Town Talk: Signs point to August opening for Mass. St. Dillons; Zarco becomes first in country to sell new E15 ethanol gasoline; city delegation headed to Greece

News and notes from around town:

• Jayhawks, not turkeys, seem to be on the minds of the folks cracking the whip to get construction of the new Dillons completed.

I once had heard the new store near 17th and Massachusetts wanted to be open in time to serve holiday shoppers. Now, it appears the store will open well before then. Word on the street is that Dillons hopes to be open by mid-August so the store can serve the needs of students who are getting settled back in at KU.

I haven’t received any official word from Dillons yet, but there are signs that an opening is getting near. Driving by the new building, it appears installation of shelving is well underway. Also, the company has begun running advertisements in the Journal-World seeking clerks for the new store.

I’ll be interested to see the public’s reaction to the store once it opens. It no doubt will impress many people with the new amenities that the old store on the site simply didn’t have. Those include a Starbuck’s, a drive-through pharmacy, a larger organic food section, and a larger deli/hot food area.

But I’m particularly interested in how folks respond to the design of the building. You could make a case that this Dillons is one of the more “New Urbanism-type” of projects we have in Lawrence. That New Urbanism phrase was being thrown around frequently by politicians and developers several years ago, but we really haven’t seen much of it in Lawrence in terms of new commercial development.

This Dillons store, though, has a few elements of New Urbanism. One, New Urbanism is often dense. (Perhaps my wife thinks I’m the epitome of New Urbanism. She uses that word a lot in describing me.) Anyway, the Dillons store is pretty dense. The new store is a significantly larger building than you normally would see on a lot of that size in Lawrence. The project got variances from the city to build very close to Massachusetts Street on the west and New Hampshire Street on the east. Despite several articles alerting folks to the design, I still hear from quite a few people who are surprised at how close the store is to the street. But that seems to be a hallmark of New Urbanism, and it certainly will be one thing that will change the feel of several streets in Lawrence if the trend ever takes off.

New Urbanism often involves de-emphasizing the importance of automobiles. This project does that in a way by using a parking lot that is smaller than what normally would be required in Lawrence for a store of this size. Finding a place to park at the old Dillons was never really a problem, so it will be interesting to see if the smaller lot causes any problems. The company received a variance to make the parking lot about 20 parking spaces smaller than city code required. That equates to about 14 percent smaller than what the city normally would have required. If it doesn’t seem to cause a problem for shoppers, I wonder whether other new developments in town will try to have their parking requirements shrunk.

Finally, New Urbanism often means making projects more pedestrian-friendly and bike-friendly. My understanding is the new development will do that. It will have larger than normal areas for bike parking, and will have a greatly improved walkway between the store and the adjacent Babcock Place apartments. I’m sure people will like those elements. Sometimes I wonder whether when people say they like New Urbanism, they really mean they like more pedestrian and bike-friendly developments because it seems like the idea of densely developed projects around town still draws opposition from many neighbors.

• What few people would object to, I believe, is spending less money at the gasoline pump. Well, it looks like an interesting national experiment in that area will begin in Lawrence.

The Zarco 66 station at 1500 E. 23rd St. in Lawrence last week became the first station in the country to begin selling a new category of gasoline. It is called E15, which means it contains 15 percent ethanol. Previously, I believe, the most ethanol you could have in gasoline and still use it in conventional engines was 10 percent.

But in June, the EPA gave approval for the E15 gasoline to be used in all light duty vehicles since 2001. That means about two-thirds of all light-duty vehicles on the road can safely use the new gasoline.

Based on current market trends, it looks like the E15 gasoline will sell for a few pennies less than the E10 and traditional gasoline. I’ll drive by this morning and give you an up-to-date price comparison soon.

What I don’t know is what type of gas mileage you get with the new E15. When you start replacing petroleum with ethanol it generally changes the amount of energy a gallon of gasoline will produce. So, although something may be cheaper per gallon, if the gallon doesn’t last as long, there is some math to do there in determining your best value.

Ethanol fans, though, argue there is much more than just price considerations to factor in with the ethanol movement. They argue increased use of ethanol will make the country less reliant on foreign oil, and make the economy less susceptible to the vagaries of the international oil market, which seems to be less tied to supply and demand than ever before.

The Lawrence-based Zarco chain of convenience stores has special blender-pumps that allows traditional gasoline and ethanol to be blended together right at the station.

I believe Zarco will be holding a formal ceremony on Wednesday to kick off the E15 revolution, so I’ll report back if new details emerge.

• Speaking of revolutions, I know where a group of Lawrence residents hope the next revolution won’t occur — Greece.

A delegation of about one dozen Lawrence residents later this month will be making the first official visit to Lawrence’s newest sister city, Iniades, Greece.

The Lawrence group is scheduled to leave on July 25 and return during the first week of August. The Lawrence delegation will be in Iniades at the same time a KU theater group will be performing in the city. The KU theater department since the mid-1980s has had a relationship with a theater group in Iniades, which includes an annual summer performance in a classical Greek theater setting.

Mayor Bob Schumm and City Commissioner Mike Dever both will be making the trip, along with about 10 private citizens who either have a connection to Iniades or are active members of Lawrence’s Sister Cities Advisory Committee.

Schumm said city funds won’t be used on the trip. Members of the delegation cover their own costs, or else conduct private fundraising to cover the costs.

Iniades became a sister city in 2009, when a delegation from the Greek community of about 10,000 people traveled to Lawrence. It is one of Lawrence’s three sister cities. I’ll offer a full refund on the price of today’s Town Talk, if you post the name of the other two. (Either I’m trying to engage my readers, or else I just don’t want to look up how to spell our Japanese sister city.)