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News and notes from around town:
• Plans for a major, new recreation complex in northwest Lawrence are continuing to take big steps in the planning process, but information about how the public and private partners in the proposed project will share in the costs continues to be a bit scarce.
Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting on Tuesday will consider annexing 146 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. About 50 of those acres are scheduled to be donated to the city — by a development group led by Duane Schwada — to house this proposed public-private recreation complex.
As we’ve reported previously, the plans for that complex are fluid, but there has been talk of a 300,000-square-foot indoor facility with eight or more gyms, a food court and other amenities. In addition, there’s strong interest from Kansas University in an outdoor track and field facility that could accommodate 15,000 people and could serve as the new home for the Kansas Relays and other events.
Commissioners have been discussing those plans behind closed doors for weeks now. But this annexation hearing at Tuesday’s meeting is the most significant step yet.
Annexation, of course, means the property will be in the city limits. Property parcels inside the city limits have a certain expectation for city services, such as water and sewer service. Because this property is on the west side of the South Lawrence Trafficway, the cost to extend those services to the site are expected to be significant.
I may be missing it, but I don’t see anywhere in the documents for Tuesday’s meeting an estimate of what it will cost to extend basic city services to the site. Of course, the other question is: Who will pay to have those services extended?
Ultimately, the city will be the owner of about 50 acres of the property, so I’m sure there will be an expectation the city will pay for some of the costs to extend services to the 146-acre parcel. But will the city pay all the costs, or will it be split proportionally? The city’s 50-acre site will be about 35 percent of the total 146-acre site. (I don’t want you to have to do math on a Friday.) Will a benefit district be created to recoup the costs of infrastructure as the full parcel develops?
It will be interesting to see if some of those questions get answered as part of this annexation request.
Another noteworthy item about this annexation is it is set to become final regardless of what happens with a related rezoning request for the property. Many times, developers will seek to have a voluntary annexation request conditional upon securing zoning for the property. That is not the case here. If this annexation is approved on Tuesday night, the property will be part of the city limits come June 4. Perhaps it is happening this way because, technically, the city is the party seeking the annexation. The property owner is merely consenting to it.
Anyway, the rezoning still has a process to go through. The city ultimately will consider a request to create a whole new zoning category for the property. It will be a type of commercial zoning that would allow for 600,000 square feet of commercial development at the entire Sixth and SLT intersection. (The total for all four corners, in other words.) Currently, the zoning and the city’s comprehensive plan only calls for 400,000 square feet at the intersection.
The larger designation would give the site more options to develop. A city staff report has noted the portion of the 146-acre site that is not directly housing the recreation complex “is planned to support the facility with expansion opportunities, additional recreation uses, and commercial uses — restaurant, retail, hotel, etc.”
The rezoning issue is probably at least another month away from making it to the city commission.
Tuesday night will be interesting, though. It sure seems Tuesday is the night this project moves beyond a concept and the city takes on some legal obligations.
• One group that doesn’t have a very good sense about what the future holds for the project is the city’s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board.
The board has been the chief advocate for a new city recreation center that would serve the western part of the city. The board met earlier this week, and made it clear it still had questions about whether this proposed public-private partnership really would serve the recreational needs of the community or whether it would be tilted toward attracting regional tournaments and sporting events.
The hope, of course, is the facility can serve both needs. City commissioners I’ve talked to have said the need for the center to function as a community recreation center is important. Whether that will mean a certain amount of gyms and space in the center will be set aside solely for city recreational use, however, isn’t clear.
City parks and recreation staff members told the advisory board they didn’t have an answer on that issue.
“Scheduling is going to be so important of an issue,” Mark Hecker, the city’s parks superintendent told the board. “We really need to get that issue figured out before it is determined who is paying for what.”
As one person at the meeting mentioned, if the entire facility is routinely fully occupied for regional tournaments on the prime days of Friday, Saturday and Sunday: "Why would the city pay much for that?”
City officials might counter with the point that those regional tournaments will be bringing in lots of money to the city’s economy, which makes it an effort worth receiving city tax dollars.
Board members said that brings the issue back to the key questions: What’s the vision for the facility, and who is it really designed to serve?
“I think we’re at the point we want to make sure that whatever funds the city puts into this, we want to remember what it is the public has asked for in a recreation center,” Hecker said.
• If buying old scrap cars is your form of recreation, you’ve got an opportunity coming up. (I’m pretty sure a scrap yard, by the way, is not part of the proposed recreation center complex.)
If you remember, we previously reported on the city’s efforts to declare the property 1106 R.I. unsafe and dangerous. The property is owned by the family that previously owned the Packard dealership in Lawrence, and the back yard of the property is full of rusting Packards and various parts.
The city is still in the process of declaring the property unsafe, which would clear the way for the house and structures to be demolished. In fact a hearing on that issue set for Tuesday night’s commission meeting.
But the city is waiting until mid-July to take any action on the issue of old cars being in the yard. That’s because the city has learned the property owners — the Barland family — have scheduled two auctions for the property.
Local auctioneer Mark Elston is scheduled to sell the cars and other large pieces of salvage at a May 26 auction. A second auction to sell all the items in the old house and the related barns is set for June 24.
As far as the process goes for tearing the old house and buildings down, that still has a ways to go. The city’s Historic Resources Commission has determined the house and the large barn on the property are “contributing properties to the North Rhode Island Street Residential Historic District.”
That would mean any demolition permit would need to be approved by the Historic Resources Commission. In the past, the Historic Resources Commission has insisted on seeing a replacement plan before approving a demolition permit on a historic property. That could be problematic since I’m not sure the Barland family is looking to spend any money to build something new on the site.
But we’ll see. Maybe there is a deal in the works for somebody else to buy the property. I have no particular insight into that. I’ve been too busy clearing out a spot underneath the shade tree for my Packard project.