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City stiffens terms but agrees to $50K settlement over Varsity House dispute

November 20, 2012


Lawrence city commissioners Tuesday agreed to a proposed $50,000 settlement to end a dispute over whether the old Varsity House was improperly moved to make way for an apartment complex.

But first they sent a message to Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, the builder accused of improperly dismantling the old home at 10th and Indiana streets: Show us the money.

Commissioners unanimously insisted upon new terms for the proposed settlement, adding a clause that would require Fritzel to provide the $50,000 by the first week of January, or else the city would refuse to issue an occupancy permit for the approximately 50-unit apartment complex that Fritzel hopes to begin leasing at the start of Kansas University’s spring semester.

Fritzel had proposed that he would have until the end of 2013 to come up with the $50,000 payment and that the city would issue his project an occupancy permit before the settlement was finalized.

Commissioners were in no mood to do that.

“I wouldn’t dream of allowing occupancy on this project until this matter is dealt with,” City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said. “And dealt with means that we have the money.”

Fritzel didn’t attend Tuesday’s meeting, but Paul Werner, Fritzel’s architect for the project, said he believes Fritzel will accept the new terms.

“We all want to put this behind us,” Werner said after the meeting. “I’ll be very surprised if we are not in agreement with what has been proposed.”

The proposed settlement still calls for Fritzel to donate $50,000 to the Douglas County Community Foundation, with the money earmarked for a historic preservation purpose. But commissioners deleted a provision that would allow Fritzel and longtime Oread neighborhood property owner and historic preservationists Carol von Tersch to determine what projects the money could be used to fund.

Commissioners instead said the money must be donated to the Douglas County Community Foundation with the stipulation that the City Commission will have the final authority over what historic preservation projects it will fund.

The president of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance told commissioners his board strongly objected to letting Fritzel play a role in deciding how the settlement money would be spent.

“We’ve already entered into one compromise agreement with Thomas Fritzel, and it failed,” said Dennis Brown, president of the Lawrence Preservation Alliance. “If this compromise has Thomas involved in every moving part, we believe it will fail too.”

Commissioners last month ruled that the manner in which Fritzel had dismantled the 1908 home had violated a site plan agreement that called for the house to be moved from one section of the property at 10th and Indiana to another section to make way for a new apartment complex.

Originally, commissioners were under the impression the house would be moved in one piece. Instead, Fritzel’s crews cut the house into large pieces and hauled it off site for much of the construction. When reassembly began earlier this year, complaints began to mount that only bits and pieces of the old house were being used, and often not in their original manner.

Commissioners last month determined there was no way to require the house be returned to it original state but ordered staff to begin negotiating a settlement with Fritzel.

Fritzel hasn’t admitted any wrongdoing in the way the house was moved and has since noted that many parts of the house — notably the dormers and the front porch — are almost all entirely original.

But in a letter to commissioners he said he wanted to reach a compromise and made the offer of a $50,000 donation.

Commissioner Mike Amyx and Cromwell both mentioned that the amount should perhaps be more than $50,000, but commissioners settled on the amount after saying the city also played a role in the dispute.

Fritzel did have a meeting with the city Planning Department about dismantling the house in pieces after Fritzel determined it would not be safe to move the house in one piece. The Planning Department approved the process but believed Fritzel would reassemble the house in a much different manner than what was done.

“Going forward, the city needs to be more specific about what it expects, and hopefully the developer has learned a valuable lesson about managing perceptions,” City Commissioner Hugh Carter said.


lawrencereporter 5 years, 6 months ago

What about the other site plan violations.

Chad Lawhorn 5 years, 6 months ago

The retaining wall issues and various other site plan issues will be fixed before and occupancy permit is granted as well. Staff members indicated those issues were all very fixable by the developer. Fritzel's architect agreed. Thanks, Chad

lawrencereporter 5 years, 6 months ago

The overall height of the 52 unit apartment building is over the allowed building height. How fixable is that.

Patty Buchholz 5 years, 6 months ago

It should have been a fine, not a tax deductible donation. Once again, the city has let Mr. Fritzel by with a pre-planned violation.

jafs 5 years, 6 months ago

It's essentially a "fine", since he has to pay it before they'll let him rent out his apartments.

cabmando 5 years, 6 months ago

No where in Douglas county can you use "used" lumber in new construction, violation of codes. Varsity House is now a new house, whats up with the dismantled lumber being used pc by pc in reconstruction of that property

Dan Blomgren 5 years, 6 months ago

Our Dumb*** city commissioners allowed the mistake to happen in the first place, and their solution is to exercise extortion to make the Fritzel's pay for the 'misunderstanding.' The commissioners would have liked to raise the fine over $50K but "the commissioners settled on the amount after saying the city also played a role in the dispute."
This story shows the inept role of our commissioners as well as the dishonesty of Thomas Fritzel.

jafs 5 years, 6 months ago

Certainly the city seems to have been to relaxed about making sure they got everything in writing that they expected.

But, it's clear that Fritzel took advantage of that as well.

msezdsit 5 years, 6 months ago

Once again the city has established that they have no teeth when it comes to dealing with the developers. Lets make a deal after our deal. It makes it look like the city tried and the developers profit was lessoned by a mere $50K . Why not just leave the posturing out completely and just recognize it for what it was on both parties. Same outcome.

And get on with the "New Deal" sports complex.

Jeremiah Jefferson 5 years, 6 months ago

I think everyone envolved should be slapped across the face

Clark Coan 5 years, 6 months ago

I thought punitive damages are normally 3 times the loss in order to deter the offender. He got away with murder.

JayhawkFan1985 5 years, 6 months ago

Where does $50,000 come from? That amount doesn't seem punitive to me given the size of the apartment complex that was built. Sounds more like a rounding error in the construction budget. Our city government let's developers in this city walk all over the community. It needs to stop. Send a message.

homergoodtimes 5 years, 6 months ago

Nothing happens at city hall without Corliss's approval. So by firing staff you might be losing the only voice(s) of reason in the building. The problems begins and ends at the top. Corliss needs to go. Schumm needs to resign or be recalled. Two and a half more years of Schumm making all the decisions at city. We are in big trouble folks.

Patricia Davis 5 years, 6 months ago

This whole mess needs an outside legal review. It stinks at every turn. And if I were the Lawrence Foundation, I'd reject this donation. Incredibly bad precedent.

Now is the time to start working on changing how we elect our commissioners. We need ward representation. Not just a group of guys who want to be players with our tax money.

spiderd 5 years, 6 months ago

Anyways... nothing to see here folks, move along. Onward and upward to the 25 million no-bid recreation project!!!

What could go wrong?

Lenette Hamm 5 years, 6 months ago

$50,000 is a joke - pocket change to Mr. Fritzel. It's not a fine, it's not a "good faith" gesture, this is blatantly allowing the man to get away with a myriad of wrong-doings - and not just related to the Varsity House. I agree with oxymoron. Legal ramifications should be pursued quickly, with nothing less than a cease and desist order against any further developments that Fritzel might begin...

Sunny Parker 5 years, 6 months ago

Any one of you, including Dennis Brown, could have purchased the property when it was up for auction. The Varsity house should have been dozed down to begin with!

Put your money where your mouths are! Fritzel shouldn't have to pay a dime!

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