City leaders and a neighbor to the Rock Chalk Park sports complex will meet in the coming days after city officials conceded Tuesday that a lighting plan for the complex hadn’t been properly approved.
“This clearly has been botched,” said Richard Hird, a Lawrence attorney who represents Jack Graham, who lives just east of the Rock Chalk Park site near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting were told by the city’s planning director that the 100-foot tall light poles for the softball, track and field and soccer fields at Rock Chalk Park already have been installed, even though the City Commission hadn’t yet approved a lighting plan for the project. When the project was approved by commissioners earlier this year, it was done so with specific conditions, including that a lighting plan would be approved by commissioners before any building permits would be issued for the project.
“I apologize for this failure to follow the proper procedure,” Mayor Mike Dever told Graham during the meeting.
The project is being built by a firm led by Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel, who previously has been criticized for moving ahead on projects without proper city approval. In 2011, Fritzel was involved in a project that installed artificial turf at an apartment complex, despite not having city code approval for the turf. Last year, Fritzel agreed to make a $50,000 donation to a historic preservation fund to resolve a dispute regarding whether he dismantled a historic home in a manner inconsistent with city codes.
“Given the history, I hope you can understand why there is an absolute mistrust in the developer, and really at this point, the city’s desire to do this project right,” Hird told commissioners.
Dever, though, said that while the oversight on the lighting project was regrettable, he’s confident city inspectors are closely monitoring the project, especially the portions of the park that are receiving city funding. The lights are not being installed with city funds.
Graham asked commissioners to hire a third-party, independent consultant to assess whether the lights will have an adverse impact on his property.
A majority of city commissioners balked, for the moment, at hiring a consultant. Scott McCullough, the city’s planning director, said a lighting plan was submitted to the city shortly after the lights were installed. He said a review of the plan found the lighting plan fell within the city’s code to protect adjacent property from adverse impacts.
But City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer said he’s open to the idea of the city paying for an independent study.
“We goofed up here,” Farmer said of the city’s approval process. “We said we were going to do one thing and we didn’t do it. Regardless of who is at fault, we should make it right.”
Before deciding the consultant issue, commissioners asked Graham to first meet with city planning officials to go over the lighting plan in more detail. Commissioners expect to have the item back on their agenda in early January.
In other news, commissioners:
• Approved 5-0 a resolution to exempt city buildings from the state’s concealed carry law. The exemption will allow the city to continue to prohibit concealed carry permit holders from bringing their weapons into City Hall and other city buildings for the next four years. City commissioners did hear comments from representatives of both the Douglas County Republican Party and the Douglas County Libertarians to allow concealed carry in public buildings.