Town Talk: Some developers wanting to use artificial turf for Lawrence landscapes; remake of former Boardwalk Apartment site nearly complete; city likely to win 23rd Street signal funding

News and notes from around town:

• Here’s a new twist on the concept of being green: Artificial turf. The school district has taken to the idea of replacing grass with artificial turf on sports fields, but now some are asking why should the idea stop there. Lawrence architect Paul Werner is proposing a rule change at City Hall that would allow artificial turf to be used as part of the landscaping of commercial and multi-family apartment developments. In fact, he’s already used it. The new apartment complex that was built to replace the former Boardwalk Apartments off West Sixth Street is using a synthetic turf instead of grass. Many of the same reasons we heard from the school district are being offered up for why artificial turf should be used in commercial projects: No water, no mowing, no fertilizer, and no herbicides or pesticides.

Although the apartment project is in the process of using the synthetic turf, it is not supposed to be. City inspectors noticed the turf on an occupancy inspection of the project and called foul. So, Werner has filed for a wording change (a text amendment, if you want to sound cool in planning circles) to the city’s development code to allow for synthetic turf. Werner told me he mistakenly thought it already was allowed because the city approved its use on a limited scale at the Oread Hotel, which is another project he helped design. (The small amount of grass between the sidewalk and the street in front of the Oread is artificial turf.)

Artificial turf recently installed at the Tuckaway Apartments at Frontier in West Lawrence.

Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel is a developer of both the Oread and the apartment project. Werner said Fritzel really has become sold on the artificial turf product, and wanted it to be used in the apartment complex.

“Unfortunately, when our development code was being written, nobody had much of a clue about it,” Werner said. “And I’m sure the idea does scare some people.”

Werner said it would take some getting used to the idea of having a landscape that remains green even throughout the dead of winter. He also said some people may be concerned about what will happen as the product begins to wear out, but he said that should be no larger of a concern than the current problem of people installing a landscape and then not properly caring for it.

Werner estimates that the artificial turf should easily last 15 years (the warranty is 13 years for the particular brand he’s using.) That’s an important number in making all this pencil out. And yes, Werner says this pencils out. He said the artificial turf does have an upfront cost that is more than three times as expensive as laying down sod. But, when you start subtracting the expense of mowing, watering and other such grass chores, the product pays for itself in five years, he said. That’s basically 10 years of a relatively cost-free landscape. That’s the type of green that gets a lot of attention.

Whether the idea will take hold in the yards of single-family homes, Werner is unsure. He think the initial cost will scare many homeowners off. I’m not sure. Costs will likely come down as more people use the product, and there are lots of shady neighborhoods (I’m talking trees here) in Lawrence where growing grass is difficult. It might be tempting for some frustrated homeowners who have always wanted that golf course-type lawn but haven’t figured out how to do it. I’m not sure whether the proposed text amendment will allow for the synthentic turf in single-family yards (or maybe it already allowed today and just not known). I’ll check with folks in the city’s planning department on that. I’ll also call some landscaper who I respect to get their thoughts.

Ultimately, the text amendment will go to the Lawrence City Commission for debate.

The new Tuckaway at Froniter Apartments that have replaced the former Boardwalk Apartments in West Lawrence.

• The artifical turf issue caused me to go out to the new apartment complex that is replacing Boardwalk. The Boardwalk Apartments were — I don’t think I’ll set off any alarm bells by saying this — generally considered some of the ugliest in town. As you would expect, the new complex is a dramatic change. First, the name has changed to Tuckaway Apartments at Frontier (that’s the street they’re on.) The pictures show you that the new buildings use a lot of stone facades instead of the old lap board siding of Boardwalk. But the biggest change is on the inside. The three-story apartment buildings all have elevators, which developers hope will open the complex up to people with accessibility issues. The apartment units are all Energy Star rated as well, which should cut down on utility bills. In fact, the developers are so confident that electric and water usage will be low that the monthly rents include all utilities. The project has a mix of 96 one- and two-bedroom units. The project also is approved for another 96 units in the future. Leasing of the units has begun.

• I don’t have all the details yet, but it is my understanding that the city has been awarded about $150,000 in state/federal funding that will allow the traffic signals on 23rd Street (from Iowa to East Hills) to be syncrhonized. The city previously has been awarded money to connect the traffic signals on parts of Sixth Street and Iowa Street to fiber optic cables. That’s the same type of system that would be used on 23rd Street. Technically, it is called Intelligent Transportation Systems, and the fiber will allow the signals to be programmed from a remote location. It also will allow the timing of the signals to be more easily changed for special events such as graduation or football games. When I get more details, I will pass them along.

• West Lawrence motorists should beware on Clinton Parkway. The city has closed the right-hand turn lane and one eastbound lane of Clinton Parkway at its intersection with Kasold Drive. Southbound turns onto Kasold still will be allowed, but the closings likely will create more congestion. The section of Kasold Drive south of Clinton Parkway is being completely rebuilt, although the road remains open to traffic. Work on the Kasold project is expected to be completed by late fall 2011.