News and notes from around town:
• For those of you eager for Dillons to get started on building its new store on south Massachusetts Street, there are signs that your wait is about over. The company has installed construction fencing around the old store near 17th and Massachusetts that must be torn down before work on the new store can begin. I’ve got a call into Dillons’ corporate office to find out more specifics about a timeline. I’ll let you know if I get any information on that front. I had heard from some people who believed the project had hit a snag with the city. I really don’t believe that is the case. Barry Walthall, the city’s building safety manager who oversees the building permit process, told me that the city was ready to issue Dillons a demolition permit as soon as the company disconnected the electricity to the building. Walthall said his understanding was that Dillons was still removing some items from the interior of the store and needed electricity for that purpose. As for an issue with a building permit, Walthall confirmed that the plans for the building already have been approved by all the necessary city offices. He said a building permit could be ready to be issued within a few days once a couple of “minor details” related to associated public improvement plans are finalized. Bottomline, imagine if you hadn’t cleaned your garage out for 40 years (what, some of you say you don’t have to imagine). How long would it take you to get everything moved out? I think that is kind of the case here. It is an old store that had accumulated a lot of stuff and it is just taking a little time to prepare it for its day of rubble.
• Well, we’re still waiting on the latest set of plans to be filed for an Olive Garden restaurant at 27th and Iowa streets. As we previously reported, even though a request to provide property tax rebates for the development fell flat, the Kansas City development group that is working to bring Olive Garden to town went ahead and filed a preliminary plat for the northeast corner of 27th and Iowa streets. That’s a strong sign that the Olive Garden project is going to move forward even without local incentives. All we’re waiting for now is a site plan to be filed, which should confirm that Olive Garden is still in the mix. If that ends up being the case, it looks like Olive Garden coming to town without a local incentive will be an exception rather than the rule. The Orlando Sentinel — the hometown paper that covers the corporate offices of Olive Garden’s parent company — reported this week that Olive Garden has made it a corporate strategy to get more aggressive in asking for local tax breaks. The article highlighted several communities that have said yes. Decatur, Ala., has given almost a half-million dollars in incentives, and Bristol, Va. about $350,000. Some communities have said no, though, and the executive director of the watchdog group Good Jobs First told the Sentinel that he’s not aware of any other chain restaurants seeking incentives.
“There is a slippery slope issue,” Greg LeRoy told the Sentinel. “If one chain gets it, the next one’s going to say, where’s mine?”
You can read the entire article from the Sentinel here. The reporter on the piece called several Lawrence folks who were involved in the issue locally but the Lawrence information got left on the cutting room floor mainly — I believe — because the local incentives discussed would technically be going to the development group and not Olive Garden directly. What I previously had heard is that the development group was exploring a federal program — the New Markets Tax Credit Program — that may be able to provide an incentive for investing in a blighted or low income area. I haven’t heard whether that will be a part of any development moving forward or not.
• In the battle of who can write the most about trash, I believe the City Hall reporter for the Wichita Eagle has inched ahead of me. I wrote a lengthy Q&A piece about local trash and recycling issues last weekend. But trash is making news on a regular basis down in Wichita. The Wichita City Council this week approved a plan that has some elements of what is being talked about in Lawrence, but is missing one major one. The Wichita council approved a “pay as you throw” system, which means customers may be charged different monthly rates based upon how much trash they leave at the curb. They do that by having carts. A household that has a lot of trash on a regular basis can rent a large cart and pay one price. A household with less trash could rent a smaller cart and pay less. But what Wichita leaders balked at — after considerable debate from the public — is a mandatory curbside recycling program. That is very much going to be a discussion in Lawrence.
As we’ve said before, mandatory doesn’t mean that you have to recycle everything that can be recycled. What it means is that a curbside recycling service will be a part of your monthly bill, regardless of whether you use the service. That didn’t fly in Wichita. That community, though, does take a much different approach to how it collects trash. The city allows multiple private haulers to operate in the city, and they compete household by household for the business. It is believed Wichita is the largest city in the country that still uses such a “free-market” approach. I don’t expect to see that recommended locally. If you want to read more about Wichita’s service, including what some of the private haulers charge down there, you can do so here.
• One question I have received from several folks is about how environmentally friendly the city will end up being if it adds a curbside recycling program? Here’s the concern: The city already runs two trash trucks along every city street pretty much once a week — one truck to drive by to pick up trash and another truck to drive by looking for anybody who has set out yard waste. (Yard waste doesn’t operate during the winter, but it operates most of the year.) With a curbside recycling program, that would be a third truck that travels over every city street at least once per week. From an environmental standpoint, there is a carbon footprint calculation to consider there. Of course, if a curbside recycling program reduces the amount of trash going into the landfill, there is an environmental calculation to be made on that end too. I struggle enough with just regular old mathematical calculations, so I’m not even going to attempt to figure this out. But somebody will need to.
It would seem hard to argue that the most environmentally efficient way to recycle is to get people to take their items to a drop off location — like the center at Wal-Mart — while they’re out running other errands. But the question becomes whether “enough” people will do that. I think there is a certain segment of city leadership that believes if people have to pay for a curbside recycling service, they certainly are going to recycle more than they do today. I think that is what the data in communities that have gone that route shows.
One option I’ve heard mentioned that could address this idea of three trucks driving over city streets is using new trucks that could pick up both curbside recycling and trash at the same time. The trucks have two containers to keep the material separated. I’m hearing, though, that some communities have tried that and don’t like it. Tamara Bennett, the assistant director of public works who oversees the city’s trash collection, said some communities have found the trucks aren’t very efficient. That’s because one side fills up faster than the other, and you spend a lot of time and fuel driving to either the landfill or the recycling processing center. If the recycling processing center and the landfill aren’t in the same location, you really spend a lot of time and fuel dumping your loads.
It will be interesting to see if the city ends up talking much about what type of trash trucks the city ought to be using in the future. There are all types of issues. Do you get trucks that have robotic arms that would allow for a one-person crew? Do you get trucks that use compressed natural gas or some other fuel source more environmentally friendly than diesel?
Wow, that ended up being a long bit about trash. Maybe I can catch the Wichita Eagle yet. As my editors would tell you, never underestimate my ability to write long.