Archive for Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Town Talk: County’s chief building officer placed on administrative leave; city still waiting on financial numbers related to 9th and N.H. appeal; neighbors near proposed rec complex hire attorney

May 16, 2012


News and notes from around town:

• It appears there is a shake-up underway in the Douglas County Building and Zoning Codes department.

County administrator Craig Weinaug confirmed to me that Keith Dabney, the longtime leader of that department was placed on administrative leave on Friday.

Weinaug said it was against county policy for him to comment on personnel matters, and he said he did not have a timeline for when the administrative matter would be resolved.

But I got indications that Dabney may very well not return to the position. Linda Finger, the former director of the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, is now serving as director of the department, and Weinaug said she was in the process of hiring someone who has building inspection expertise.

I don’t have any real insight into what has caused the shake-up, and I don’t feel comfortable speculating about it. The position basically serves as the chief building inspector for the county and also oversees what are often contentious issues related to whether businesses or home-based businesses are violating zoning provisions.

Dabney has been a county employee for more than 20 years, and had been the leader of the department since the mid-1990s.

I know that several members of the local building community are watching the situation with interest. The county operates under a 1997 version of the UBC building code, which is significantly different from the building code in place in Lawrence. There have been requests to update the county code to a version more similar to the city code, but such changes had not materialized in recent years.

• Speaking of matters that have not materialized, city commissioners still don’t have a date set yet to hear an appeal related to the Historic Resources Commission’s rejection of a proposed multi-story hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.

City Manager David Corliss said his staff is still waiting on several pieces of information that the developer has been asked to provide in order for a financial feasibility analysis of the project to be prepared. The city has hired a consulting firm to conduct the feasibility study, but Corliss said the study can’t be completed without some data from the developers. Corliss told commissioners he’s hopeful that data will arrive soon.

But Corliss did confirm that developers have dropped the appeal for one of their two proposals for the corner. If you remember, the development group — which is led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor — previously had proposed a building that topped out at six stories in some locations. That plan got rejected by the HRC, and it was appealed to the City Commission. But before the appeal was heard by the City Commission, the developers proposed a new plan that tops out at five stories in some locations. That plan also was rejected by the HRC.

In the meantime, the developers never had formally dropped their appeal for the six-story proposal. Well, Corliss said the development group now has dropped that appeal. When this issues comes back to the City Commission, it will be the shorter building that is up for debate.

All this is very curious. The latest, shorter proposal was created at the urging of at least two city commissioners — Mayor Bob Schumm and City Commissioner Mike Dever. That would seem to give the project a good foundation of City Commission support, so it is odd the developers haven’t sought a fast track for a hearing on the appeal.

The project does involve multiple requests for incentives, and this financial feasibility analysis likely will be an important document in determining whether those requests are granted.

Perhaps one other issue at play is that developers are taking great care to make sure they have their legal ducks in a row. I still think the biggest question with the project is what lawsuits may come forward if city commissioners approve the plan.

Several residents near the proposed site have hired Lawrence attorney Ron Schneider. Schneider has been successful in fighting City Hall. He was the attorney who successfully represented neighbors near the Lecompton interchange who were concerned about property in the area being zoned for heavy industrial use. He also represented neighbors near Lawrence High who were concerned the city and school district weren’t doing enough to make sure sports field expansions at LHS fit in with the neighborhood. And, I believe, he was fairly active in efforts to convince the city to not zone land near the Lawrence Municipal Airport for industrial purposes.

Everybody has to be wondering whether his East Lawrence clients will turn him loose to file a lawsuit related to the project, if city commissioners allow the hotel to move forward. I would suspect the financial feasibility analysis being prepared by the city consultant would be a key document in any future lawsuit.

• Well, Mr. Schneider is a busy man because he confirmed Tuesday night that about a dozen families who live near the site of a proposed recreation complex in northwest Lawrence have hired him to represent their interests in that matter.

As we reported, city commissioners approved an annexation of 146 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth and the South Lawrence Trafficway at their meeting on Tuesday. About 50 acres of that site has been proposed to house a new indoor and outdoor recreation complex.

Schneider said his clients — who have rural homes near the site — are not totally opposed to the idea of a major sports complex on the property. But he said the development will have to be done with much care, and will need to respect some planning principals that the city’s comprehensive plan calls for at that intersection.

Those plans currently are in the process of getting rewritten by city planners. The current nodal plan for the intersection calls for the property’s future use to be industrial in nature. So, the plan is being rewritten to state that a recreational center use and some surrounding commercial development to support the center would be appropriate.

But here’s where it may get tricky. According to documents shown at last night’s meeting, the current nodal plan calls for a large buffer area between any development on the northwest corner of Sixth and the SLT and the rural homes that are just north of the site.

I suspect the new plan is going to eliminate much of that buffer area. I say that because if the buffer area isn’t eliminated, it appears the 50 acres that are being offered for donation to the city won’t be very useful.

There wasn’t a good estimate given at Tuesday’s meeting, but it appeared that at least 15 acres of the site would be eaten up by the buffer zone. It certainly could be argued that a recreation center complex doesn’t need as large a buffer zone as an industrial development would. Whether neighbors will buy that argument without a fight, however, is another question.

On a related note, city officials on Tuesday were presented a rough “concept plan” for how the 50-acre recreation complex site could be situated.

I’m not making too much of the plans because they’re certain to change, but they showed a slightly less ambitious project than what previously has been mentioned by city officials.

This plan — which was developed by the property’s ownership group that is led by Duane and Steve Schwada — envisions an indoor recreation center of about 160,000 square feet. Previously, city officials had been presented with some concepts of an approximately 300,000-square-foot building. The latest concept plan does still include an outdoor track-and-field stadium and a separate soccer field. A good deal of the property also is covered with parking lots.

In case you missed it in Tuesday night’s article, the city will host a public meeting from 6:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. on June 6 at the Free State High School Commons area to share some plans about the proposed complex and to hear feedback from the public.


otto 6 years ago

Dabney and his zoning Nazi's should all be fired. They forgot that they work for the taxpayer. When you go into an office like this you should expect help and information not lies and a heavy hand. They are all worthless in my mind.

otto 6 years ago

Dabney and his zoning Nazi's should all be fired. They forgot that they work for the taxpayer. When you go into an office like this you should expect help and information not lies and a heavy hand. They are all worthless in my mind.

otto 6 years ago

even the computer knows how worthless since it decided to post it 2x.

Michael Capra 6 years ago

linda finger please dont hire with in that office u have inspectors that tell people not to use certain contractors and ones they should and keith did this as well we need fresh blood in that office and the people in the trades should have a voice

Cant_have_it_both_ways 6 years ago

Ah... maybe an envelope was seen changing hands at Buffalo Bobs?

Hopefully, we get a full and accurate accounting of this suspension.

Lawrence Morgan 6 years ago

Chad Lawton, this is a very well written and thought out article!

It brings a lot of things together in one place.

meburr 6 years ago

Good riddence! Speaking as a homeowner that had many problems with Dabney when we built our house. I had great experience with the other inspectors. I had to change a few things but things went well until Dabney came for the final inspection and he wouldn't sign off on what other inspectors had. Tried to give me new set of requirements other than the ones we were given at time of permit application. And so on and so on. I would never build again in Douglas County. And if you talk to contractors in other counties, they won't touch Douglas. I'm all for codes and safety, but he was ridiculous!

hipper_than_hip 6 years ago

Keith is the only line of defense to keep home owners safe from crappy builders and their cutting corners.

otto 6 years ago

He may have done a perfect job in that regards and if so great - kuddos. When a taxpayer walks into his office expecting to receive help and information but receives mainly lies there is a problem.

irvan moore 6 years ago

why would mr weinaug appoint someone to act as director who has to hire someone else that understands the job to do the job?

kernal 6 years ago

The Building and Zoning Codes Department has needed a big shakeup since long before Dabney came on board.

I trust Linda will look outside outside DgCo for someone with no ties to local builders and with a strong sense of business ethics.

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

The rec centers cost factors should should have been known before annexation took place. Taxpayers do not need to own this land necessarily. Taxpayers own the land at the fertilizer site which sits on a four lane roadway. This site makes dollars and sense for taxpayers which is the bottom line.

All of the ducks do not seem to be in a row. Perhaps that should come first.

In the meantime:

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.

However the city fathers must remember that KCMO/JOCO metro and Topeka have been doing tournaments and such for years and years. Are they going to roll over so Lawrence can steal away their economic growth and sales tax revenue?

Flap Doodle 6 years ago

Wow! A link to a 5 year old poll! Do you think that things might be different today?

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

USD 497 has already spent $20 million tax dollars on this PLAY project that seems will never go away. Can we say money hole on the horizon?

Why would taxpayers want to spend millions upon millions more 5 years later in a sinking economy after hundreds of city and state level jobs have been lost throughout this community?

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

The largest group of stakeholders in this community are the voting taxpayers? Why are we excluded so often? Let us vote on this matter!

Let the voters decide on rec centers, more industrial sites and new retail development. Being more than one million square feet over built in retail is an indication voting taxpayers need to become an active part of the equation annually.

The only real urgency is the developers lack of patience and accustomed to getting their way upon demand which is usually at a cost to taxpayers with no real benefit in the end.

America is over stored and so is Lawrence,Kansas based on population numbers and available retail dollars.

Richard Heckler 6 years ago

What does the Cost of Community Services Study Indicate?

What do the market impact studies Indicate?

Are tax increases to increase the wealth of local developers considered a benefit .....NO!

Growth over the last 20 years has been promoted based on a "boom town economy" model = unsustainable and high taxes.

Why Do YOU Think Lawrence Economic Growth Is Lagging?

It's time to let the voters to decide..... it's our money! Yes taxpayers do own the tax dollars in this community.

blindrabbit 6 years ago

As Joni Mitchell sang so well in "Big Yellow Taxi" , "They Tore Down Paradise and Put Up a Parking Lot" What a sacrilege on the proposed Rec. Center site : This land actually traversed by The Oregon Trail, soaked with the blood and sweat of the trail pioneers will become a parking lot soaked with the oil and grease of dripping cars on the lot. And to make matters worse, the land to the East (Elkin Prairie) was sacrificed many years ago in the dead of the night by a fleet of John Deeres'. Maybe someone on either piece will be thoughtful enough to incorporate some space for a "walking Oregon Trail" into the property design. Development and history can go hand in hand. Come on Schwada's , Lawrence and K.U. show some moxie!

flyin_squirrel 6 years ago

This sports complex should go on the north Lawrence riverfront development. Imagine bringing all those visitors to town right next to downtown!

Gareth Skarka 6 years ago

The sports complex will never go to North Lawrence, flyin_squirrel. It's part of the continued effort to turn western Lawrence into Little Johnson County.

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