Voters in the April 2 general election will choose three candidates from the field of six selected in the lightly attended Feb. 26 primary.
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.
More Election Coverage
Check out our Lawrence City Commission election page for profiles on all six candidates, and for articles on a variety of campaign issues.
Whether it is creating new regulations or approving new development, Lawrence city commissioners have plenty of power to change any neighborhood in the city.
In the third of a series of articles about issues in the 2013 Lawrence City Commission race, the Journal-World asked the six candidates for their views on issues that may affect Lawrence neighborhoods.
The issues focused on:
• Rental registration. City commissioners have talked extensively this year about expanding the city’s current rental registration program to cover every rental unit in the city. That would mean rental units in the city would be inspected for life, health and safety issues. Currently, only rental units in single-family neighborhoods are part o f the program.
• Curbside recycling. City commissioners recently approved a plan to start an every-other-week curbside recycling program that will add $2.81 to the city utility bills of every household. The program, however, won’t start until October 2014, and won’t allow residents who already recycle — or who don’t want to — to opt out of the monthly fee. The program also is expected to significantly hurt the business of several private companies that currently provide curbside recycling services.
• Apartments. The city is in the midst of a significant uptick in apartment construction. Some residents have expressed concern that the number of apartments is outpacing the city’s population growth, potentially leaving the city with areas of dilapidated apartments. But others have argued if the city tries to control the supply and demand of apartments, it will be trampling on the free market.
• Retail development. When new retail areas develop, they often have the potential to impact existing neighborhoods. The city has some areas already zoned for new, large-scale retail development — with the area near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway being the largest. But large retailers recently have indicated that existing sites don’t meet their needs, and have asked the city to consider areas not currently zoned for retail. A request by Menards to locate in the former Gaslight Village Mobile Home Park east of 31st and Iowa is the latest example of city commissioners having to decide whether to change city plans to accommodate a new big-box store.
Here’s a summary of what candidates had to say about these issues:
Amyx said he is concerned about the impact an expanded rental licensing program may have on rents in Lawrence. But he said he will continue to consider an expansion of the program. He said he may be more willing to start the program as one where every rental unit is required to register with the city, but the city could hold off on starting inspections until it has a better handle on the task. Amyx said he is concerned about the estimated $400,000 price to start the program.
Amyx — the lone incumbent in the race — recently voted against creation of the citywide curbside recycling program. He said he had concerns about how the new program would damage the existing private curbside recycling companies. He said he would have preferred a system that would have allowed residents to be exempted from the city fee if they could prove they were recycling with one of the private companies.
Amyx said he was not too concerned with the number of new apartments being built in the city. He said there are more people who are choosing to live in apartments rather than own a house. Amyx said he would be uneasy with the city denying future apartment projects on the basis of market factors such as vacancy rates. “I’m a big believer in the idea that the market will take care of itself over time,” Amyx said.
Amyx said he would be cautious in approving new areas for major retail development. He said neighborhoods need certain service businesses located nearby, but he said large-scale development should focus on areas that the city already has planned for retail.
Chestnut said he is most interested in expanding the city’s rental registration program in a way that “doesn’t necessarily start with a lot of inspections.” He said he is worried about the city “biting off more than it can manage” if it tries to inspect all 18,000 rental units. But he said he does support a program that would require every rental unit in the city to register, so the city can begin to better assess the long-term inspection task.
Chestnut said he believes the curbside recycling program is a good long-term decision for the city because it will reduce landfill costs. But he said he wants to further study whether the $2.81 per month fee is the correct rate, and he said he wants to study whether there is a way people could opt out of the program. But he worried that may ruin the financial viability of the program.
He said the city’s growth in apartment construction is not worrisome to him because he believes demographic changes are at work that are causing people other than students to look at apartment living.
Chestnut said he will listen to requests to create areas of new retail zoning, but said he would work to convince retailers to locate in the already approved areas. “Our first priority ought to be to say, ‘Here is a site that we already have zoned for this,’” Chestnut said.
Criqui said he has been a vocal supporter of the proposed expansion of the city’s rental registration and licensing program. He said he’ll work to structure the program so it pays for itself through fees, while not becoming financially burdensome to landlords.
He said he supports the recycling program as approved, but wishes the city had done more to partner with private haulers. He said he’s also concerned that the city has created a system that may cause some residents to balk at the idea of recycling. “I am conflicted about why we are making people pay for it if they aren’t going to use it,” Criqui said. “My perspective is that we don’t change behaviors by simply mandating that they pay for it.”
Criqui said he has heard multiple concerns about the rate of apartment construction. He said he is concerned that too many apartments could lead to future areas of blight. He would like the commission to have more information about the vacancy rate of apartments when the city is considering new developments.
He said he has concerns about adding too much retail on the edge of the city and damaging downtown Lawrence. But he said retail development already is well established along South Iowa Street, and he would consider proposals to expand retail in that corridor.
Farmer said he supports an expansion of the city’s rental registration and inspection program. “I hate that it could impact affordable housing, but the tradeoff is would you really rather pay a little less to live in a house that may hurt you?” Farmer said.
Farmer said he supports the curbside recycling program as approved, but wishes the city could have come up with a weekly service. He said he still wants to look at ways to reduce the impact on the private curbside companies.
He said he is reluctant for the city to become too involved in denying future apartment developments based on concerns that the city already has too many apartments. He said the biggest impact of an oversupply of apartments might be a reduction in rent rates across the city, so the biggest risk of overdeveloping apartments rests with the developers.
Farmer said the city needs to have a community discussion about what type of retail market it wants to support. He said he believes many residents would approve of another home improvement store being located next to Home Depot because it would increase competition and add jobs to the city.
Riordan said an expanded rental inspection program is needed to improve safety in the city. He said he would like to see a program that “won’t be as negative toward those rental units that are in good shape.”
Riordan believes the city’s curbside recycling program will be positive for the environment. He said he has some concern that people will have to pay for the program whether they want it or not, but he won’t push to change that provision. “I think we’re in this society together,” Riordan said.
Riordan said he is concerned that the city’s apartment industry may become overbuilt and that older units in the center of the city will become dilapidated. But he said “I don’t know how you solve it because I think it really is a free-market issue.”
Riordan said he would “listen and seriously consider” projects that propose retail development in areas of town not currently planned for it. “I think that is an area you have to look at for expanding,” Riordan said of the former Gaslight Mobile Home Park. “I would rather have a Menards in another area of town, but it is the free-enterprise system.”
Soden said the city’s rental licensing program needs to be expanded to all rental units in the city. She’s concerned the current system promotes “selective enforcement,” which she believes is a problem at City Hall.
Soden said she supports the planned recycling program. She said the city should have had a citywide curbside recycling system “years ago.”
She said she is “really concerned” about the amount and type of apartment construction occurring in Lawrence. She said most new apartments are one- and two-bedroom units, which don’t promote affordable living for families. She said the city needs to take vacancy rates and other market data into greater consideration when approving or denying apartment developments.
Soden said she also is concerned about the vacancy rates in the city’s retail market, and is worried the city has approved too much retail development for the area near Sixth Street and the SLT. “I say when we fill up the big-box development that we already have, then we can start talking about more big-box stores,” she said.