Archive for Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Town Talk: Neighbors vs. developers in West Lawrence and a no-win situation for City Commissioners; Wakarusa Music Festival up for national award

November 16, 2011


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News and notes from around town:

• I got the feeling from last night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting that commissioners have a mell of hess on their hands when it comes to deciding whether to allow an expansion of apartments near Clinton Parkway and Crossgate. At least two points became pretty obvious after listening to about an hour’s worth of public comment and staff presentations.

  1. There are a lot of neighbors near the apartment site that really don’t want this project. They feel burned by the city and they feel burned by developers who they think are just wearing the neighborhood down by coming back with request after request for the area.
  2. The city’s own planning document — namely the Inverness Park District Plan — calls for the future land use for this particular area to be an apartment complex almost exactly as the developer has proposed. And that plan is not some plan that is sitting there gathering dust. It was approved by city commissioners in September. As one commissioner noted, the ink isn’t even dry on the plan and already there is consideration of deviating from it.

It appears commissioners have two choices that they don’t really like. If they go against their plan, that will give ammunition to folks who say the city is business-unfriendly and that it does planning by whichever way the wind is blowing. For a planning document, this one is pretty specific. It actually mentions the exact piece of property that is the site for the proposed apartment expansion. The plan says the piece of property is appropriate for RM-24 zoning, which is what the developer is asking for. And it also says the site is appropriate for one-bedroom apartments, which is what the developer — Lawrence businessman Tim Stultz — is proposing to build (136 of them). The city, through the plan it unanimously approved, sent a pretty clear signal to the development community that it wanted more apartments on this piece of property. And now, just two months later, it may deny them. That won’t win the city friends in the already-struggling development community.

But talk about not winning friends. The neighbors out there are fed up. Several noted that when they bought their houses years ago they investigated at City Hall what this big vacant piece of property was supposed to become. At that time, there was a plan on the books that it would become a retirement community. Sounds pleasant. That plan fell apart before it got started — but after many adjacent homes already had been built and sold. The area since has evolved into a major apartment district. If this latest proposal of 136 units is approved, there will be more than 800 apartments on the stretch of ground between Inverness and Crossgate.

To top it off, neighbors feel like developers have been sneaky about it. They think that is the case here. The property in question already has 224 apartments on it. That’s the most the developer can have on the property with the current RM-15 zoning. So, neighbors thought the project was done. But the developer built the existing apartments basically on just two-thirds of his lot. That left another third that is basically wide open. If he can get the zoning increased, he can build another 136 apartments.

Neighbors think that is sneaky. The developer said he wasn’t trying to be sneaky but rather was trying to figure out whether his unique concept of building only one-bedroom apartments would work in Lawrence. It did — he says he has a waiting list of about 40 people — and now he’s trying to figure out how to expand. (Note: At least one apartment complex is opposing this expansion. The manager for the nearby Legends Place Apartments told commissioners that the apartment market is overbuilt. She said that complex in the past has had about a 50 percent vacancy rate, although its vacancy rate is below 10 percent currently. But commissioners didn’t spend much time trying to figure out vacancy rates. Some noted that it would be hard to do. For example, is the vacancy rate high for large, multi-bedroom apartments but low for one-bedroom apartments like the ones being proposed? Do you make renters live with what we have or give them what they want?)

Commissioners also expressed disappointment that the neighborhood didn’t come out in opposition to the recently approved Inverness Park District Plan, which calls for this type of apartment development. But neighbors said they really don’t understand such plans. Even though the plan was pretty clear for a planning document, it does take some time to read. And even if you read the plan, it is pretty easy to get distracted with other issues. For example, I don’t remember this part of the plan getting a lot of discussion with city commissioners. The big point of discussion with many — me included — was a change that will allow commercial/office development at both the intersections of Clinton Parkway and Crossgate and Clinton Parkway and Inverness. Previously, apartments could have been allowed on those sites too. The change cleared the way for Hy-Vee to submit plans to build a convenience store at the Clinton Parkway and Crossgate site, right next to the proposed apartment expansion.

In case you missed it, by the way, commissioners did what they sometimes do with tough issues. They deferred a decision. Commissioner Mike Amyx said he needed more time to sort through this whole mess. Commissioners are scheduled to hear it again on Dec. 13.

• A complete change of gears here: Anybody remember the Wakarusa Music Festival? All right, some of you who were there, I can understand why you may not remember. But the rest of us remember. It was a big music festival out at Clinton State Park. It was loved by some, not loved by others. When state park folks started expressing some concerns over safety, crowds and other issues, a dispute arose. Long story short, the festival moved to a retreat near Ozark, Ark., in 2009. Well, in case you're wondering, the festival is thriving. Wakarusa was recently named as one of seven events in the running to win the title of Music Festival of the Year at the annual Pollstar Concert Industry Awards (which hip people tell me is kind of like the Oscars for music shows). The winner will be announced in February. Although the festival is no longer in Lawrence, it is still run by a Lawrence company — Pipeline Productions. The event in Arkansas is drawing about 20,000 people a year over its four-day run each summer.

• That’s it today. I know I usually give you three items, but I’ve got an interview to get to. (Here’s a hint, look for a story about the future of tall buildings in Downtown Lawrence.) So, I’ll give you a discount on your purchase price of Town Talk today. Oh wait … that’s right. Never mind.


itsalwayssunnyinlarry 3 years, 11 months ago

too bad the state would have rather seen a country music festival with violent deaths and rapes over a bunch of hippies who just want to see some music.

itsalwayssunnyinlarry 3 years, 11 months ago

Yeah but that was dawrnism in action. A drug over dose vs a stabbing. I think I'd rather the burn out only doing harm to themself

gccs14r 3 years, 11 months ago

"Well, in case your wondering, ..."


CardHawkFan 3 years, 11 months ago

Two comments: I'll say it again, I am a home owner in the area of proposed expansion and I am all for the apartments and especially for the convenience store. The one gas station within a mile radius has some of the highest gas prices in town as it seeks to overcharge boaters on their way out to the lake. The single-person apartments do not seem to be filled with rowdy crowds and the reason Legends Place is vacant is because for about $100 or so more per month, you can have your own apartment across the street instead of being overcharged for having your own room and sharing it with roommates you may not want. Progress is progress. I love nature, but is it really nature when it is just overgrown grass and no foliage? Second comment, it figures that Wakarusa is thriving somewhere else. I had never been but have always heard it was such a fantastic time and last I checked, not having it here hasn't reduced the hippie population (no offense guys). Lawrence needs to bring it back! We need more music!

lunacydetector 3 years, 11 months ago

.....more apartments.....when is enough, enough? apartments and banks, apartments and banks, apartments and banks. i know it is 'smart growth' to jam people into a confined area.

i'm sure our communist commissioners will approve them, they always do......a cost benefit analysis is in order.

Beeper 3 years, 11 months ago

Drive to La Tropicana in North Lawrence and enjoy the subtlety of being out of a maze of choices AND having family made meals. It is such a refreshingly established venue!

tomatogrower 3 years, 11 months ago

"communist commissioners"? If they approve it, I thought that would make them all for free market and for developers? Isn't that capitalism? Or do you follow the Bachmann definition of communism? You conservatives are just confusing. Make up your minds.

jackpot 3 years, 11 months ago

Chad: What is the report on channel 9 Malott hall evac? Breaking news in K.C. buy not here?

Hadley_says 3 years, 11 months ago

If you are talking about the Wakarusa festival you are full of it, consumer1.

Of course, you usually are full of it, but I will spend the time to correct you here.

Douglas County Sheriffs Office and Kansas Wildlife and Parks soaked the promoter to pad their budgets. Tens and tens of thousands of dollars. The promoter had no choice but pay. (And as a result there were lots of overtime payroll dollars paid to lots of area residents). was not leaching from the community... it was the other way around. And it should not have been.

The same extortion by public entities does not occur in Manhattans CW festival.

tomatogrower 3 years, 11 months ago

But the deputies, fire, and medical is used in the country concert in Manhattan, and they get it for free. Why should they get it for free, and Wakarusa pay through the teeth for it. The Country Stampede should be shut down. It's costing the taxpayers too much.

Hadley_says 3 years, 11 months ago

Ha! Call me a drug head? Nothing ever more than alcohol.. You are nothing but a name calling Class-A certified troll & hater, consumer1.

Hadley_says 3 years, 11 months ago

I live far far away from that area, but the neighboring homeowners are getting hosed big time in this matter, imho.

The developer had a tract of land, he developed it to maximum density, left a quarter of it blank, and showed it at greenspace on his plat.

He has never turned it into greenspace. He should be fined and penalized just for that. He now wants to increase the density. Heck no.

This discussion about the "Inverness Plan" is just subterfuge. This issue has been out there, and the neighborhood didn't get too engaged. Why? The planning code is denser than the IRS Code. They had their existing zoning, and they were depending upon it.

Planning staff did not serve the city commission or its residents well when they did not point out the 800 lb elephant when considering the Inverness plan. Hiding this issue under this "area plan," and then telling the neighborhood "gotcha" is NOT planning.

This is the planning directors fault..... not the neighborhood. He has the knowledge of the process and the issues.

ilovelucy 3 years, 11 months ago

Congratulations to Brett and everyone at Pipeline!! What an honor. Of course Lawrence lost it - this city cracks me up. Liberal yes, but not liberal enough to allow a decent music festival that brought in eco devo dollars. Liberal Lawrence my hind end. Laughable!

itsalwayssunnyinlarry 3 years, 11 months ago

it's only "liberal" in comparison with the rest of this state.

irvan moore 3 years, 11 months ago

more bait and switch with development in Lawrence. this keeps happening, zoning is changed for a project and then it turns out that project isn't feasable so the developer comes back with a new idea and it's to late for the neighborhood to stop it since the zoning is approved. it's not a no win for the commission, it's a no win for the neighbors.

theotherphogg 3 years, 11 months ago

......and everyone is clamoring for the govt. to produce more jobs. Here is a man trying not only to provide an affordable living option for many people, but create jobs in the process, and what do we hear? Not in my neighborhood !!

Jimmy 3 years, 11 months ago

What a shame we lost the Wakarusa music festival! Too bad the city couldn't work things out and be accommodating. Would have been great for local businesses to have 20,000 people in town for a few days each summer.

itsalwayssunnyinlarry 3 years, 11 months ago

From what i remember the STATE played a huge part in shutting it down since it was held in a state park.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 11 months ago

It sounds to me like the population at Wakarusa and Clinton Parkway is pretty dense. They could use a commercial hub that would service the area better rather than an increased population.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 11 months ago

Was the development plan written with only developer input? Our planning department needs to put more effort into this process. They should not expect homeowners to understand urban planning and it's impact.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 11 months ago

The Lawrence,Kansas population is shrinking for good reason. Mismanaged growth accompanied with economic displacement = one is the result of the other.

"She said that complex in the past has had about a 50 percent vacancy rate, although its vacancy rate is below 10 percent currently."

That means other apartment complexes have larger number of vacancies. IT doesn't matter where new apartments are built it is further flooding the market = lots of vacancies throughout Lawrence,Kansas = a drag on the economy.

It also presents a false image of Lawrence which I say is a means to dupe new retailers into believing that Lawrence has a greater number of people. Of course Lawrence population is shrinking = fewer and fewer households to pay the never ending increase of government spending that is expanding our tax bills instead of making money for the entire community of taxpayers.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 3 years, 10 months ago

And it also means no money for maintaining unrented properties, eventually leading to blight and lowered property tax collections.

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