It will be a tall order for Lawrence city commissioners.
At their Tuesday evening meeting city commissioners will attempt to end a long-raging debate about whether a multistory hotel/retail building should be allowed on the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
On one side are several neighbors who argue the proposed building is too tall to coexist with the historic neighborhood immediately east of the site. On the other side is a development group that contends they’ve shrunk the building as much as is feasible and that further rejection from the city could damage the health of downtown Lawrence.
City commissioners this week were cautious in saying too much about their opinions on the project, but City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said both sides are still pointing to issues they are unhappy with.
“But the law of infill development seems to be that if you have everyone unhappy, you probably are on the right track,” Cromwell said.
Commissioners will meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday to hear a formal appeal of a Historic Resources Commission decision that rejected the project on the grounds it wasn’t compatible with the historic neighborhood to the east. Here’s a look at several issues surrounding the project:
l The project has changed significantly since it was first proposed in September 2011. Mayor Bob Schumm and Commissioner Mike Dever both have worked with the development group — led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — to reduce the height of the building. The discussions also spurred a proposal for a seven-story apartment/office building on the northeast corner of the intersection, and a package of city incentives for the two buildings. Neither the seven-story building nor the incentives package are up for approval on Tuesday.
l The hotel/retail building is proposed to have 90 hotel rooms that would be part of a TownePlace Marriott extended stay hotel. The project also would include a restaurant on the fifth floor and retail space on the ground floor. In total, the building would be 121,908 square feet.
l As for height, the building is taller along New Hampshire Street and shorter along the alley nearest neighbors. In terms of specifics, the building will be 63 feet at the corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets. Along the alley, the building will be 40 feet tall.
l Unlike with most issues, city commissioners will be sitting in a “quasi-judicial” role. Commissioners are being asked to make a legal ruling on whether there are “feasible and prudent” alternatives to the proposed project. The commission’s decision is subject to an appeal in Douglas County District Court.
The issue of whether there is a feasible and prudent alternative is expected to be hotly contested on Tuesday. Several neighbors have hired Lawrence attorney Ronald Schneider to argue the project can’t proceed as designed. Schneider said he plans to present data to show several other types of projects on the property would be feasible, especially if developers gave up on the idea that the property must include an underground parking garage.
“As presented, about a third of the costs goes to an off-street parking garage,” Schneider said. “There are nearly an infinite number of uses for that property that wouldn’t require off-street parking.”
But Bill Fleming, an attorney for the development group, said the project already has won a positive recommendation from the city’s professional planning staff. He said the evidence doesn’t support that the project will damage the neighborhood to the east.
“The main issue for us is the project is located in a commercially zoned district of downtown,” Fleming said. “We really think this project will support downtown and make downtown a more desirable attraction.
“We’re not building this in the middle of a residential neighborhood. The project is being built where it is supposed to be built.”