News and notes from around town:
• Not every Lawrence business that is part of the construction industry is in the dumps these days. At least one is expanding.
Lawrence-based Prosoco is adding a second shift at its East Hills Business Park facility, which makes a variety of sealers and other chemical products used in the construction or restoration process.
Gary Henry, a spokesman for Prosoco, said the company will add six production employees to begin a second shift in February. It will be the first time that the Lawrence facility — which also serves as Prosoco’s headquarters — has added a second production shift.
The expansion is the result of increased demand for R-GUARD, a liquid product that coats plywood surfaces or other substrate materials before they are finished. The coating is designed to seal even the smallest of cracks that could allow air to leak in or out of the building. The result is that the coating makes for a more energy-efficient building.
“We’re hopeful it is a sign that the construction industry is picking up some,” Henry said of the need for an expansion. “We also think it is a sign of increased awareness about energy efficiency.”
The six new positions at the company are expected to be entry-level in nature, with starting wages of $11 to $12 per hour, Henry said.
• Basements are important. They have been the key to my happy marriage for a long time. I get one little corner of the basement, and she gets everything else. Well, in the Oread neighborhood, both basements and attics are important topics currently, presumably for different reasons.
Several owners of large old homes in Oread have been lobbying for new regulations that will make it easier to convert those homes into boarding houses. A boarding house is a type of structure that is exempt from the requirement that no more than four unrelated people can live in a multi-family zoned property. Instead, the number of people who can live in a boarding house is governed, in part, by the amount of off-street parking each house can provide.
Previously, the parking standard was .75 parking space per one bedroom. But the new regulations allow boarding houses to use a calculation of .5 parking space per bedroom. (Wow, math and planning regulations. We’re having fun now.) But in order to qualify for the reduced parking rate, the house must be at least 3,500-square-feet in size. City planning staff members have said unfinished basements and attics should be counted in figuring the total square footage of a house, with the idea that those spaces could be made livable at some point.
But after the new regulations were approved last year, a little research revealed that 89 homes — or about 20 percent of all homes in the Oread neighborhood — would be eligible for the reduced parking standard. That created a lot of concern with several Oread residents, who said 89 new boarding homes would greatly increase the amount of congestion in the densely populated neighborhood.
City commissioners in October said they wanted some more research done on the attic/basement issue. In November, a majority of planning commissioners said they believed unfinished basement or attic space shouldn’t be counted in the equation. If you don’t count attics and basements, there will be about 10 houses eligible to use the new parking standards, instead of 89. On Tuesday night, city commissioners will get the chance to formally change the standards.
It will be interesting to see if Tuesday’s meeting continues to produce heated moments between the Oread Neighborhood Association and the newly formed Oread Residents Association. If you remember, landlords and renters have won most of the leadership positions on the longtime Oread Neighborhood Association board, displacing several homeowners who had served on the association board for a long time. Landlords said the change in leadership shouldn’t be too surprising, given that the neighborhood is dominated by rental units. But several of the homeowners who previously served on the board created their own association, the Oread Residents Association, because they said the new leadership of the neighborhood association does not represent the interest of owner-occupants. Anyway, the two groups have mixed about as well as oil and water.
There is a larger issue in all of this. One of the reasons the city was interested in making it easier to convert some homes into boarding houses is because they feared those large old homes may otherwise get torn down and redeveloped. There’s some thought that it isn’t financially feasible for an individual to buy a large home in Oread and simply use it as their private residence. So, the question becomes: If allowing 89 homes to use the new standard is too many, is allowing only 10 homes to take advantage of it to few to accomplish the goal of saving old houses?
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall.
• Here’s a look at property sales recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds for the week ending Jan. 9. I’ll also pass along one Jefferson County sale that I’ve heard of recently. A group led by Mark Gwaltney of Lawrence-based Diamond Everley Roofing has purchased the former Lawrence Paper Company facility that is located between Perry and Lecompton. I haven’t been able to get in touch with Gwaltney, but it appears he may be interested in moving his roofing company operations into the 60,000-square-foot building. Diamond Everley currently is at 2200 E. 23rd St., which is next to the former Don’s Steakhouse location. Whether Diamond Everley will put its Lawrence location on the market, I don’t know. If it does, it may be an area to keep an eye on.
City Hall recently has received a request from the owners of the former Don’s Steakhouse property to see if they could buy a bit of property from the city that formerly was part of the Farmland Industries plant. According to Lawrence architect Paul Werner, that would give the property owners more options in developing future projects for the site, although Werner said there isn’t a specific plan in mind. If both the Don’s property and the Diamond Everley property become available, that would be a significant amount of property right next to the Farmland property, which is expected to become the city’s next large business park.
Anyway, click here to see the list of recent property sales.