News and notes from around town:
• Hopefully, the editors of Saveur — one of the top food magazines in the country — won’t hold it against all of Lawrence that my breakfast this morning consisted of a leftover, discount-bin, hamburger bun.
The folks at Saveur, you see, are very into bread, and in particular, have high praise for one Lawrence loaf. The editors of the magazine have ranked Wheatfields Bakery’s Wheat Walnut Raisin as one of the 45 best loaves of bread in America. Thanks to an alert Town Talk reader for pointing this out.
The magazine’s current issue is devoted to American breads, and the magazine has nice things to say about Wheatfields’ loaf. It mentions how it is baked in Wheatfields’ Spanish brick-oven and uses a mixture of organic wheat flour, with a touch of rye and spelt. (Spelt, according to the dictionary: An old kind of wheat with bearded ears. My hamburger bun was bearded this morning, but I’m not sure that was spelt.)
The magazine also suggests the bread is great with a cheese plate, or toasted for breakfast with softened butter. Sure, now you tell me.
• Perhaps some of you had eggs for breakfast this morning. If you got them from your Lawrence backyard: 1. Hopefully you have a chicken back there, and; 2. It still will have to have an outdoor coop of at least 10 square feet to meet the city’s regulations regarding chickens.
But those regulations are about to change for places like Orscheln Farm & Home. We reported last week that the city recently notified the retailer that its longtime Chick Days Sale didn't comply with a city ordinance designed to regulate the housing of backyard chickens.
Well, that’s about to change. The city has added an item to its Tuesday City Commission meeting agenda to consider an ordinance that would provide an exception to the regulations for commercial businesses that occasionally sell chicks as part of their operations.
The city attorney’s office previously stressed that the current regulations didn’t provide the office any leeway in granting an exception to the space requirements.
According to a memo from the city attorney’s office, it appears the city’s interpretation of the code also impacted the Chick Days Sale held at the local Tractor Supply Company store.
The ordinance change is slated for the commission’s consent agenda, which means commissioners aren’t expected to voice any opposition to the changes.
• Speaking of things that Lawrence would like to hatch, new jobs are near the top of that list. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce has formally requested a change in how the city and county’s economic development efforts are run.
In a recent interview with the J-W, Mayor Bob Schumm forecast such a request would be on the way. Now it has arrived and is expected to get discussed by city commissioners at their Tuesday meeting.
The new structure has a chance to significantly change how economic developments issues — and in particular incentive requests — are handled. The letter from the chamber doesn’t provide a lot of details about how the new structure would work, but it does highlight several times that the new system needs to be able to “respond rapidly to seize opportunities that benefit our community.”
Some incentive requests — like tax abatements — will have to be made by elected officials either on the city or county commissions. But tax abatements are becoming less frequent, while grants, low-interest loans and other cash incentives are becoming more common in the economic development world.
Would this new group be able to approve those type of incentives on its own? Based on conversations I’ve had, I believe that would be the case. When I chatted with Schumm previously, it seemed the idea was to create a new economic development organization that would have its own budget and its own decision-making authority.
The chamber’s recent letter provides some detail about who may be on this new board. Among the chamber’s recommendations are:
— A three-member executive committee would make “day-to-day” decisions related to economic development initiatives in the city and the county. The executive committee would be made up of the Lawrence city manager, the county administrator and the chamber CEO.
— A larger “Joint Economic Development Council” would be established to supervise the organization’s budget, to make budget requests to the city and the county, and to recommend polices for economic development initiatives. The council would include the three members from the executive committee, plus several representatives from KU and other organizations. They include: the chair of the chamber’s board of directors; a Lawrence city commissioner, a Douglas County commissioner, the KU Chancellor or her designee, the executive chair of the Bioscience and Business Technology Center, and three representatives from the business community appointed by the chamber CEO. The city administrators of Eudora and Baldwin City also would serve as ex officio members of the council.
— The letter also provides details about a significant organizational change with the chamber. The chamber is planning on hiring a new chief operations officer, who will handle all of the traditional chamber functions related to memberships services and business advocacy. That will allow the new chamber president and CEO — Greg Williams, a former economic development leader in Springfield, Mo., who will begin work in late May — to have a much more active role in economic development activities. The chamber also has the open position of senior vice president of economic development to fill. No word yet on what the funding plans are for the new COO position.
Funding, of course, will become the big issue at some point. The chamber letter doesn’t get into that at all, but already there is talk in some circles about whether voters will be asked to support a new sales tax for economic development activities in the future.
At its Tuesday meeting, city commissioners are being asked to direct staff to draft a formal ordinance that would create the new organization. The City Commission will meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.