News and notes from around town:
• This, unfortunately, seems like an even safer bet than wagering on my golfing buddy missing a four-foot par putt. (Who are we trying to kid? A four-foot double bogey putt.) The city is betting gasoline is going to become more and more expensive.
As we have previously reported, city officials have been studying converting Eagle Bend Golf Course’s gasoline-powered golf carts over to electric golf carts. Well, they are done studying and have moved into the purchasing phase.
City commissioners at their Tuesday meeting approved a four-year contract to lease 62 golf carts and eight utility carts for the Eagle Bend Golf Course at a price of $56,714 per year.
The new electric carts will show up on the course in January.
“I think golfers will notice a difference,” said Mark Hecker, parks superintendent for the Parks and Recreation Department. “They are very quiet. They’re going to produce a very quiet ride.”
How much the new carts will save the city is still a bit of an open question. Previously the city had estimated anytime gasoline is at $3.25 a gallon or more, the electric carts pencil out positively. No problems there. Hecker currently is estimating about a $13,000 to $15,000 per year savings on fuel for the carts.
But Hecker said the price of the electric carts did come in a bit higher than expected. The cart contract came in about $10,000 higher than the last prices the city received for gasoline carts, but Hecker notes those prices were based on cart prices of about eight years ago. The city didn’t ask for bids on gasoline carts this time, so it is difficult to know how much of a premium the city is paying for the electric carts.
There also are about $35,000 worth of start-up costs to convert the cart system over to electric. The city had to run a larger power supply to its cart barn in order to accommodate the approximately 20 charging stations.
No word yet on whether the city will have another start-up cost to deal with: Speed limit signs.
“Supposedly the electric carts go a little faster than the gas carts,” Hecker said. “So, we’ll see about that.”
No need to worry about my buddy. At 10 yards at a time, he won’t build up much speed.
• I’ll tell you what is building up with me: a hankering for aisle after aisle of Craftsman tools, products and other goods that will allow me to build everything but a decent golf swing for my buddy.
Well, the Sears sign has gone up near 23rd and Iowa streets, and it appears Lawrence’s new Sears Hometown store is close to opening in the former Rod’s Hallmark Shop at 2329 Iowa.
A good number of the shelves are already stocked. I stuck my head in the door and an employee told me he believed the store was scheduled to open in about a week. That’s unofficial word, so take it for whatever you think it is worth. Previously, Sears officials told me they hoped to have the store open by Oct. 10.
The store is pretty good size. I’m uncertain of whether it is taking just the Rod’s Hallmark space or whether it is a little bigger than what that store used to be. It stretches all the way down to the Bed Mart store, and I’m not sure if there was something in between Hallmark and Bed Mart. (I usually just cowered in a corner every time my wife drug me into Rod’s to watch her buy shopping carts full of Hallmark ornaments.) But the new Sears seemed to have tools, appliances, lawn and garden and several other items that the larger store carried before it closed its 27th and Iowa location.
• New retail definitely was a hot topic of discussion at Tuesday night’s Lawrence City Commission meeting.
As we reported, commissioners directed staff members to hire some architects and engineers to study the feasibility of joining forces with Kansas University to build a new recreation center as part of a sports complex on about 110 acres north of the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
But most of the discussion on Tuesday night revolved around what to do with the 146 acres on the northwest corner of the Sixth and SLT intersection. Commissioners for quite awhile were all but certain they were going to use a portion of that corner to build a proposed $24 million recreation center. As a result, commissioners a few weeks ago annexed the property into the city limits.
Now that KU has said it is no longer interested in that corner, the deal has fallen apart. That brings us to Tuesday night, and the commission’s struggle to figure out what to do with the newest addition to the Lawrence city limits.
Not surprisingly, the property’s ownership group — led by Lawrence developer Duane Schwada — argued it ought to be zoned for retail and commercial uses. But a surprising twist is that the neighbors who live directly north of the site, also argued for the retail zoning. Originally, the neighbors had expressed concern about how much new retail development may be allowed on the site. But it appears the neighbors have now had a change of heart, and are concerned that the property could end up being zoned industrial, which would create a new set of concerns.
The argument got interesting on two fronts. First, the neighbors tried to withdraw a protest petition they had filed related to the retail rezoning request. The protest petition required the rezoning request to receive at least four positive positive votes from the five-member City Commission in order for it to be approved. But city attorneys said they could find no provision in state law that would allow the neighbors to withdraw their protest petition.
The second argument I found interesting is the argument the Schwada group made. Schwada’s attorney, Jane Eldredge, one of the top land use attorneys in the city, argued the city was flirting with failure if it built a new $24 million regional recreation center and didn’t allow Schwada’s 146-acre site to develop with retail uses.
She said the city previously recognized there will have to be a variety of uses — think hotels, restaurants, gas stations — develop around the recreation center/youth fieldhouse, if it truly hopes to attract regional and national tournaments.
KU’s new proposal calls for none of that. The entire 108 site will be zoned institutional, which won’t allow for any retail development next to the sports complex.
“Let’s make this regional recreation center a success,” Eldredge told commissioners. “Don’t fail to provide the commercial entities needed to make it a success. We need to do it right.”
The argument didn’t get far with commissioners. Mayor Bob Schumm was particularly pointed in his opposition to the idea of zoning the northwest corner for retail uses. He said the needed commercial uses for the sports complex can be located on the northeast corner of the intersection. That is ground that is already zoned for about 360,000 square feet of retail uses, and it happens to be owned by a group controlled by Schwada.
And Schumm said there was one thing he couldn’t help but notice about that northeast corner.
“What you are saying kind of defies logic,” Schumm told Eldredge. “You go out there and there is not a single building built out there,” Schumm said of the northeast corner, which is known as the Mercato development.
But Eldredge said just because there is vacant retail-zoned ground next to the proposed sports complex site, that doesn’t mean it will develop with the type of uses needed to support the sports complex.
She noted that it took years to win planning approvals for the Mercato site. The approved plans call for two big box stores of up to 175,000 square feet a piece. Those two big box stores take up most of the retail square footage allotted to the site.
Eldredge indicated Schwada was not going to be willing to give up those hard-won approvals for big box stores in order to accommodate hotels, gas stations, restaurants and other smaller users needed to support the sports complex.
But Schumm pointed out that what Schwada has gotten so far is a whole bunch of nothing on the site. Schumm indicated it would be unlikely that the development plans wouldn’t change to accommodate the sports complex.
“I can’t buy that,” Schumm said. “That goes beyond belief.”
We’ll see. A layman would think a development that has sat empty as long as Mercato has would be willing to change its plans to accommodate a new direction for that intersection. But Duane Schwada is no ordinary developer. And he’s correct in that it is very difficult to win approval for big development sites in Lawrence. At the moment, he has the only two approved sites in Lawrence. It would not surprise me — nor anyone who knows Schwada — that he would not budge from his position.
What is certain, though, is the city is going to have to make some sort of decision. The 146 acres on the northwest corner of the intersection is officially in the city limits. But it has no city zoning designation. That’s not the way it is supposed to work. The city will have to zone it something. That means this is a long ways from over.