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City rethinks retail zoning

September 25, 2012


No, Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday didn’t yet again change their mind on where a new northwest Lawrence sports complex should be located.

But at their weekly meeting, commissioners did change their position on whether additional retail zoning on property near the proposed sports complex site should be considered.

Commissioners unanimously agreed to rescind their action from last week that withdrew a request to rezone 146 acres on the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway for retail uses.

The northwest corner previously was targeted by the city to house a combination city-Kansas University sports complex, plus additional retail components such as hotels, restaurants and gasoline stations. But that plan fell apart after KU officials earlier this month said they were no longer interested in the site, and instead were pursuing plans for a sports complex east of the South Lawrence Trafficway on property that is just north of the northeast corner.

So, the plans for a sports complex on the northwest corner may be dead, but the idea for a new retail center may not be. Commissioners on Tuesday did not approve the retail zoning, but instead sent the rezoning request back to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission for a new recommendation.

“We’ve moved the recreation center, but we haven’t moved it far,” said City Commissioner Hugh Carter. “It is just a stone’s throw away.”

That’s a different tone than what commissioners had last week, when, on a 4-1 vote, commissioners agreed to withdraw the request for retail zoning at the site. Commissioners last week did not indicate what the property, which is already in the city limits, should be zoned.

The property is owned by a group led by Lawrence businessmen Duane and Steve Schwada, and a representative for the group urged commissioners on Tuesday to simply approve the rezoning now. Lawrence attorney Jane Eldredge noted the Planning Commission and the city’s planning staff already have recommended approval of the retail zoning for the corner once.

Eldredge contends their recommendations weren’t contingent upon a new recreation center being built on the property. City commissioners, though, said they want planners to provide a recommendation now that they know a recreation center won’t be on the site.

Eldredge has argued the regional sports complex will suffer if additional retail zoning isn’t allowed at the intersection. The requested zoning would allow for up to 200,000 square feet of new retail space.

The City Commission meeting also took on a legal feel to it Tuesday. Eldredge hired a court reporter to attend the meeting. After the meeting, she stopped short of saying the reporter was on hand because her clients were contemplating legal action against the city.

“We just want to make sure we have a good, clear record in the event that we need one,” Eldredge said.


David Holroyd 5 years, 9 months ago

They. sure do play games. And we are to trust them?

bornon7 5 years, 9 months ago

No, we can't trust them. What are we to do? If we don't want the job then we can't really complain, can we? It has always been who you know....

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

Monday night at the library on a discussion about the sports village the City Manager,Mayor and at least two city commissioners heard calls for voter approval many times. Why the resistance?

If I were a city commissioner I would be requesting voters be brought into this final decision process frequently. A menu of items could be drawn up each November and/or April for taxpayer approval. Taxpayers are not as dumb as politicians wish to believe.

I read that available cheaper borrowed money brings on irrational spending. We see this behavior applied to this parking lot and the "Sports Village".

We see this behavior is allowing our local markets to become saturated whether it be housing,retail,sports facilities,warehousing etc etc etc etc.

It is my feeling that we taxpayers have been railroaded by "we've got to plan ahead" or "we've got to take risks" lines of nonsense for far to long. This is wreckanomics applied locally.

Which is why it makes dollars and sense for the voters to take over in the final decision process. I do not believe any elected official can claim special features about themselves that allow them "to know" which project will pay back ever. Pure speculation is simply not enough. Lawrence voters are as endowed as any elected official. Believe it.

Now is NOT the time to be adding NEW large tax dollar projects to our tax bills without voter approval.

Is the economy back yet? Will the economy crash again as a result of republicans playing a huge game of fraud? Many people believe this Bush/Cheney fiasco will take more years than ever to heal.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

If I were a city commissioner I would be requesting voters be brought into this final decision process frequently. A menu of items could be drawn up each November and/or April for taxpayer approval. Taxpayers are not as dumb as politicians wish to believe.

Some commissioners have short memories. Tanger Mall,Riverfront Plaza and Baur Farms "New Urbanism" were going to be magnificent retail successes. Instead these retail concepts have been borne out as colossal failures.

Monday night at a discussion on the sports village the City manager ,Mayor and two commissioners were reminded of these colossal failures.

On each of these projects elected officials were advised that the Lawrence retail markets were saturated. And are saturated as we speak. Elected officials were being advised that Lawrence,Kansas only has so many retail dollars available. There is plenty of evidence to support both which is represented by the failures.

City commissioners were asked NOT to rezone or annex this 146 acres until there were concrete plans on the table. No such animal was anywhere to be seen. Now it appears the city commission has its' butt in a jam. Apparently they have recalled the zoning which is a legitimate action. Will this commission cave under pressure? Historically the answer is yes.

hipper_than_hip 5 years, 9 months ago

According to the West of K-10 plan, the NW corner of the intersection is supposed to be zoned industrial. Did the developer offer to donate land for the rec center so he could get the zoning changed from industrial to retail and bypass the planning document?

Too bad the Planning Commission didn’t make the retail zoning conditional on the rec center actually happening in that location……

deec 5 years, 9 months ago

I'd guess the city never had any intention of building at the NW corner, but now they will be compelled to change the zoning or face legal action. It's a pretty big oversight to forget to tie the rezoning to the sports complex development.

The next move will be the city being coerced into providing the infrastructure to the NW corner anyway, or the developer will do it with substantial abatements and subsidies.

Meanwhile two connected developers will get to develop their property with taxpayers largely footing the bill.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

Some or all elected officials are under the impression that because they are elected we taxpayers gave them a free hand to spend tax dollars anyway they see fit. I disagree.

It is my position that more referendums should be offered up for we taxpayers to be the ultimate decision makers. Some projects will make and some will not.

ohjayhawk 5 years, 9 months ago

If we were living in a democracy, what you are saying would be true. However, because the United States of America is a constitutional republic, what you are describing is exactly how it is supposed to work. We vote for people to work in the best interest of their constituents. Does it always work? Absolutely not, but this country was not set up to have the entire population vote on every item that arises. If you don't like what is going on, vote for different candidates, and hope enough people do as well.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 9 months ago

December 2003 LJW - my how things don't change even with new faces ( the Chamber of Commerce is lurking about offering the same nonsense rhetoric)

Do you think Lawrence is annexing new areas too quickly?

Yes. Doing so creates pressure to develop the land more quickly because the owners have to begin paying city taxes. 58% 141 votes

No. The city is staying out in front of the development with a “smart growth” approach that helps provide city services to new developments. 35% 86 votes

Undecided 5% 13 votes

Food for thought.... with increased annexation and zoning you have increased expectations on services, and historically the funding of revenues generated by empty properties does not pay for the services they EXPECT from a municipality. Empty buildings do not generate the necessary revenues either.

Hello long time residential property owners we need more of your money like it or not.

Joe Adams 5 years, 9 months ago

That vote seemed to have about the same turnout as the more recent votes on big projects in Lawrence. Good thing 240 people (all who read online LJW) is a great representation of who will come out to vote on future projects. Unfortunately, they already annexed the property so zoning is required at this point. Would it be better to have it zoned industrial or retail, I don't know that I can answer that.

Joe Adams 5 years, 9 months ago

Good for Schwada for forcing the commission's hands. If that area is going to be annexed into Lawrence, it needs to have zoning. The homeowners around there would prefer retail and it's not like we have 200,000 sq ft of retail sitting open in one section with access to K-10 and 6th St. I can't imagine it being anything but retail, unless of course they think we need more apartments over there? Schwada should hold strong on his big box lots and wait for something to happen because he jumped through a lot of hoops to make it happen. But I get it, lets not make 6th St at K-10 a retail area like on south 23rd because we'd rather have industrial development?!?

deec 5 years, 9 months ago

What hoops did he jump through? He proposed a rec center from which he would profit through construction and long-term lease. He got his property brought into the city even though there is no infrastructure to the parcel. Now he gets to force the city into giving him the zoning he probably wanted in the first place. At some point, he'll probably ask for huge taxpayer subsidies to make developing the field feasible. And all he had to do is offer to donate a piece of that cornfield to the city.

lawrencereporter 5 years, 9 months ago

You are confused. Fritzel wanted to build the recreation center at this location, Fritzel was the only profiteer leasing to the city, not Schwada. Why are you twisting the true.

deec 5 years, 9 months ago

What does :Why are you twisting the true" mean?

I'm not sure what you mean by saying Schwada jumped through hoops to make it happen. make what happen?

I did confuse the two crony capitalists. Both will likely profit from the bait and switch with the purported rec center.

hipper_than_hip 5 years, 9 months ago

Schwada was donating the land in exchange for tax breaks. It's zoned agricultural now but the tax breaks would be based on it's developed value.

Joe Adams 5 years, 9 months ago

The hoops I was referring to involved getting the retail zoning he already has in place at the NE corner zoned for two big box stores.

Joe Adams 5 years, 9 months ago

If you read Chad's article last week about the commission meeting and how Hugh Carter believed that Schwada would change his retail plans for the NE corner to adapt to the changes in the rec center plans, Chad inferred that Schwada jumped through hoops to get those lots approved for big box stores. Maybe Chad can provide more info as to what exactly went into that decision making process (although I'm sure it was covered in some Town Talk article) because my take from the story was that Schwada wouldn't change because it is very hard to get something like that approved.

deec 5 years, 9 months ago

As I recall, and I don't remember for sure, the only hoops Schwada jumped through were because he wanted to change the zoning after he bought the land. The zoning he wanted did not conform to planning documents already in place. If that is correct, he created his own hoops by buying land that wasn't zoned for his intended uses.

If he would like to sit on undeveloped land rather than change his planned uses for the property to profit from the rec center boondoggle, that is his prerogative.

Joe Adams 5 years, 9 months ago

It really is irrelevant who created the hoops at this point, isn't it? The fact that he spent years getting the zoning the way he wanted it to be and eventually got it approved is all that would be of concern to me. He did everything he needed to do even though he chose to buy land that wasn't zoned the way he wanted it to be. After spending years working on it, he got it the way he wanted and I wouldn't expect him to change it easily at this point. If the rec center is going to require hotels / restaurants and what not, as they are telling us it will, the NW corner is a great location for that based on what is currently out there.

The city annexed the property so it requires zoning now. Whether Schwada can get them to approve Retail for that location is up to him and he's doing what he can to push that through. Like someone said previously, the annexation of the property without tying the zoning recommendations to the rec center project being located there was a mistake and has put the commission in this situation now.

deec 5 years, 9 months ago

It's not irrelevant at all. He wanted to change the rules to accommodate a non-conforming use. He created his own problem.

I already agreed he can keep his property empty if he wants to be stubborn and not build stuff that will make money if the rec center is built.

Whoever owns the newly-annexed property can pay to have the water lines and other infrastructure put in so that field will be viable for development. Taxpayers shouldn't subsidize it in any way, including tax abatements, TIFs, super-secret sales taxes, or any other method. If Schwada or Fritzel or any other developer thinks their property needs developing, then they can pay for it with their own money, not the city's.

Joe Adams 5 years, 9 months ago

I'm not sure I ever said that Schwada should get tax abatements, TIFS, or super-secret sales taxes (although I doubt there wouldn't be a sales tax applied to ANY new developments in KS right now). Nor did I say he didn't create his own problem but I feel like you are still talking about the NW property and not the NE property. The point of my comment was that as long as the city annexed the NW property, it needs to have zoning and Schwada should do everything in his power to persuade that zoning to be what he wants for his property. The city should NOT assume he will do something differently with property that he already fought to have zoned (NE lot) for big boxes.

Again, I agree that the city shouldn't pay for infrastructure to the NW corner. In regards to the NE corner, It is 100% irrelevant what he went through to get big boxes zoned for that lot. It is also irrelevant that he bought the land when it was zoned differently and fought to have it changed to suit his needs because he now has it zoned the way he wants and he is not going to just give that up because the city hopes he will. The option for the city to get more retail for the additional things they are looking for in that area right now is to zone the annexed NW corner as retail.

LogicMan 5 years, 9 months ago

That NW corner would make for a good big box and restaurant site to capture some commuters' tax dollars. And for future residential growth on that side of town. Menards/Lowes, SuperTarget, etc.

hipper_than_hip 5 years, 9 months ago

De-annexation is available to the City, which might be the way to go to avoid a lawsuit with the developer. The State passed legislation this summer than if property is annexed into a city and improvements are not made in a certain amount of time (seven years I think), the property owner can file for de-annexation.

The City, County, and Chamber are all complaining about the lack of industrial sites in Douglas County, and here's several hundred acres that are designated for industrial by development plan; why are we considering anything other than industrial for this area?

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