Maybe a bus is more powerful than a train after all.
Efforts to save and restore the Santa Fe Depot in east Lawrence received a boost Tuesday night after city commissioners said they were indeed interested in studying whether the 1950s-era station could be used as a hub for the city bus system in addition to a depot for Amtrak.
Commission approves longevity payments
Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting unanimously agreed to award about $400,000 in year-end “longevity payments” to city employees.
Full-time employees who have worked at least five consecutive years with the city will receive a payment equal to $48 per year of service they have with the city.
The city has provided the longevity payments for more than two decades.
“We benefit from people staying at their jobs longer,” said Mayor Aron Cromwell. “Although we are in tight financial times, I think this is the right thing to do.”
City Commissioner Hugh Carter, however, did offer one suggestion for the city when it cuts the checks later this year. He said the city should create a program where local merchants can insert coupons or other offers into the city envelopes to encourage employees to spend the year-end money locally.
“Figuring out multiple uses for this building is what’s going to get us off center on this issue,” said City Commissioner Mike Dever. “There could be a lot of resources we could use to help pay for this project if we add transit to the mix.”
But Lawrence city commissioners still stopped short of committing to take over ownership of the building at Seventh and New Jersey streets from Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
Instead, commissioners said they wanted staff members to do a more detailed analysis of the site to determine how it could accommodate up to seven public transit buses at a time, which likely would be a requirement for it to function as a transfer station for the city T bus system.
Staff members also were directed to have further discussions with Burlington Northern Santa Fe about a proposed property transfer agreement and land lease that commissioners said were too “one-sided” in favor of the railroad. BNSF is offering to transfer ownership of the building to the city for $100, but the railroad also wants the right to buy back the building at any time at a price equal to the cost of improvements the city has made to the building, with the cost of those improvements depreciating over time.
The land lease also would require the city to assume several environmental responsibilities that commissioners said they were concerned about.
“These things just raise a few red flags for me,” said City Commissioner Hugh Carter.
Staff members said they still thought there was room to negotiate with BNSF on several of the issues.
As for the transit station idea, commissioners said they would want to hold a public meeting with neighbors of the station to get feedback on what effect more buses in the area might have. Commissioners did hear from one concerned neighbor who lives on the north side of Seventh Street and believes increased bus activity will make it more difficult for her to exit her driveway.
But commissioners heard from nearly a dozen proponents of the project, including several that live near the depot.
Commissioners did not set a date for the issue to come back to the commission for consideration, but negotiations with BNSF are expected to take several weeks.
Commissioners also said they wanted more detailed financial analysis of where the city could find money in its current budget, if it had to make emergency repairs to the roof or heating and cooling systems, both of which were described as being on “life support” by a city-hired architect that has reviewed the building.
“I just think there are a number of things we need to be very careful about here,” said City Commissioner Mike Amyx.
In other business, commissioners deferred action on an apartment complex proposal for a site near Clinton Parkway and Crossgate Drive. Amyx asked that a vote on the project be delayed until Dec. 13 in order to give him more time to research the history of the project, and what the commission’s intent was when it approved plans for the existing complex, Remington Square Apartments. The latest proposals calls for expanding Remington Square by 136 apartments. Neighbors in the area came out in strong opposition to the request Tuesday.