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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.