City leaders want to meet with Indian tribe over future of North Lawrence land

Lawrence city commissioners want to have a face-to-face meeting with leaders of the Delaware Tribe of Indians to learn their intentions for developing a prime piece of North Lawrence property along the Kansas Turnpike.

Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting directed City Manager David Corliss to seek a meeting with tribal officials in Oklahoma within the next two to three weeks.

“I would rather be a part of any conversations sooner rather than later,” City Commissioner Bob Schumm said. “I’m very concerned about the environmental impact development could have on that property. It is a delicate piece of property. When it rains, I’ve seen that area look like a great lake out there.”

The tribe this summer purchased approximately 90 acres of farmland along the turnpike, formerly owned by the Pine family as a sod farm, just east of the North Lawrence interchange.

The tribe has not released specific plans for the property, other than saying it hopes to provide housing, child care and medical care for American Indians in the region. But speculation has centered on the tribe having an interest in casino gaming on the property, in part because the tribe expressed an interest in having a casino in northeast Kansas in 2000. The entire North Lawrence area was part of the tribe’s Kansas reservation until it was forced to move to Oklahoma after the Civil War.

City commissioners on Tuesday said they would like for Mayor Mike Dever, City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer and one Douglas County commissioner to travel to Oklahoma to meet privately with tribal leaders. Afterward, a joint study session of city and county commissioners to discuss the future of the property likely would be held.

The property is just outside the Lawrence city limits, but any development is likely to have major effects on city property because of stormwater drainage issues. Tribal officials have confirmed that they are working to have the land put into federal trust, which would make the property sovereign Indian territory and not subject to the city or county’s development regulations.

City and county officials might nevertheless have some sway in the future of the property because tribal officials might seek to negotiate for some services from local governments, such as water, sewer, police and fire protection.

Farmer said he hopes any trip to meet with tribal leaders could help build a stronger relationship between the two parties.

“We need to start building bridges, and we don’t want to do anything to isolate people here,” Farmer said. “I don’t want people’s assumptions to start taking over. The last think I want to do is to tell a Native American tribe that they are not welcome in our community.”

In other news, commissioners at their weekly meeting:

• Approved $40 million of industrial revenue bonds for the Rock Chalk Park sports park on a 4-1 vote. The bonds are mechanisms to exempt from property taxes the track and field stadium, softball facilities and soccer fields that will be leased to Kansas University. The project doesn’t qualify for an automatic property tax exemption because it is not owned by KU. A company led by Lawrence developer Thomas Fritzel will own the property. City Commissioner Mike Amyx voted against the bond issuance.

• Unanimously agreed to name the business park being developed on the former Farmland fertilizer plant Lawrence VenturePark.

• Unanimously approved a rezoning request for about two acres of property at 2518 Ridge Court for a senior duplex housing project. Stormwater drainage issues caused several neighbors to object to the development of an open lot behind the United Way headquarters, but commissioners agreed to take extra steps to review the drainage plans for the project. The 14-unit complex is being developed by the nonprofit Tenants to Homeowners organization.