News and notes from around town:
• Work on what is expected to be the largest building ever constructed in Douglas County should begin soon. Lawrence architect Paul Werner confirmed to me that a building permit application has been filed to construct the 675,000 square foot Berry Plastics warehouse and printing plant facility. Werner also provided me a rendering to give folks an idea of what the building will look like. There’s also news about the site that Berry will build upon. As we’ve previously reported, the project is slated for property just west of the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. Originally, the company believed it would need 93 acres for the project. As a result, planners and county commissioners rezoned 93 acres from agricultural land to industrial zoning to accommodate the project. But now that the design is completed, the company has decided it needs only 62 acres. The owners of the property — a group led by the Fritzel family — are now seeking to have the remaining 31 acres returned to its original agricultural zoning.
Werner said the group is seeking the rezoning because it wants to avoid problems with neighbors, who supported the Berry project but said they didn’t want the whole area to turn into a multi-tenant industrial park. Werner said the property’s owners are continuing to pursue plans to build a rural resort/corporate retreat on the property that surrounds the Berry site. Now that the Berry project is getting started, he said, plans will start moving forward to build a few cabins for the retreat.
As for a timeline for Berry, Werner said the company would like to have the warehouse constructed by early next year.
• Werner also has another project he’s trying to move through City Hall. Werner has recently filed paper work asking the city to create a new multi-family zoning district that would allow more dense apartment development in parts of the city. Werner is asking the city to create a new RM-64 zoning district, which would allow a development to have 64 apartment living units per acre. Currently, the city caps the amount of living units for apartment complexes at 32 units per acre.
Werner said he doesn’t have a specific project yet that is causing him to seek the new zoning category. Instead, he said he’s trying to set the stage for the city to start using more dense projects to combat urban sprawl. His theory is that if the city doesn’t want to continue to spread out, it needs to start letting developers build projects that put more living units in smaller spaces.
A big part of the idea is building taller. Currently, the city limits the height of apartment buildings to 45 feet tall. Werner is proposing that apartments with RM-64 zoning be allowed to be 65 feet tall.
“As a community, I think we have to get over some of our issues about height,” said Werner, who was involved in The Oread hotel project. “I think you get over it by seeing examples. In the right location, this can work.”
Werner said he thinks some areas near the university may be the most likely to be rezoned to the new category. He noted several older apartment complexes in Oread already are more dense than the 32 units per acre because they were built prior to the current zoning code. Several of them are more than 50 years old, and their owners have been hesitant to rebuild them because they would have to be rebuilt with fewer units.
The new zoning category will have to win approval both from the Planning Commission and the City Commission. For folks who are interested in the much cussed urban sprawl issue, it should be worth watching.
• What’s in the Pink Box? A mystery, evidently. As we previously reported Lawrence’s Pink Box Bakery, 727 Mass., is closing its doors. When I last talked to owner Michele Kaminski, she said she was working on a deal for somebody to take over the bakery business. It looks like she has found somebody, but it isn’t clear whether baking will be the main business. Kaminski told me that she if finalizing a deal with a business to take over the spot “within a matter of weeks.” But she wouldn’t give any details about what type of business.
“I think Lawrence will love it,” she said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”
Regardless, Pink Box is holding a sale today of many of its odds and ends, such as mixers, bowls, cake stands, and kitchen tools. The sale runs through 3 p.m. today and is expected to take place daily until Tuesday.
Beware, though. My office cubemate — celebrity baker/journalist Brenna Hawley (she was on the Valentine’s episode of "Jayni’s Kitchen") — already has hit the sale. She was there bright and early. She got up before 8:30 a.m. which is considered a feat for some journalists.