplanes last longer,” said Dave McFarlane, president of the company.
The company began its current manufacturing operations in 1988 with three employees. Now it has 38 full-time employees, and McFarlane said he’s been adding anywhere from two to five employees a year for the last several years.
He said the new production and warehouse space will allow the company to continue on that growth path. McFarlane said the company briefly considered moving to a different location, but said the quaint airport off County Route 1055 between Lawrence and Baldwin City was a good match for the company.
“It really fits our business culture well,” McFarlane said. “We have this little antique airport and there is the pioneering spirit of the Vinland area. It just seems to work.”
The project will have to win zoning approval from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission and the Douglas County Commission.
• So here was the big question at Lawrence City Hall Tuesday night: How many college students will cram into an apartment? As we previously reported, city commissioners were considering a change that would have allowed more studios, one-bedroom and two-bedroom apartments to be built on a certain type of multi-family zoned land (RM-32 zoning, for those of you keeping score at home.)
Both the planning staff and developers contended the changes wouldn’t increase the number of people actually living in apartment buildings built with the new rules. That’s because the city’s zoning code counts all apartments as being equal, regardless of the number of bedrooms in an apartment. So, the example that was given on Tuesday evening was that you could have 20 four-bedroom apartments or 40 two-bedroom apartments, but either way you’re still talking about 80 bedrooms. And since the city’s parking standards are tied to the number of bedrooms and occupants, your ability to provide parking is still going to dictate how large a building you can build on any given piece of property.
But as we reported in Town Talk, not everyone agrees. That’s because the city has a separate code that says up to four unrelated people can live together in an apartment unit. The code doesn’t care how many bedrooms are available — meaning it is legal for four unrelated people to live in a four-bedroom apartment and it is legal for four unrelated people to live in a two-bedroom apartment. In the scenario above, that could potentially double the number of people living in the building.
Lawrence architect Paul Werner, though, said that’s not the way it works in the real world. He’s designed apartment complexes all over town, and he said college students aren’t into sharing a bedroom. He said if they were, there would be serious overcrowding issues at several of the newer apartment complexes in town, which have been focusing on one- and two-bedroom units. Planning staff members also said they didn’t believe there would routinely be four unrelated people living in a two-bedroom apartment.
City commissioners weren’t so sure. They said they liked parts of the idea but wanted a better sense of whether the city was opening the door to an unintended consequence.
“I’m afraid we may create a situation that could be exploited,” Commissioner Rob Chestnut said.
So commissioners did what they often do when they’re not sure what to do. They deferred action on the issue and sent it back to Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners for further discussion.
• Tuesday’s commission meeting also was the first that officially included two lame ducks — Commissioners Rob Chestnut and Lance Johnson both confirmed Tuesday that they won’t seek re-election. I had a chance to chat with them about what they thought of their time on the commission. Both talked quite a bit about economic development, which was the major issue each ran on. Both said the city didn’t add as many jobs as they had hoped, but both thought progress had been made.
“Unfortunately, you don’t always create the jobs right away,” Johnson said. “But I think I’ve brought a stronger voice in that arena, and maybe Lawrence isn’t perceived as being as business unfriendly as it once was. I think we’re maybe starting to turn the corner.”
In terms of economic development successes, both pointed to efforts to convert the former Farmland Industries property into a business park, the start-up of the new bioscience and technology incubator on Kansas University’s West Campus, and the recent announcement by Plastikon Industries to open up shop in the East Hills Business Park.
Chestnut also said avoiding a mill levy increase during his four-year term on the commission was a highlight, while also being able to undertake some new projects, including renovation of the Carnegie Library building at Ninth and Vermont streets.
A less-noticed accomplishment, he said, is that Lawrence city government continues to avoid many of the pitfalls of national politics.
“I think you see on a national level a lot more skepticism about politics, and a certain type of controversy and what people see as a lack of cooperation,” Chestnut said. “Sometimes people may translate that down to the local level, but I would tell you that I have found it to be the exact opposite. It has been a very cooperative process.”