Voters in the April 2 general election will choose three candidates from the field. Voters in the lightly attended Feb. 26 primary election narrowed the field to six.
Mike Amyx, a city commissioner and downtown barber shop owner, finished in the top spot. He was followed by: Jeremy Farmer, the chief executive of the food bank Just Food; Terry Riordan, a Lawrence pediatrician; Rob Chestnut, a former city commissioner and a chief financial officer of a private company; Scott Criqui, an executive with Lawrence’s non-profit Trinity In-Home Care; and Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care business.
City Commission General Election Candidates
Links to profiles of the six remaining Lawrence City Commission candidates in the April 2 General Election
Additional City Commission Campaign Coverage
LJWorld.com articles on the 2013 Lawrence City Commission election.
The road to growth in Lawrence, more often than not, runs through City Hall.
Whether it’s an industrial project to add more jobs or a multistory building to add more residents to downtown or something in between, Lawrence city commissioners usually get a chance to weigh in on it at some point.
In the first of a series of stories about issues in the 2013 Lawrence City Commission race, we ask the six candidates for their views on economic development and growth-related issues.
The list of possible questions with that subject is long. Here are the issues we focused on with candidates:
• Economic development incentives: Everything from tax abatements to special taxing districts for new retail developments, are apt to turn up at City Hall.
• Prime farmland vs. prime industrial ground: Commissioners have been asked to decide when agricultural land with “prime soils” should be allowed to be converted into future industrial sites. The area around the Lawrence Municipal Airport in North Lawrence has been an area where that debate has raged in recent years.
• Turnpike industrial area: Should the area surrounding the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike become a major industrial area? Berry Plastics has built a warehouse near the interchange, but an attempt to annex about 155 acres into the city for future industrial development has been challenged in court.
• Downtown redevelopment: Large, multistory buildings are taking over Ninth and New Hampshire street, with approval so far of two apartment buildings and a hotel. Key questions include: Should the tall-building trend continue downtown, and should some city-owned surface parking lots in downtown be considered for redevelopment?
Here’s a summary of what each candidate said:
Amyx — the lone incumbent in the race — thinks the City Commission has “done a good job of doing its due diligence” on incentive requests. Amyx said he’s open to a variety of incentives, but generally is against the idea of the Community Improvement District incentives that add a special sales tax onto designated retail areas. If such special taxing districts are approved in the future, he said there should be a requirement that signs exist on the property notifying shoppers they are paying a higher-than-normal sales tax rate.
Amyx likes the city’s current plans for development near Lawrence Municipal Airport: Development at the airport itself has potential but development on the ground surrounding the airport likely would require too much new infrastructure and would threaten too much prime farmland.
Amyx comes out in favor of the potential for industrial development near the Lecompton interchange, which also is at the intersection where the western leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway connects with Interstate 70.
“That intersection makes all the sense in the world because of the easy access,” Amyx said.
On downtown redevelopment — Amyx owns a barber shop downtown — he said the city has “sent the signal” that building taller buildings is a part of downtown’s future. But Amyx said he will want to be cautious about redeveloping city-owned surface parking lots in downtown. He said redevelopment of those lots will limit the city’s options to add significant parking to downtown in the future.
Chestnut said he “clearly is in support of using all the tax incentive tools that we have.”
“One of the best testaments of the success of incentives is East Hills Business Park,” Chestnut said. “Most of those businesses have had a tax abatement, and that is really a major employment center for us.”
He said he can support the special taxing districts for retail development, in the right situations. He’s uncertain whether he would support a sign requirement for those special taxing districts.
Chestnut said he has concerns about industrial development near the airport accelerating flooding issues in North Lawrence, and said any development requests would have to be examined “very carefully.”
He said there is good potential for industrial development, such as warehouses, near the Lecompton interchange.
On downtown redevelopment, Chestnut said “creating more density ought to be important for downtown.” He was generally supportive of the new hotel project, but said the city needs to further study its design guidelines for large downtown buildings. He said any redevelopment of downtown parking lots would need to have a clear plan for how the city would replace any lost public parking.
Criqui said he supports incentives that can help with primary job creation, but he would like the city to generally not use incentives for retail projects. He favors signs for any special taxing districts.
He supports the current plan to limit industrial development around the airport, but he said the city will need to consider allowing prime farmland in other areas to be developed for industry.
Criqui believes the area near the Lecompton interchange is “prime for industrial development in the future.”
On downtown, Criqui said he likes the direction downtown seems to be heading.
“I like infill development, and building upward is appealing to me,” Criqui said.
He said he would be open to hearing plans for redevelopment of city-owned parking lots, but the new development will need to address parking and respect the “charm of downtown.”
Farmer said he was supportive of well-thought-out incentives for businesses, including in the retail sector. He said he thought much of the debate on incentives stemmed from a broader issue in the community.
“I think it is about community mistrust of the process and local government,” Farmer said. “We need to bring everybody to the table and talk about that.”
He said he was uncertain whether he would support a requirement for signs in special taxing districts.
Farmer also said more conversation is needed on the issue of when to develop prime farm ground. He said he thought it was “a bit premature” to determine the development future near the airport.
Farmer said the city needs industrial ground in “prime accessible spots,” but said he was uncertain of what direction the Lecompton interchange area should take. He said a broader conversation was needed.
On downtown, Farmer said he’s pleased the new hotel project will be producing new tax revenues and was pleased that developers and neighbors “did ultimately get around the table.” He has said he wants to have more conversations about what the future of taller buildings should be in downtown. He also said he would want to talk with more downtown stakeholders about the idea of redeveloping city parking lots.
Riordan said economic development incentives are needed to keep Lawrence competitive with other communities. But he said he does not support Community Improvement Districts and their special taxing districts. He said notification signs should be a part of any special taxing district.
Riordan said “Lawrence needs to grow,” but also needs to look for ways that are least harmful to the environment. He said taking prime farm ground near the airport would be difficult for him to support.
“I think development out there would be extremely expensive for the city,” Riordan said. “When you combine that with the fact you are eliminating some of the best farmland in the world, that makes the issue not so attractive.”
He said he needs to gather more information about the area near the Lecompton interchange, but recognizes the need for industrial land near the interstate.
On downtown, Riordan said he would like to hear discussion about taller buildings being built on the western edge of downtown, instead of the eastern edge. He said the western edge may provide more buffer opportunities between development and neighborhoods. He also said the recent hotel project was a good reminder of the need for developers to sit down early in the process with neighbors. Riordan said he has “an interest in seeing” what developers may propose for downtown parking lots.
Soden said she can support some incentives, but wants to avoid a “sweepstakes scenario” where the community gets in a competition related to the size of check it can offer a company. She said she has concerns about offering retail incentives, especially to national chain stores or restaurants. She supports signs in special taxing districts.
Soden said most prime pieces of farmland are in flood-prone areas, which should cause city officials to be skeptical of industrial development in those areas.
She also said she would not be “all gung-ho” on industrial development near the Lecompton interchange. Instead, she wants economic development leaders to focus on filling up the new industrial park at the former Farmland Industries site in eastern Lawrence.
On downtown redevelopment, Soden was the president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association when it opposed the height of the proposed hotel project. She said the city needs to do a better job of following its already approved guidelines on downtown redevelopment. She would have several questions about public-private partnerships to redevelop city parking lots. She’s uncertain the city has gotten good deals in past partnerships.
“If you have a business model that doesn’t work without public money, then maybe you need to find a better business model,” Soden said.