Archive for Thursday, July 5, 2012

Town Talk: Freebirds burritos confirms pending move to downtown; speculation while we await a ruling in the SLT case; hose duty on the Fourth of July

July 5, 2012


Subscribe to the Town Talk email edition

Subscribe to the email edition of Town Talk and we'll deliver you the latest city news and notes every weekday at noon.

News and notes from around town:

• If you remember a few days ago, we reported speculation that Freebirds World Burrito had reached a deal to go into a portion of the former Maurices building at 739 Mass.

Well, it turns out the speculation was correct. I recently chatted with Caitlin Noble, director of marketing for Kansas City-based FBMidwest Development, the franchisee for Freebirds in the Midwest.

Noble said the company hopes to have the Lawrence store open by mid-to-late October. The company first, however, must win approval from the city’s Historic Resources Commission to alter the downtown building. The company hopes to go before the HRC at its August meeting.

It sounds like folks in the region should expect to see a lot of Freebirds in the future. Noble said her company has plans to open 27 Freebirds in Kansas, Missouri and Nebraska.

As we previously reported, Freebirds focuses on a variety of burritos, nachos, tacos, salads and other south-of-the border flavors. In all, Noble said there are 2 trillion different combinations available on the menu for customers to try. The restaurant also uses grass-fed, hormone-free beef and also hormone-free chicken.

Noble said she thinks that will win the company some points in Lawrence, but she said the primary reason the company is making Lawrence one of its first expansion targets is because of the town’s funky attitude.

“The brand matches up so perfectly with Lawrence,” Noble said. “They both have a kind of free-spirit, come-as-you-are attitude. We pride ourselves in not being normal, and we know Lawrence is not normal in the best ways possible.”

I’ll keep you updated on the city approval process on this one. I haven’t yet seen the full plans for how the Maurices building will be rearranged. It will be interesting to see how many businesses can be located in the space. It also will be interesting to see if traditional retailers are drawn to the space at all.

• What also will be interesting is to see which comes first: Spontaneous combustion on Massachusetts Street following all this heat, or a ruling on the future of the South Lawrence Trafficway.

It was all the way back in mid-January that I was in Denver reporting on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals proceeding related to the South Lawrence Trafficway lawsuit. Back then, the court heard oral arguments on the case related to whether the controversial road should be built through the Baker Wetlands.

A pretty good northeast Kansas contingent left the federal courthouse that day expecting a ruling in 90 or 120 days. I actually believed it could take until about the Fourth of July, for no other reason than the court file on the case is huge, even by federal appellate court standards. There are more than 8,000 pages in the file, and just getting through that mass of information would take some time.

Well, the Fourth of July has come and gone and we’re still waiting for a ruling.

There was much speculation on Tuesday that the ruling would be handed down on that day. The word on the street was that the ruling would need to come on Tuesday because the court was set to go on an extended recess following the holiday. The thinking was if a ruling didn’t come on Tuesday it would be a couple of months before it would come.

Well, that’s not what an official at the Court of Appeals recently told me. A spokesman with the Clerk of the Court’s office told me the appeals court is different from the U.S. Supreme Court in that it does not take a recess. It cranks out opinions all year long.

As for when a ruling on the SLT case may come, the clerk’s spokesman said he honestly didn’t have any idea. He said his office doesn’t get any advance notice of rulings either. So, people who say they have an inside track on when the ruling will be released probably don’t.

As for what this long deliberation portends about the eventual outcome of the case, people are probably just guessing about that as well.

When people ask me, I go back to the fact that mathematically more cases at the appeals court level are upheld rather than overturned. In this case, that would mean the road would be allowed to be built through the wetlands. U.S. District Court Judge Kathryn Vratil ruled in November 2010 that the project had the necessary authority to be built through the wetlands.

I also tell folks that I was at the last big SLT court case in the mid-1990s, when there was a legal challenge to a plan that would have built the road through a slightly different portion of the wetlands. I left that court proceeding fairly well convinced that the road project was going to lose the legal argument. Indeed it did, which led to plans for the road eventually being redrawn, which is where we are today.

I left Denver feeling the road builders fared much better with the court this time. But I wouldn’t put much stock in that. I’m no expert on the court. (I was just glad I found the building when I was in Denver.)

And certainly the case didn’t go perfectly for the Kansas Department of Transportation and other road builders involved. As we reported back in January, it does seem the noise study was, at a minimum, poorly written.

Roadway opponents argued a noise study on the project was incomplete because it did not measure the predicted noise levels of the new SLT against the existing noise levels created by the existing 31st Street. Such a comparison is part of the guidelines for a federal noise study. In fact, road opponents even pointed to a specific sentence in the noise study that admitted the two noise levels weren’t compared.

The road builders acknowledged the sentence, but said it was inaccurate because data in the report showed the two levels were compared. They also countered that the state has committed to building the project with noise barriers that will not allow noise levels in the wetlands to be higher than they are today.

Again, I’m just guessing, but perhaps that noise study issue is a bit tough for the court to reconcile. When you have a study that contains a pretty clear sentence saying one of the federally required comparisons was not done, it is easy to see how that could become a red flag.

But who knows? We’ll all just have to wait — and try not to spontaneously combust.

• Combustion certainly was on my mind during last night’s Fourth of July celebration. I’m curious to know whether your Independence Day activities produced any fire scares.

I’ve never had to use the hose so much as I did last night. At least on four occasions we had grass in the yard ignite, either from our own fireworks or from fireworks that landed in our yard. (And no, I wasn’t in the Lawrence city limits.)

It will be interesting to see if county officials give further consideration to a burn ban given that the holiday has now passed. This is unconfirmed, but I have heard that the Douglas County Livestock Association has been asking for a ban. Obviously the risk to houses, are what most people think of when it comes to the dry conditions. But the most likely thing to catch on fire is a pasture. Even if livestock escape injury during a pasture fire, the fire often has a major impact on the livelihoods of ranchers. With one fire, they’ve lost a significant ability to keep their herd fed, which may mean they have to sell animals at a loss.

So, I hope everybody had a safe holiday. Even though there were a few scares at our place, I can’t honestly say it tops the chart for fire-related danger at one of our Fourth of July celebrations. I think that still has to go to the time my buddy caught his chest hairs on fire with a sparkler. Thank goodness he doesn’t have any hair on his head.


oneeye_wilbur 1 year, 9 months ago

Nothing will change noticealby on 23rd. Only an idiot would think differently. With the expansion of Farmland on the north, with a unviersity on the north, with a downtown on the north. with acess to a bridge at the north end of downtown, fat chance of 23rd ever having reduced traffic.

The SLT gives the opportunity to develop the corner at Haskell and 31st, more development to the east of Haskell and those residents will hop on 23rd to get to all points north.

Lawrence has the most gullible public.


whitecho 1 year, 9 months ago

Hobbs, bloom, eccentricity, dusty bookshelf, the raven, adorned, Winfield house, krings, waxman, sweet, nomads, Francis, creation station, kieus, signs of life, sunflower, wink, sharks, prairie patches, ATC, foxtrot, framewoods, made, love garden, ernst, third planet, acme, gary gribble, jocks nitch, wyldewood, blackbird trading post, Phoenix gallery, biao designs, another jocks nitch, the toy store, weavers, saffees, envy, brits, au marche, white chocolate, Jayhawk spirit, extra virgin, wild territory, kizer-Cummings, marks, britches, fun&games, antique mall, Persephone's journey, englewood, Sarah's fabrics, wild man, calamity janes, yarn barn, etc shop . . . Find all these locally owned shops between 6th&11th on mass. Sorry if I forgot anyone. Just working out of memory. And a need to be updated google maps.


blindrabbit 1 year, 9 months ago

just_another: As Jack Webb as Sergeant Joe Friday repeatedly said on Dragnet "Just the Facts (truth)-sir". What issue are you defending (1) Does the site have some historical "sacred" context to Native Americans, (2) Was the area ever part of a wetland and therfore should be saved and not mitigated, (3) is home of the Northern Crayfish frog, Joe Collins only found it one time, (4) What is now the Wauky, was the southern terminus of the last glaciation and therfore must be protected, (5) the mitigation work carried out by Baker University by Drs. Ivan and Roger Boyd are invalid because they are not identical to "your" site. (6) Home of the Fairy Shrimp, the wet ditch used to be full of em, made a great high school science project!


blindrabbit 1 year, 9 months ago

The SLT issue and the accompaning messes on 23rd and 31st are a bad case of constipation for the City. This will become increasing more evident when US 59 is fully open from Ottawa to Lawrence. The Lawrence situation is kinda reversed from the usual, usually urban areas outbuild the outgoing connectors to the surrounding more rural undeveloped environs. Here, we have a modern K 10 going east and west, a new US59 going south and a frigging mess in Lawrence. The old argument about the Haskell wetlands is a joke., As a kid in the 1940's and 50's I used to frequent that area, crossing to get to the Wauky for fishing, no signs of a wetland. The only thing wet was the occasional cowpie as a result of the Haskell cattle herd that occupied that area As soon as the road became a issue, all of a sudden all the nay-sayers rose to the surface, spouting something about being sacred ground. The attorneys of course, led the charge! Balderdash!!


ThePilgrim 1 year, 9 months ago

I thought that the SLT was decided. Just more endless appeals.

Has anyone seen the court docs and the specific argument for appeal?

The swamp/wetlands will turn into a forest before this decided.


Tammy Copp-Barta 1 year, 9 months ago

Do we even have stores downtown anymore? All I ever hear about is more restaurants moving in. Well Lawrence Downtown Association - good job! Years ago when we wanted a mall to keep Lawrence downtown retail in place, you all fought hard and won ... now you get all the restaurants with not much retail left .. I used to love to walk downtown and go into the shops and see all the little unique things. Now hardly ever go downtown - don't like walking around all the outdoor food pens and not much selection anymore.


Stacy Napier 1 year, 9 months ago

yep a bunch of special interest groups from out side the city and state for that matter and a few wackos who formed a Corp. from town.

Goes right along with the first part how Lawrence is not normal. LOL. I was just telling my wife last night downtown how this town is full of freaks.

I am going to start the Free Lawrence from New Mexican Resturant Society. Anyone with me?


consumer1 1 year, 9 months ago

Chad, who are the opponents of the trafficway, do they have a name? organization? legal title?

It would be fair to know the name of the organization that is trying to control our city. I am sure they are a very small but very vocal group. I would like to know more about them. Beginning with who they are?


JackMcKee 1 year, 9 months ago

yep, downtown Lawrence is perfect...for a burrito store. The crown jewel of Lawrence.


consumer1 1 year, 9 months ago

Chad, who are the opponents of the trafficway, do they have a name? organization? legal title?


Laura Wilson 1 year, 9 months ago

(Also not in the city limits).

On Sunday we had a couple tanks roll off the sidewalk and catch the grass on fire--my nephew had a great time stomping them out. A couple smoking things landed on the roof and we hosed them down. I don't think any of the fountains or aerials caught the grass on fire, even the one that fell over, though an ember fell on my arm and left a tiny burn which I will happily blame my brother for for the rest of his life. We hosed down the front yard pretty good after the show which we've never had to do before. It was mostly uneventful and/or funny.


Commenting has been disabled for this item.