News and notes from around town:
• Independence Day will come early for me. I’ve gotten word that the popular south Iowa Street restaurant First Watch will reopen on July 1, meaning that I’ll be free of the frequent questions about the restaurant’s future. As we’ve reported several times, the restaurant — 2540 Iowa St. — closed in late February as the store transitioned from being owned by a local franchisee to becoming a corporate-owned store. While making that transition, First Watch leaders decided to remodel as well. As a result, the store will be the company’s first to use a new interior design prototype that will feature all new furniture, a few “community tables,” and modern plateware and flatware. But don’t worry, the changes don’t extend to the menu. The restaurant, which is known for its breakfast and brunches, will remain the same.
Another change at the restaurant will be in its dining room. The company is naming the dining room in the memory of Todd Babington. Babington became one of the company’s original franchisees when he opened the Lawrence store in 1997. Babington sold the franchise back to the company earlier this year because of health concerns. Babington died in early May. In addition, the company is planning an “Omelet Day” where all proceeds from the sale of omelets will be donated to the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, an organization that was important to Babington. A date for that event hasn’t been set.
• You might have noticed in today’s Journal-World that city commissioners will receive a recommendation to increase monthly trash rates by 39 cents per month to $14.94. Well, if everything goes according to plan, that new rate will buy you a new city service. City Manager David Corliss has confirmed that he plans to recommend a new glass recycling program be included in the city’s 2012 budget.
No, it won’t be a curbside glass recycling program. Instead, it will be a plan that has been lobbied for by Mayor Aron Cromwell. The city will install four glass collection bins across the city. City crews then will empty the bins twice a week and take the glass to an as yet undetermined bunker area on city property. Kansas City-based Ripple Glass then would pay to transport the glass from the city's site to Ripple's facility, which uses the bottles to make fiberglass insulation.
There’s no word yet on where the four bins will be placed. Those locations probably will go a long way in determining whether the project is a success. There already is a fair amount of glass recycling that occurs in the city. People can take glass to the Wal-Mart Community Recycling Center and the 12th and Haskell Bargain Center. Several of the smaller curbside recycling companies also accept glass, although market leader Deffenbaugh Industries does not. So, the question becomes whether the four new bins will get enough new people to start recycling glass in order to cover the city’s costs? The city is estimating start-up costs of about $30,000 and then monthly operating costs of about $600.
But there’s certainly potential for it to be a money-saving operation for the city. The EPA estimates that about 5 percent of all the waste a city produces is glass. If Lawrence could get the bulk of that glass recycled, it would save the city on tipping fees at the area landfill. If that were true for Lawrence, that would mean about 3,100 tons of glass. Based on current landfill costs, the city pays a little more than $70,000 per year to dump that glass in a landfill. There’s some thought, though, that glass may be more prevalent in Lawrence. In case you hadn’t noticed, lots of beer comes in glass bottles. If you dare, go look in a Dumpster in a downtown alley behind a drinking establishment. I wouldn’t be surprised that one of the four bins will be in the downtown area where bars would be encouraged to use it.
• One other thing we do a lot of in Lawrence: Rent our houses to college students. City commissioners at their meeting tonight will talk about putting more teeth into regulations that govern that activity. Currently, no more than three unrelated people are supposed to live in a single-family home. No more than four unrelated people are supposed to live in a multi-family zoned property. But neighbors long have complained that regulation is rarely enforced. The city says the ordinance is difficult to enforce, and we had an article last September that highlighted to what extreme some landlords will go to get around the ordinance.
What city commissioners will discuss tonight are ways to punish landlords who repeatedly ignore the regulation. Since 2005, according to city records, there have been 19 addresses that have been investigated multiple times for violating the code. In addition there have been eight property owners who have had at least three cases of non-compliance investigated. In total, those eight property owners generated 22 percent of all the cases investigated since 2005. (Yes, I’m curious who the eight are. I’ll ask the city to provide that information.)
So, one idea is to make it tougher for problem property owners to register their properties with the city’s rental registration program. Single-family homes that are used as rentals must be registered with the city. Mayor Cromwell told me that some cities have taken the approach that properties with multiple violations can’t be registered with the city for a certain time period. That would mean the properties couldn’t be legally rented. Cromwell said he wants to at least consider the idea.
“It seems like in the current system the tenants end up getting punished the most,” Cromwell said. “They get evicted when we discover the violation, but the landlords may just try to do it again and see if they can get away with it. This would be an attempt to get more at the root of the problem.”
In a town where the rental business is major business, it will be interesting to watch how far this idea goes.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. tonight at City Hall.