Archive for Friday, June 3, 2011

Town Talk: Lowe’s has interest in new northwest Lawrence site; SLT funding decision expected today; county commissioner steamed over environmental regulations

June 3, 2011


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News and notes from around town:

• The idea of bringing a Lowe’s Home Improvement Center to Lawrence may not be dead yet. As we reported last month, local architect Paul Werner was making a pitch to Lowe’s to look at the vacant property just west of Walmart on Sixth Street. Well, it looks like Lowe’s has some interest in the site. A concept plan has been presented to city officials that shows how a Lowe’s store could fit on the property west of Walmart. Sources tell me that the concept plan is a precursor to a formal rezoning request and development plan from Lowe’s in the near future. Werner wouldn’t confirm whether he’s in the process of filing a formal development plan for a Lowe’s project. Anything can happen with a deal like this, but if I were a betting man, I know which way I would bet.

The question soon will become whether city commissioners like the west of Walmart site any better than they liked Lowe’s previous proposal to build a store near Sixth and Folks Road in the area near Free State High. The west of Walmart site isn’t currently zoned for retail uses. It had been envisioned first for apartments and then retirement living, but that project hit financial difficulties. The land ultimately ended up in the hands of an area bank, which perhaps has made the site more economically attractive to Lowe’s. Plus, Lowe’s has made a switch in the executive responsible for evaluating any Lawrence deal.

It will be interesting to see how much opposition neighbors may mount to the store. Will there be arguments about traffic and more retail being built in the area than originally envisioned? I’ll also be watching to see if Lowe’s asks for any incentives, like a special taxing district, which was part of its proposal at Bauer Farms. I would be surprised if it includes such a request. Special taxing districts are going to be a very tough sale at City Hall for awhile. There are two new faces — Hugh Carter and Bob Schumm — on the commission now that weren’t on it when Lowe’s was previously denied. It should be worth watching.

• Occasionally, I tweet. (That sounds like something I should say to a therapist. Or at least a doctor.) Today will be such a day as I expect news this morning about whether the South Lawrence Trafficway will be on the list of projects that will be funded through the state’s comprehensive transportation program. Funding is needed to complete the bypass project, which currently travels from I-70 west of Lawrence to U.S. Highway 59 south of Lawrence. The final leg of the trafficway would travel from Highway 59 to Kansas Highway 10 east of Lawrence. Funding for the project won’t guarantee its completion. As surely everyone knows, the proposed route for the SLT goes through the Baker Wetlands, which means this project is destined to go through federal court. In November, U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Vratil gave the project a legal victory by ruling the proposed route for the road had gone through the proper federal review process. But that ruling has been appealed by local environmentalists and American Indian groups who are opposed to the route through the wetlands. That case still has a ways to go before it is resolved. The state and the feds are expected to file their key briefs in the case later this month.

I expect some news around 10 a.m. I will tweet it @clawhorn_ljw.

UPDATE: KDOT has committed $192 million to complete the SLT.

• Speaking of wetlands, the City Commission is set to approve a document that would get the ball rolling on creating new regulations for wetlands and other environmental features throughout the county. At their Tuesday evening meeting, commissioners will consider approving the Environmental Chapter of Horizon 2020. It doesn’t sound like interesting reading, but it certainly has gotten the attention of many in the development and agricultural communities. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce and the Lawrence Board of Realtors both have come out against the chapter as it is currently written. A large reason why is because they believe it will create a sea of new regulations that haven’t been well thought out. According to the city-county planning department, the chapter will required the creation of 35 entirely new code regulations, plus it will require another 89 existing regulations to be added to. Some of the new regulations would include: setback rules for developments near streams; local wetland protection codes; local woodland and urban forest protections; local natural habitat protections; local programs to protect high quality agricultural land; and a local policy to reduce mercury emissions. There are also several references to how the city and county should encourage less automobile usage, more alternative energy and a greater reliance on locally grown food.

Of course, there are multiple supporters of the plan. But the amount of division it has created is noteworthy. Nowhere is that division more evident than on the Douglas County Commission. County commissioners approved the chapter on a 2-1 vote in April. County Commissioner Jim Flory was the lone vote against it. But he hasn’t let his opposition stop with his vote. He took the unusual step of writing a strongly worded letter to city commissioners that basically spelled out why he believes his fellow commissioners erred in approving the document.

Flory had urged that the chapter be deferred and sent back to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission to answer several questions raised by the public. Flory writes that he was “both shocked and frustrated” that his fellow commissioners refused to do so. He goes on: “In my view, Chapter 16 represents a major policy statement and constitutes a vehicle for extensive regulation of private property worthy of a thorough discussion by the governing bodies. A review of the BOCC minutes will reveal a number of question and suggestions that were virtually ignored in the inexplicably expeditious handling of the matter.”

I get the sense that the debate on this chapter is going read a lot like a Tolstoy chapter: long.


somebodynew 6 years, 10 months ago

So Lowes is still interested??? Maybe this time they won't be working with a developer who wants to bulldoze the City into approving something that was not correct for the area just so they could make some money.

I hope so anyhow I would like to see them here.

steveguy 6 years, 10 months ago

Let Lowes build as big a building as they want and where they want!

Robert Schehrer 6 years, 10 months ago

Does that mean you are OK with them building it right next to your house?

LogicMan 6 years, 10 months ago

"Well, it looks like Lowe’s has some interest in the site."

Super news! The perfect spot for Lowe's.

Guys, just don't blow it by asking for special taxing stuff. Maybe a few minor street/sewer improvements, that's all.

City: Get 'er done! We need the construction jobs and sales tax revenues.

drake 6 years, 10 months ago

I don't tweet, but the funding has been approved for the SLT.

Scott Morgan 6 years, 10 months ago

There is a brand new state o art superhighway inching it's way to Lawrence as I peck. The last bridge HW 59 County 458 is almost completed. (3 miles South of Town) Actually going to be really cool.

At the current time, vehicles traveling West have the K-10 Bypass, traveling East would be Walmart's parking lot.

Sue McDaniel 6 years, 10 months ago

I want Lowe's!!! Crossing my fingers! I am amazed they are even interested in us...

Terry Jacobsen 6 years, 10 months ago

Yes to Lowes!! Also, Thelman needs to be thrown off of the county commission. I have no idea how she even got elected.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

If the route through the wetlands is denied have no fear.

There at least other choices that are not new to KDOT:

  1. I-70 connectors from K-10 east of Eudora to I-70 which bring traffic out around the city instead of in to the city = traffic safety

  2. The original south of the river route which also take traffic out around the city again = traffic safety

  3. Connecting the original route to existing interchange 1057 thus avoids contributing to traffic congestion in the area of 1750 rd = traffic safety and perhaps saves money.

Does anyone know IF the SLT can be finished for $192 million or is this political speculation? How is this being paid for?

Where did the money come from... our public school education funds?

Does this mean that Lawrence,Kansas taxpayer will become entirely responsible for 23rd Street maintenance and rehab? = tax increase

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

Flory is simply a YES man for the Chamber and development community. It's that simple.

laissez faire government brings inflation and reckless growth patterns which does NOT make for economic growth. Instead we tax a variety of tax increases and economic displacement.

Some politicians are uninformed as to the consequences of their actions.

Richard Heckler 6 years, 10 months ago

This Lowe's deal is more about local property owners unloading real estate than it is about smart economics. The real estate market in Lawrence is as some have put it dead.

Lowe's comes to town = Home Depot shuts down this store in 18 months. Why? not enough business. Both stores will struggle for awhile which leaves room for only one store.

Who loses? The taxpayers. Struggling retail stores NEVER generate projected revenue for OUR cookie jars and Empty buildings never pay back plus people will lose their jobs.

Hey Lowe's, Make an offer for the Home Depot location.

A new Lowe's will be a downsized store. Why? Demographics tell Lowe's this market will NOT support a large full blown Lowe's.

Again this Lowe's deal is more about local property owners unloading real estate than it is about smart economics.

LogicMan 6 years, 10 months ago

"A new Lowe's will be a downsized store. "

Unfortunately likely true, e.g. Home Depot and Best Buy.

Hudson Luce 6 years, 10 months ago

Lawrence should be divided into two cities - one which incorporates North Lawrence, East Lawrence, and that part of Lawrence between Massachusetts and Kasold Avenue from the northern city limit to the southern city limit. Anything west of that line should be a new city, West Lawrence. There's already a branch office of the police department there on 15th Street near Wakarusa, which could also serve as a City Hall, perhaps with some added new offices. Lawrence could concentrate on sustainable building practices, smart growth planning, and the sustainability agenda, and West Lawrence, which would be served by the K-10 bypass, could concentrate on being Overland Park. This would cut down on the conflict, and allow people in both places to develop and run things as they see fit.

Matthew Herbert 6 years, 10 months ago

Lowe's can't get here fast enough. I'd love to support "local" business if they gave me a single reason to support them. Westlake Hardware has nothing worth buying and Midway Wholesale's customer service equates to being spit in the face.

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