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News and notes from around town:
• It is nearing Halloween after all, so maybe a discussion about grave sites would be appropriate.
Just like how opponents of the South Lawrence Trafficway have concerns that the road may disrupt unmarked — and also unconfirmed — graves of Indian children, opponents of a multi-story hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire also have grave site concerns.
Indian burial sites aren’t the issue at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. Instead, the concern with some is that soldiers or other victims of Quantrill’s raid could be buried on the site.
The issue isn’t a new one. The idea that grave sites are in the area was brought up by some opponents of the project and was raised with city commissioners. I also did some research on the subject early on in the process, but it was difficult to determine what was local lore vs. something with some historical basis behind it.
I felt like the best source for the article should be the state archeologist. I talked with a representative of that office and was told they were aware of the concerns but hadn’t yet found any evidence related to burials at the site.
That is still the case today, but unbeknownst to me, state archeologist Robert Hoard did send a letter to city officials in March stating he would like to discuss the “possibility of conducting test excavations to prove or refute the alleged presence of unmarked burials on this lot.”
Those tests never happened. My understanding is the city simply forwarded the letter to the development group, I guess with the thought that it would be up to the property owner to consent to the testing.
I don’t know if that is necessarily the case or not. City officials place conditions of approval on projects all the time. It would seem, but I’m not certain, that the city’s Historic Resources Commission or the City Commission could have added a condition that the testing occur before a site plan for the property be approved.
I could understand why city officials may think that would be inappropriate if the concerns were based only on “neighborhood stories” of graves. But when the state archeologist asked for the testing, I could see how that may have taken the issue to a different level.
The letter from the state archeologist said his research did find a 1903 Kansas University master’s thesis by Lizzie Goodnight that stated “a number of people killed during Quantrill’s raid were buried in the foundation trench of a church that was under construction at the time.”
The archeologist’s research also found a deed that shows St. Luke AME church had purchased a lot at Ninth and New Hampshire just 10 days before Quantrill’s raid in August 1863.
Bill Fleming, an attorney for the hotel’s development group, confirmed testing did not occur on the site, but he said the group is well aware of the laws it must follow if evidence of a grave is found during the construction process.
“I would be very surprised if we run into anything like that,” Fleming said. “But if we do, all the appropriate procedures spelled out in state law will be followed.”
Those procedures basically say construction in the vicinity of the burials must cease until the state’s Unmarked Burial Sites Preservation Board can make a decision about whether to remove the burials or leave them in place.
I think some folks are under the assumption that burials at that site would mean the corner would have to forever be a grassy lot. (Actually, it is gravel right now.) That may be the way it works on TV shows, but I don’t think it happens that way very often in the real world. (Now, if a member of the Brady Bunch family finds an ancient Hawaiian idol there, watch out. Come on, everybody knows that episode.)
But no doubt, discovery of graves at the site would be a significant twist — and probably delay — for a project that already has created a lot of debate.
By the way, I tried to get in touch with state archeologist Robert Hoard this morning to find out more about the testing issue, but he is out for much of the week.
• If Lawrence attorney Todd Thompson would have had an ancient Hawaiian idol that wards off city commissioners who want to take away the public parking from in front of his Ninth Street office building, he would have waved it at last night’s City Commission meeting.
As we previously mentioned, commissioners are considering adding a center turn lane and bike lanes to the stretch of Ninth Street between Kentucky and Tennessee. But to do so, they will have to remove the four parallel parking spaces that are in front of Thompson’s law office building.
Last night’s city commission went so late that I didn’t have a chance to report on what happened with that issue. Basically commissioners want to study it some more.
The most interesting part of what comes next will be what type of message commissioners send about bike lanes and traffic flow.
Thompson argued that a bike lane on the southern side of Ninth Street makes little sense for this portion of the street. That’s because the one block portion just to the west of this section already has recently been redone. It had a bike lane added to the north side of the street but did not have one added to the south side.
The one-block portion just east of this section isn’t likely to have a bike lane on the south side anytime soon because when Intrust Bank built its new bank at Ninth and Vermont streets several years ago, it changed the layout of the corner so that a pedestrian bulb extends out into the street where a bike lane would be located. That relatively new project would have to be removed to accommodate a bike lane.
In other words, this will be a one-block bike lane. Thompson argued that makes no sense, especially given that parking must be removed to create it.
City Commissioner Mike Dever also questioned the value of a one-block bike lane.
“I’m trying to figure out what we gain by having a bike lane for one block on the south side of the street” Dever said. “I’m all for putting in bike lanes, but they need to be in spots where they make a real difference.”
But commissioners did hear from one bicyclist who said every foot of bike lane in the city is an improvement. Lawrence bicyclist Mike Myers said having a place to get out of traffic, even if it is just for a block, is a big deal to a bicyclist.
We’ll see what happens. I still think Thompson is going to need a magic idol or something to save those parking spots. The city says even if the south side bike lane is removed, the road still won’t be wide enough to accommodate both a center turn lane and a north side bike lane. Engineers said that is why they proposed the south side bike lane because the design had a strip that wasn’t wide enough to accommodate parking but was wide enough to accommodate a bike lane.
Commissioners all seemed to agree the center turn lane is needed to help improve traffic safety.
• Maybe golf carts are the answer. If they are, the answer is soon going to cost you $1 more at the city’s Eagle Bend Golf Course.
As we previously reported, the city recently made the switch from gasoline powered golf carts to electric powered carts. The city expects to save some money on fuel for the carts, but they’re really not quite sure how much yet, especially as gasoline prices have dropped a bit.
What they do know is that the lease contract for the golf carts is about $13,000 more per year than the gasoline carts were. The city’s old lease rate was based on prices from eight years ago, and no matter what Ben Bernanke says, there has been inflation. (The Fed always ignores golf cart inflation. It’s a Wall Street conspiracy.)
So, city commissioners last night approved a $1 increase in golf cart rates. They’re now $6 for nine holes and $11 for 18 holes on the weekday, and $12 for nine and $17 for 18 holes on the weekend.
That’s OK as long as the price includes the Energizer Bunny following us around with spare batteries for the cart. That will be a necessity when my buddy and I go golfing. He gets his money’s worth on a golf course.