News and notes from around town:
• The holiday season is soon approaching, and that means one thing is surely on the way — art in Downtown Lawrence. (Well, that and my wife’s collection of 1,001 — and growing — Winnie the Pooh Hallmark ornaments strewn about my house. But don’t get me started about that bear.)
Lawrence’s newest holiday art gallery, however, won’t feature portraits of bears with heads in honey pots. Instead it will feature Kansas landscapes, and the artists behind the work certainly aren’t new to the scene.
Lawrence artist Louis Copt is once again teaming up with Kansas City photographer Mark Feiden to open a seasonal holiday art gallery in Downtown Lawrence.
This year the duo has rented temporary space in the former Central National Bank building at 800 Massachusetts. Last year the pair had a similar gallery in the space next to Marks Jewelers.
“It went really well last year,” Copt said. “We were surprised by the demand for gallery space in Lawrence.”
Copt said the Copt/Feiden Holiday Gallery should be opening any day now. Copt is a longtime Lawrence artist who paints in a variety of styles including oils, acrylics and watercolors, and he often focuses on area landscapes. Feiden is a photographer who has gained recognition for his large format artistic photos in the Kansas Flint Hills.
The gallery will be open at least through Christmas, but Copt said if the building doesn’t find a permanent tenant, the gallery may stay open for a couple months past the holiday season. The gallery also is expected to have more evening hours than it did last year.
What won’t change is that the gallery will be staffed almost exclusively by the two artists and Copt’s wife. Copt also will set up his easel and do some painting inside the gallery.
“I think that intrigues people when they can meet the artist,” Copt said. “And Mark knows every spot where he has ever taken a photo and he loves to chit-chat about the Flint Hills.”
Copt thinks that has helped the gallery stand out in Lawrence’s art scene, plus the gallery has built up a niche following among people who like large-scale, centerpiece artworks. Some of the pieces in the gallery measure 40 by 30 inches.
Oh geez, heaven help me if they have a 40-by-30 Winnie the Pooh.
• A different type of art likely will be on display at City Hall Wednesday night.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will meet once again to consider the future of what has become the controversial corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. And you can bet that topic will produce a fine display of the art of persuasion.
At issue is whether 146 acres on the northwest corner of the intersection should be zoned for commercial uses even though a proposed recreation center/sports complex is no longer planned for that corner.
If you remember, Kansas University shifted gears and said it is now interested in building its athletic facilities on property north of the northeast corner of the intersection. City officials also have shifted all their focus to building a recreation/youth fieldhouse at that site.
That has left the development group led by Duane and Steve Schwada with 146 acres of ground on the northwest corner that was oh-so-close to becoming a new commercial hub in Lawrence. Schwada and his attorney will argue Wednesday that the change in recreation center plans shouldn’t derail the retail plans for the corner.
In fact, Schwada’s group will argue that the entire sports complex idea may be a bust if city officials don’t follow through on the plans to allow another 200,000 square feet of retail zoning to take place at the intersection.
What will be interesting is how Schwada’s group makes the argument. It likely will feed the city’s own words right back to them. When the city was planning on building a recreation center/youth fieldhouse at the northwest corner, the city was adamant that there was going to have to be additional retail at the intersection to support all the tournaments and events that would be attracted to the complex. A complex without appropriate hotel space and restaurants, for example, would have trouble attracting the major tournaments the city is banking on, was a frequent argument.
But now that the project has moved across the South Lawrence Trafficway, commissioners last month balked at approving the retail zoning at the northwest corner.
Remember, none of the approximately 100 acres that KU and the city are eyeing for a sports complex would be devoted to retail uses, so Schwada’s group is asking: What’s changed? If additional retail was needed for a 50-acre sports complex — as was proposed for the northwest corner — why isn’t additional retail needed for a 100-acre sports complex?
Originally, city commissioners argued the reason is because the new 100-acre project will be adjacent to a large piece of ground that is already zoned for retail uses. That’s the vacant Mercato development that is directly at the northeast corner of Sixth and the SLT.
As fortune would have it, a group led by Schwada also owns that development. Originally, the city thought Schwada’s property simply could accommodate the restaurants, hotels and other similar uses supposedly needed for this sports complex. After all, Mercato currently hasn’t been successful in attracting a single tenant to the site.
But indications are that Schwada doesn’t have any intentions of changing the plans for his Mercato development. His attorney — Jane Eldredge, long one of the top land-use attorneys in the city — already has argued that Mercato went through a lengthy approval process. The Mercato development is the only development in the city that currently is approved for a future big box store. In fact, it has sites for two big box stores. Big box zoning in Lawrence is tough to come by. Asking a developer to give it up to accommodate a hotel and some restaurants, may be a tough sale.
It particularly may be a tough sale given that Duane Schwada is — well, let’s just say for the sake of family-friendly language — upset. The shifting of gears from the west side of the highway to the east hasn’t left him happy. And those who have worked with him would tell you that Duane has never been known as the most cheerful negotiator to begin with. In fact, some would say he may be the toughest negotiator in the city.
Added to all this, is the fact that the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission already has recommend approval for retail zoning at the corner on a 7-1 vote. Not only that, but Planning Commission members made a point to say that their recommendation for retail zoning was not dependent upon a sports complex being located on that corner. Of course, they said that when they were pretty sure a sports complex would be located on that corner.
If the Planning Commission now wants to recommend against retail zoning, it will have to eat those words.
One item that has been a bit lost in all of this is that it was only three years ago that the City Commission adopted a large area plan — the West of K-10 Plan — that specifically said the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway should be used for industrial and employment uses. The West of K-10 Plan went through five different drafts and determined an employment-related land use such as office, research park or industrial was the most appropriate use for the corner.
It is easy enough to see why. In a community that is struggling to offer sites to companies that want to be along I-70, this site is less than a five-minute drive from the interstate. Now that U.S. Highway 59 is completed, it has an uninterrupted four-lane route to Interstate 35 to the south. If the South Lawrence Trafficway is completed, it will have not one, but two, four-lane routes into the Kansas City metro area and KCI. (Of course, you could argue all those attributes are handy for a sports complex and a commercial area too.)
In addition, several years ago a group called ECO2 was tasked with ranking the top future industrial/employment center sites in the county, and this one ranked No 1. (I’m almost certain of this, but I haven’t yet cleaned my desk to find that old report to quote from.)
The Lawrence-Douglas County League of Women Voters are urging the Planning Commission to go back to that vision for the northwest corner of the intersection.
“If planned carefully and creatively, and not zoned before it is extensively designed with committed users, it could be the employment gem of our region,” league leaders said in a letter to the Planning Commission.
It will be interesting to watch. As I said many, many paragraphs ago, there will be art on display — the art of politics.
Planning commissioners will discuss the item at their 6:30 p.m. meeting on Wednesday at City Hall.
• Speaking of the Planning Commission, the body met late into the night on Monday to consider a proposal for a 351-acre sand pit operation in the Kaw valley between Eudora and Lawrence.
Bill Penny of Penny’s Concrete is seeking approval for the plant, which would be just northeast of the intersection of Noria Road and North 1500 Road.
The proposal made its way out of the Planning Commission and will now head to the Douglas County Commission for approval. But it got a mixed recommendation on Monday night. The Eudora Planning Commission — which met in joint session with the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission — voted 4-1 to recommend that the County Commission defer the request until more information can be gathered about how the sand pit operation may impact wells in the Kaw River valley, which the city of Eudora uses for its water supply.
The Lawrence-Douglas Planning Commission, however, recommended on a 4-3-1 vote that the County Commission approve the sand pit operation. The Planning Commission, however, said four wells should be installed on the sand pit property, and city of Eudora officials should have access to monitor those wells for signs of any problems.
No word yet on when Douglas County commissioners are set to hear the issue.