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.