Archive for Tuesday, October 23, 2012

City wants payment over Varsity House reassembly spat

October 23, 2012


Lawrence city commissioners are convinced the integrity of the old Varsity House has been ruined by a faulty redevelopment project, and they agreed to begin seeking a “cash payment” from local developer Thomas Fritzel as compensation.

Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting said they believed a previously agreed upon deal to move the 1908 home at 11th and Indiana streets to make way for a new apartment complex had not been upheld.

“I have been had in this deal,” said City Commissioner Mike Amyx, who helped broker a deal that called for the old three-story house to be moved to a new site so Fritzel could build an approximately 50-unit apartment complex in the Oread neighborhood.

Commissioners and members of the public began expressing concerns earlier this month as crews began reassembling the house on the site. Commissioners and several preservationists said it appeared the house was almost entirely being built with new materials rather than with original pieces of the distinctive house that in the mid-1900s was home to the varsity starters of the Kansas University football team.

On Tuesday, commissioners said they would begin the process of trying to broker a settlement with Fritzel over what commissioners deemed was a violation of an agreed upon site plan. Mayor Bob Schumm made it clear he expected the settlement to involve a significant monetary fine, but no amount was mentioned.

It wasn’t clear Tuesday whether Fritzel would agree to enter into any such settlement discussion. Fritzel did not make comments at Tuesday’s meeting but previously has said he disagrees with any finding that he did not comply with the site plan for the project.

Several members of the public, though, urged commissioners to take action against Fritzel.

“He bamboozled the commission into thinking there was an amicable compromise,” Lawrence historic preservation architect Stan Hernly said of Fritzel. “We have all been played as fools.”

Commissioners on Tuesday, however, did learn that the city’s planning staff was notified beforehand by Fritzel that he intended to cut the house into modular pieces rather than move it in one piece.

City staff members confirmed the Planning Department approved of that method, but Planning Director Scott McCullough said his department was under the assumption the house would be reassembled using federal historic standards.

Those standards include numbering the pieces of the house and then putting them back in their original places in the structure. Instead, Fritzel’s crews have been using original material — mainly wall studs and floor joists — as part of the new construction of the house.

An architect for Fritzel told commissioners more original material would be used on the second and third floor of the house.

Commissioners said they would insist upon that, but they predicted nothing could be done that would restore the integrity of the Varsity House.

“I believe sanctions have to be in order here,” Schumm said. “We can’t send the message that when you have an agreement with the city that you can simply break it.”


zackattackku 5 years, 8 months ago

If Fritzel thinks he will get any Tax incentives from the National Trust for Historic Preservation, he is wrong. At a minimum, 75% of the original structure must remain intact in accordance with the guidelines of the Secretary of the Interior. That isn't the case here. This is a travesty to Historic Preservation.

lonelyboy 5 years, 8 months ago

HIstoric eye sore , hazardous piece of crap.

itsalwayssunnyinlarry 5 years, 8 months ago

I agree with you. But at the same time no one cared about that house until someone wanted to demolish it. It was poorly taken care of for at least ten years. Very unfortunate that no one wanted to actually preserve it.

Tammy Copp-Barta 5 years, 8 months ago

And why did he not expect tax incentives? Did he know up front that he was going to destroy more than 25% of the house??? Just curious ... seems kinda weird to me ...

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 8 months ago

Because once you get tax incentives, you then have to play by the states rules. Most property owners don't want their house on the Historic Register because any changes you make require state approval, and it has to be done to their liking.

zackattackku 5 years, 8 months ago

Actually if your house is listed the only guidelines you have to follow are local historic district guidelines. Technically, you could demolish a National or State Register listed building if you wanted to. People need to read the guidelines on the website. Listing the structure is a recognition of the buildings significance and is in no a way a means to hinder your rights as the property owner.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 8 months ago

Which means the Lawrence HRC is telling you what to do, which is way worse!

Bob Forer 5 years, 8 months ago

As an experienced and successful developer and builder, Fritzel makes it a point to know the details before making the deal. He knew what was involved in the moving of the house prior to agreeing to it,. and in all of his arrogance figured he would simply do what he wanted, without , repercussions, as such has always been his modus operandi. As an earlier writer stated, he is telling the city (which is us) FU. As my wise grandmother used to say, "don't let anyone piss all over you; open up your mouth."

It's time for the city fight back.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 8 months ago

Everyone wants to blame Fritzel for our cities lazy inept Planning and HRC department. I agree he bamboozled us, but McCullough and Zoller deserve even more blame. Neither was there when he took the house down, and neither has been their since he put it back up. WHY?

What is Linda Zoller so busy with that she wasn't involved in making sure the house was "removed" in a proper fashion? The city should just save their money, use the State Historic Board, and get rid of the HRC.

irvan moore 5 years, 8 months ago

take fritzel off the bid list for city projects, a fine isn't going to bother him but no more city jobs might

Phillbert 5 years, 8 months ago

Forget the fine. Just cut him off from government subsidies for 5 or 10 years. That's worth more to his bottom line than any fine would be.

somebodynew 5 years, 8 months ago

“We can’t send the message that when you have an agreement with the city that you can simply break it.”

Too Late !! You guys already did that with several developers (including Fritzell) in the past. Why do you think he does this ?? He know he will win. And yes, he has the deep pockets to fight this if he wants to.

Now just think - - - THIS is the guy who is looking to give us such a good deal on the financing on that new Rec Center. You know, the one the City Commissioners just can't seem to wait to jump at. Now what could go wrong is ONLY 24 Mil or so. OH, and you have just p****))) him off big time!!!! Good luck with that.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

A violation of the site plan says cut off the project today. Yes stop it in its' tracks until the matter is settled.

Is there any teeth in this ordinance?

Face it developers have no respect for city government all they want is OUR tax dollars and yes votes from city hall. They view city commissioners as their puppets.

Which seems to be working. A perfect example of how developers use and abuse city officials.

--- By Kim McClure / July 24, 2009 To the editor:

--- The July 14 editorial asks, “What’s downtown going to look like five, 10 or 15 years from now?” The answer can be known, and the picture is not pretty.

--- Lawrence has enough spending to support about 4.1 million square feet of retail space, but the City Commission permitted developers to expand the supply to over 5.5 million square feet.

--- Lawrence has too much retail space chasing too few vendors, which means that many stores go empty, especially in the older shopping centers like downtown.

--- The surplus development has stalled redevelopment plans downtown and has pushed the vacancy rates so high that disinvestment and blight now threaten. Investment, both public and private, is wasted. The taxpayers’ $8 million parking garage stands largely empty. The Hobbs-Taylor building and the 600 block of Massachusetts should be the top performing spaces in the community, but they have significant vacancies.

--- The recession has contributed to the problem, but had we properly managed our growth we would be much better off.

--- The developers’ short-term gain is now our long-term loss. Managed growth would have prevented much of the problem and would have protected and enhanced our downtown.

--- It will take many, many years to absorb this surplus space and, until this happens, it will be hard for downtown to compete. We can only look forward to many years of high vacancy and disinvestment. We need a City Commission that knows how to pace the growth of supply so as to protect our unique downtown.

--- Kim McClure is from Lawrence

Dan Blomgren 5 years, 8 months ago

Fritzel is the ss in this story, but the 'dumb ss' is our city commission. Did you dumbfreaks not ask to see drawings and a full set of plans from Fritzel before approving the project like anyone with half a brain would have? Or did you just take him for his word and approve it without any set of conditions? This town is so over-regulated for the small guy that if I try to add a garbage disposal to my small business I have to jump through hoops of five different Lawrence Planning Commissions, but if the 'big developers' want to tear down, reshape, and move historic structures our dumb*ss commissioners tuck their 'man feathers' between their legs and bow. Who is the real problem in this story? The blame does not fall solely on Fritzel!

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 8 months ago

Agree completely. The Planning Department picks on the little guys, but lets the big developers do whatever they want.

Most the anger here should be pointed at the HRC and Planning Department for not overseeing this project properly.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

How exactly does the site plan ordinance read? Who was doing the ongoing inspection?

Didn't Fritzel imply the Planning Department was providing green lights? and was aware of the alterations? How true is this?

Site plan violations are likely business as usual as some neighborhoods discover. City Commissions have not always been a "big help" enforcement wise.

Not enough inspectors and lack of enforcement or turning blind eyes promote corruption of the site plan ordinance.

LadyJ 5 years, 8 months ago

How come merrill's comments post but mine won't?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

"Lawrence city commissioners are convinced the integrity of the old Varsity House has been ruined by a faulty redevelopment project, and they agreed to begin seeking a “cash payment” from local developer Thomas Fritzel as compensation."

Is there such a provision written into the ordinance?

LadyJ 5 years, 8 months ago

I keep trying to post a link to yesterday's OHT but it doesn't seem to be allowed, but here is the story

From the Lawrence Daily Journal-World for Oct. 23, 1987:

A local man was running into problems with his renovation project. Merle Rothwell had begun converting a house at 1620 Tennessee into a triplex but had not first applied for the necessary permits for the work. Gene Shaughnessy, Lawrence's chief building inspector, said that Rothwell had until Nov. 4 to tear out several electrical, plumbing, and structural changes made to the house, or the city would begin legal proceedings. Among other changes, Rothwell had installed interior partition walls, a new kitchen on the second floor, and electrical circuitry to serve the kitchen and a bathroom. He had also installed stairs and an exterior door to allow private access to the first floor apartment. Shaughnessy estimated the cost to undo the work at about $2,500. It was not yet clear whether Rothwell would be able to rebuilt the improvements with proper permits. Shaughnessy was also seeking to have the Board of Electrical Examiners and Appeals to suspend or revoke Rothwell's journeyman electrical license. "To me ... this was a blatant violation," Shaughnessy said. "As an electrical man himself, he's not unknowing of what he can and cannot do." Rothwell had no comment in response to the matter.

LadyJ 5 years, 8 months ago

I guess the little guy gets treated different.

John Kyle 5 years, 8 months ago

These are two different issues. Fritzel had permits. This guy didn't.

Ron Holzwarth 5 years, 8 months ago

LadyJ, About linking to an posting, or any link that the system won't accept: Copy and paste the link at the link shortening site Using the link that generates should let you post, and the shortened link should work just fine for anyone that clicks on it.

The computer system considers postings that contain a link to some sites to be spam. And strangely, many or all links to past articles are rejected.

kujayhawk7476 5 years, 8 months ago

Stan Hernly said, “We have all been played as fools.”

That's because you are fools! The word again, is progess. Some would have every old, run-down house and building in Lawrence considered worthy of preservation; nonsense! Move into the 21st century Lawrence. You are continuing to be a laughing-stock amongst your peers even though the SLT is a good start to bringing your town some respectability! You're just a normal town, nothing special; relax, grow, enjoy!!

Richard Heckler 5 years, 8 months ago

There was a commercial rehab project in our neighborhood that when it was finished looked a whole lot different than the original site plan. The owner allowed a toxic chemical business to open. Not only was the building design altered there were no provisions in the design to allow for mixing of toxic or disposing of toxic chemicals.

The city would not enforce the original site plan although the toxic business did leave. Fortunately for the neighborhood someone purchased the property but had to bring it back to the site plan. The altered site plan would not have met the owners demand it's the principle of the matter.

What taxpayers have is site plan enforcement based on who you know or simply selective site plan enforcement. It's smells a bit like laissez faire enforcement.

How do these violations get by inspectors? Have inspectors been given "delegated authority" to approve violations or not?

Why would this Rothwell person intentionally violate codes if there was not some reason to believe it wouldn't matter? It's okay for some but not for everybody?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

"I know most of these guys and they are ruthless business men who love nothing more then to stick it to the city, partners or customers. Most successful men behave this way. "

I agree. In other words, they are sociopaths and narcissists (traits not uncommon among politicians, as well.)

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

It's fascinating that somebody who sees things this way also thinks we should give those folks all sorts of tax incentives and favorable treatment.

From my perspective, we shouldn't reward that sort of behavior, if we find it objectionable.

leftylucky 5 years, 8 months ago

Fire the director of planning and development along with Lynn Zollner. They are the ones that created this mess. They failed .

Adrienne Sanders 5 years, 8 months ago

It's not clear from this information whether Fritzel is violating anything or not. The commission wanted him to do X, Y & Z. They were "under the assumption the house would be reassembled using federal historic standards." Seriously? They thought it was okay to "assume" things would get done a certain way? How about putting it in writing? It looks like they didn't bother. So now they get what they get and it doesn't seem like they have a whole lot of right to complain.

rumor_man 5 years, 8 months ago

I've heard that Fritzel is turning it into a brothel so the current football team will be able to score more than they do on the playing field.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

The city entered into this "agreement" with Fritzel expecting that he would act in good faith. But his track record of acting in good faith on anything is pretty abysmal, so the city was extremely naive in not getting much more explicit in what it expected in terms of preserving this house.

So while Fritzel and company have acted like complete jerks in this whole thing, the city's failure to explicitly hold his feet to the fire may limit whatever fines they can levy.

But one thing is certain-- the city should never trust Fritzel on anything, ever again.

Catalano 5 years, 8 months ago

Well, uh oh, if they never trust Fritzel again that's kinda gonna screw up the new Sports Village or whatever it's called now. Yeah, let's trust Fritzel on a no-bid. BOHICA.

Topple 5 years, 8 months ago

City staff members confirmed the Planning Department approved of that method, but Planning Director Scott McCullough said his department was under the assumption the house would be reassembled using federal historic standards.

You know what happens when you assume, city council?

PhilChiles 5 years, 8 months ago

As Al Franken says, when you assume, you make an ass out of Uma Thurman.

Haiku_Cuckoo 5 years, 8 months ago

Why do people suddenly care so much about a building that they previously allowed to fall into disrepair and neglect for years on end? If the Varsity House really was a historic landmark, why wasn't it maintained all those years? From the looks of the original structure, I'm surprised Fritzell was able to find any salvageable building materials at all.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

Generally speaking, the city has no way to force a property owner to maintain their property, evan a historic one. They can condemn a property that's been allowed to deteriorate too much, but that doesn't do anything to fix it.

But when a developer wants to redevelop a property with a historic structure on it, they do have some leverage to get the structure restored/preserved. Unfortunately, it looks like they may have dropped the ball in getting Fritzel do what he said he would do.

jafs 5 years, 8 months ago

That doesn't seem right to me.

A friend in Topeka said the city came by and told them they had to do a variety of things to repair stuff at their house.

Why couldn't Lawrence do the same?

I imagine that fines for non-compliance would be the simplest tool to use.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 5 years, 8 months ago

They can do the same, but I believe the only enforcement tool they have is to condemn the property once it's deemed to be unsafe to inhabit. That's not good for the property owner, but it does nothing to get the maintenance issues resolved.

Michael Shaw 5 years, 8 months ago

This discussion seems to treat everything but the central issue. The Historic Resources Committee decided that this house was a contributing structure as defined by law. There was a compromise that involved saving that structure. The city commission and the planning department believe that compromise was violated. If the developer wants to contest that opinion he can. Most complaints of other cases in this discussion illustrate that the city has a planning process and that they attempt to enforce it.

Budgets_Smudgets 5 years, 8 months ago

Wait for this slight of hand by the City:

The working proposal on the rec center is for KU to select the builder and architect. So Fritzell is going to be selected, awarded a no-bid construction contract (since KU endowment can do this) and he will make out like a bandit, being financed in large part by city sales tax monies that they will pay to KU endowment.

You have been warned.

oldbaldguy 5 years, 8 months ago

I don't understand why the building was not torn down and scrapped. At some point historical value of an object or building does not trump economics.

blindrabbit 5 years, 8 months ago

lawrencereporter: Your comments about the drift of the Fritzel family reputation are right on. I remember buying gasoline at Thomas Fritzel's grandfathers Phillips 66 station at 19th and Mass in the 1940's-50's, a more honest guy did not exist. Also grew up in the 23rd and Ohio neighborhood with Gene, a more reputable individual did not exist in the local building industry. Makes one think that the story about the drift of generations has a lot of merit; maybe like the Romney's, too many competing sons in the Gene Fritzel family.

October 23, 2012 at 3:10 p.m. ( permalink | suggest removal )

kanshawk 5 years, 8 months ago

sounds like the way hes rebuilding it is the best way if you actually wanted it to be safe and last. not every home is structurally sound for 100% preservation, going into a house that had new framing, plumbing and electrical but was furnished with the original cosmetic panels from the old house would be really neat... and safe. its debatable whether he broke their agreement but all politics aside I'd be interested in seeing it after its done.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 8 months ago

First off this house's historically value and worth to Lawrence is laughable at best. Do you really think anyone was ever going to go out of their way while to Lawrence to look at the Historic Varsity House?

Secondly, the fact anyone looked at how this house sites next to the apartment complex, and said " That looks Great!", makes me wonder about the HRC, City Commission and Planning Department.

Thirdly, the city knew what they were getting with Fritzel and they failed to monitor this project at all. The blood of this one is on the Planning Department, HRC and City.

oldbaldguy 5 years, 8 months ago

I am so glad I live out in the hinterlands.

irvan moore 5 years, 8 months ago

i wonder if he still has all the pieces in storage?

victor_lustig 5 years, 8 months ago

A brokered settlement with Tommy Fritzel??? The same guy Schumm, Corliss et al have been negotiating with for months on a 25-30 million dollar -No Bid- city recreation center??? What's a significant monetary settlement for a project with a 5 million dollar mortgage and potential monthly rents of $65,000 that’s shut down while legal issues are sorted out??? Try an amount commensurate with the projects value and large enough to make Schumm et al look good, say $250,000 - $300,000 dollars. Tommy can simply add a measly 1% to the recreation center cost… the unsuspecting tax payers pay, city commission looks good, historical group gets paid and Tommy is very, very happy… what a wonderful solution.

homergoodtimes 5 years, 8 months ago

Seriously folks.

Does anyone believe the settlement with Fritzel was not agreed to prior to last night’s scripted discussion of the Varsity House? The academy award performances of several commissioners were for public consumption and Hugh Carter missed it.

charlesbunker 5 years, 8 months ago

Question of city inspections of Thomas Fritzel's construction projects.

Who at the city performed inspections during the construction of the Oread Hotel. Was there coordination between the file plans submitted for permits and the resulting construction of the project. Does the building that was built match the plans at city hall?

stephenj 5 years, 8 months ago

I don't know why so many of you are siding with the guilty party because you are so anti-historic preservation or anti-city government. Are you all scumbag developers?

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 8 months ago

Not siding with the guilty party, just pointing out that the City carries as much fault (if not more) for the failure to monitor this project. Linda Zollner's only job is the HRC as far as I know, yet she wasn't there during the dismantling and has been to the re-construction? What else do she have to do at her job that she is so busy she cannot see the ONE historical construction project going on it town? I want her job!

stephenj 5 years, 8 months ago

I hear ya, however; Santa Fe Station, Watson Museum, Turnhalle, Courthouse (etc.) are all current historic preservation projects as well.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 8 months ago

Santa Fe has no construction going on now.

Watson Museum has a renovation.

Turnhalle has no construction going on now.

Courthouse is minor renovation, but nothing that would affect historical.

This was project completely fumbled by the city, and now they want to blame Fritzel (who deserves the blame but so does the city).

skinny 5 years, 8 months ago

How about we stop all contruction until this matter is resolved.

Nikonman 5 years, 8 months ago

  1. It was a dump, a run down shack, firetrap which needed to be torn down.
  2. Why are so many people in Lawrence unable to see it for what is was (A Dump)?
  3. What's so special about the fact that KU football players lived there? It was probably a brothel, party house back in the 30's and 40's anyway. 4 Are there plans to preserve "D" tower of Jayhawker Towers in the future just because football players once lived there?
  4. Prior to KU's discontinued use of the building were there any regular visits by people wanting to walk the Hallowed Halls of the Varsity House? (Just imagine, touching the very walls that were once touched by KU football players)
  5. What is being put in place now detracts from the visual appeal of the new apartments. Use what's left of it for a Homecoming bonfire.

JackMcKee 5 years, 8 months ago

It was a dump. Just like plastic grass is far superior to real grass. I love rationalizers.

Carol Bowen 5 years, 8 months ago

Varsity House may have been dilapidated, but the style is far superior to the new apartment complex. I've stayed in motels that are more attractive. Lawrence is losing all sense of style. Our architects should be designing buildings with a "great plains" style. I don't know what that would be, but it sure is easy to tell what is not a "great plains" style. Why bother with an architect?

Lenette Hamm 5 years, 7 months ago

"Why didn't these folks who wanted it saved buy it at the auction?" Seems that Mr. F may have been the only one privy to the auction and the only one to bid. Self-serving jacka** that he is... And now he seems to think that his token $50 K 'donation' will make up for all the ill deeds he's already done. If the city is foolish enough to allow him to build the sports complex, they'll be facing the same kinds of issues.

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