Subscribe to the email edition of Town Talk and we'll deliver you the latest city news and notes every weekday at noon.
News and notes from around town:
• Get ready to go round and round about another large development at Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
No, this time the discussion will be a little different than it was for the big debate surrounding a multi-story hotel at the southeast corner of the intersection. Now, we’ll actually be debating whether we should go round and round, as in whether there should be a roundabout installed in the intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
If you remember, a development group led by Lawrence businessmen Doug Compton and Mike Treanor has proposed a seven-story apartment and office building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. As we previously reported, the city’s Historic Resources Commission already has approved the design of the building, which tops out at 77 feet at its tallest point. So unlike the controversial hotel project across the street, this project won’t have to go through a contentious design review by the City Commission. The design is set.
What is not set is the idea of a roundabout at Ninth and New Hampshire. The development group has sought approval to build a roundabout at the intersection in order to help move traffic and to provide what they think will be safer pedestrian crossings.
The city’s Historic Resources Commission and the city’s planning staff have kind of thrown up their hands on that request. The city’s multitude of downtown plans don’t really address the idea of roundabouts in downtown. So, city commissioners will get to figure it out.
As proposed, the roundabout would be 90 feet in diameter, which is the same size of roundabout that is located at 19th and Barker in East Lawrence.
The city’s staff memo indicates the intersection could become more pedestrian-friendly with a roundabout. That’s because the pedestrian crossings no longer would be right at the intersection but instead would be placed a bit before the intersection. I haven’t seen a proposed design of the roundabout, but the city memo indicates the design would provide an island that would provide some refuge for pedestrians.
The staff memo also states roundabouts are “efficient and safe alternatives” for moving traffic through an intersection. But the memo doesn’t discuss how well roundabouts work in areas where there is significant truck traffic. At first glance you wouldn’t think there is a lot of truck traffic in downtown, but a host of restaurants and stores have deliveries made everyday via truck. I’m not sure how well trucks navigate the roundabout at 19th and Barker.
I’ve been told the roundabout at Ninth and New Hampshire likely will have some sort of signature art piece at its center. Based on what some trucker friends have told me about how they navigate a roundabout —straight over the curb — the city may want to consider putting an artsy-looking cement mixer in the center of the roundabout. It may be handy for crews repairing crumbling curbs.
Commissioners will consider the roundabout issue at its 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at City Hall.
• For those of you who want to know what downtown’s newest multi-story building will look like, the folks at Treanor Architects have developed a new set of color renderings for the project. The rendering to the side of this article shows the western edge of the building that will face New Hampshire street. But click here to see the design for all four sides of the building.
As a reminder, the bulk of the building will be devoted to apartment units. A total of 121 apartment units will occupy floors two through seven, while the ground floor will accommodate office space that will be anchored by new offices for Lawrence Bank. The existing building on the corner — which includes offices for Lawrence Bank, Adecco personnel services and formerly for Black Hills Energy until the natural gas company moved to a new office on North Iowa — will be demolished.
The new building will range in height from 68 feet to 77 feet. It also will include its own underground parking, which will have its entrance and exit on the alley. The project is scheduled to include a mix of one-, two- and three-bedroom apartments, and I gather they will come with some unique amenities for downtown. Perhaps the most unique is that the building currently is designed to have a rooftop pool to serve residents. The hotel at the southeast corner no longer will have a rooftop pool, but it will have a ground-level, indoor pool. Who would have ever guessed even a couple of years ago that Ninth and New Hampshire would be the site of two swimming pools?
As I mentioned earlier, the major design elements of this building — which at 177,000 square feet will be the largest of the three new multi-story buildings at the intersection — have been approved. Height, scale and massing issues have all passed historic muster at City Hall.
But the developers are seeking city commissioners to vary from one finding of the city’s Historic Resources Commission. The approved plans call for parallel parking along New Hampshire street. The developers want to have a 9-foot setback along New Hampshire Street that would allow for an extra-wide 13-foot sidewalk and angled parking stalls. The angled parking stalls would be similar to those in front of the Hobbs Taylor Lofts at Eighth and New Hampshire.
The Historic Resources Commission, however, balked at that idea, saying the historic pattern of downtown is to have buildings up near the streets. But the developers note that the angled parking configuration will allow for 19 public parking spaces in front of the building. The parallel parking arrangement will provide only eight spaces.
The request comes at an interesting time politically. The city is contemplating spending $1 million and placing a special assessment on all downtown property owners to pay for an additional level of public parking at the proposed library parking garage. It would be interesting to see what the reaction would be if the city moves ahead with that project but then denies a request by a private development to add more public parking spaces.
• Speaking of downtown parking, there may be one thing that trumps it — bike lanes.
There are significant changes coming to the portion of Ninth Street between Tennessee and Kentucky streets. The city has received about $150,000 in federal funds to add a center turn lane and two bike lanes to the one-block stretch of street.
But to make room for it all, city engineers are recommending that seven public parking spaces along the street be removed. The parallel parking spaces basically are in front of the law office of Lawrence attorney Todd Thompson and in front of the 901 Kentucky Street office building.
According to a city memo, the owners of the Kentucky Street office building don’t object to the removal of the parking, but Thompson does.
City engineers, though, are excited about the project. They say the addition of a center turn lane will improve safety on the street since vehicles turning left will be out of the main flow of traffic. The project also will include a new, more advanced traffic signal at Ninth and Tennessee.
The two bike lanes both will be five feet wide, which continues a city trend to add bike lanes to major streets when significant construction is undertaken. To fit all the lanes in, however, the city — in addition to removing the parking — will need to reduce the width of the vehicle lanes from 12 feet to 10 feet.
If commissioners approve the project at their Tuesday evening meeting, construction likely would begin in the spring and would be completed by mid-August.