Archive for Monday, July 21, 2014

Planning Commission recommends denial of major shopping center along SLT

July 21, 2014, 11:42 p.m. Updated July 22, 2014, 1:21 a.m.


A proposal to build one of the city's larger shopping centers in its history received a setback from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission early Tuesday morning.

Commissioners on a 4-2 voted recommended city commissioners deny a proposed shopping center that would add more than 500,000 square feet of commercial space southeast of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Iowa Street interchange.

The reason: Its location at the intersection of two major highways isn't the right location.

"I think there is a place for a development like this in town, but I don't think it is here," said Planning Commissioner Eric Struckhoff.

Several planning commissioners said they would prefer large retail development be located in areas already zoned for commercial development near the Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence.

But leaders with the North Carolina-based company proposing the development said national retailers want to be located next to the other major retailers located on South Iowa Street. The area near Rock Chalk Park — near Sixth and the SLT — has been zoned for retail for multiple years but hasn't yet developed.

"The city has done a good job of providing opportunities for development around the city," said Planning Commissioner Jim Denney, who supported the project. "But in the long run I think it should be business that decides where it puts its ventures. It is the business that is investing lots of money."

Thus far, developers have said Old Navy, Academy Sports, Ulta Beauty, Designer Shoe Warehouse, and a speciality grocer are among the likely tenants for the center.

The Planning Commission's vote does not yet kill the project. Developers can still choose to have the development request heard by the Lawrence City Commission. A representative with the development group said it was too early to determine whether the project would move forward.

If the project moves to the City Commission in the coming weeks, expect a classic Lawrence battle. Commissioners voted on the project a little after midnight, after hearing more than four hours of public comment and presentations about the proposal.

On one side were residents who expressed concern that the project would harm downtown. On another was a group of developers who have undeveloped retail projects in the city who objected to the city's process. And then there were residents who said Lawrence needs new retailers and the tax dollars they would bring into local government coffers.

For some residents, the project brought back memories of when this site was proposed for a "Cornfield Mall" development in the 1980s that was fiercely opposed because it created concern it would damage downtown Lawrence.

"I know a lot has changed, but some of the reasons are still there," said longtime Lawrence resident Betty Alderson. "I can't imagine a project of this size doing anything but wiping out commercial development on Massachusetts Street."

Leaders of the development group strongly disagreed with that assertion. The main draw of the project is expected to be big box retailers, although it also is expected to have restaurants as well.

"Don't fight the same battle that you fought almost 40 years ago," said Chris Challis, the project manager for the development group. "You are not seeing a project that tries to recreate Massachusetts Street."

Lawyers representing local investors in the unbuilt retail areas near Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway also urged commissioners to vote against or delay the project because they said it would be too much of a deviation from the city's comprehensive plan, Horizon 2020.

But commissioners also were urged to consider that the project would be located at the intersection of two of the larger highways in the county.

"If you are looking at a map of Lawrence, you would say why not put retail here?" said Brad Finkeldei, a former member of the Planning Commission who spoke in favor of the project.

He noted the city's comprehensive plan already calls for commercial development at the property, although it is labeled as "auto-related" commercial development, which is a category that can include intense commercial development.

The designation could allow for car dealerships, large fueling centers, and a host of businesses that cater to motorists on the highway.

"I don't want to see auto-related development there," said Bruce Liese, chair of the Planning Commission, and one of the two commissioners to vote in favor of the shopping center. "If we vote this down, we may see a giant parking lot that is worse than our worse nightmare."

Some residents noted the site also is just west of the recently expanded portion of the Baker Wetlands, and development could create problems for the natural area. But Roger Boyd, manager of the wetlands, told commissioners that he did not object to the proposed development. The development group has entered discussions with Baker University about the possibility of Boyd's group managing several acres of open space along the Wakarusa River that would be placed in a conservation easement prohibiting future development on the property.

Commissioners also heard differing opinions about how much the retail development could add to the city's tax base. The development group produced a study that estimated it would add $1.1 million to the city's sales tax collections by the end of 2016.

But others argued the city's incomes aren't growing enough to reasonably expect a significant gain in sales tax collections. But several residents said it is clear to them that Lawrence residents are too frequently leaving Lawrence to shop.

"This represents a right-now opportunity to produce tax dollars," said Lawrence resident Gary Rexroad. "We need sales tax dollars right now. We need to keep people in town spending those dollars in town."

The shopping center proposal had received a positive recommendation from the city's planning staff. Only six of the 10 planning commissioners were present for Monday's meeting. Commissioners Struckhoff, Pennie von Achen, Bryan Culver, and Jon Josserand voted to recommend denial of the project. Commissioner Stan Rasmussen was present but recused himself after learning the project would be applying for development permits through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Rasmussen works for the Army and soon will be providing legal advice to the Corps of Engineers, creating a potential conflict of interest.


Mike Ford 3 years, 7 months ago

Baker University is always for sale to highest bidder. Just look at the track record of the last 14 years.

Clark Coan 3 years, 7 months ago

Yep, Roger Boyd has supported the SLT even though it destroyed the Baker Wetlands his father so lovingly re-created and now he supports this huge mall.

Greg DiVilbiss 3 years, 7 months ago

And his son is lovingly creating more wetlands then was there before. Wetlands are a great natural resource having more plus and education center to help people understand why they are important is a good thing.

Cille King 3 years, 7 months ago

Even staff agreed that sales tax has remained about the same (adjusted for inflation) for the last 10 years, while the retail square footage has increased about 4 % per year during that same 10 years.

Those numbers cannot continue in that way - not enough sales to support the amount of retail space. It's not the number of stores that pay the sales tax, it's the customers who pay it. We are in a high priced, low income city. Create more good paying jobs and we might have customers with more money to spend.

John Yocum 3 years, 7 months ago

A shopping center located at the meeting place of two highways is not the best place for one? With thinking like that, no wonder this city's in trouble. Of course, if this plan is presented again later with ties to local property czars, it will suddenly become a great idea.

Cille King 3 years, 7 months ago

We already have Wal-Mart, Target, Home Depot, Bed Bath and Beyond, Kohls, JC Penney and several others (including soon to be Menards) close to this same two highway intersection.

Cathy Tarr 3 years, 7 months ago

People are going to the proposed stores if they are in Lawrence or not. Why not keep the dollars here instead of Topeka or Kansas City. Kohl's and Penneys are not stores worth shopping in most of the time. This town needs to wake up!

Steve Jacob 3 years, 7 months ago

I keep saying this, but 20-30% of Lawrence will almost never go past 6th and Wak, but everyone in Lawrence hits Iowa St.

Greg Easter 3 years, 7 months ago

Who is "WE" do you really believe that this decision was made out of the best interests for the city as a whole or a couple of Local developers who didn't want competition against their own development. WAKE UP PEOPLE.. I am personally in favor of both developments.

Arnie Bunkers 3 years, 7 months ago

"it's our job to plan "

And we have seen how planned economies work. Please, Please let the market decide. Our "planners" have screwed up enough out there. If someone is going to invest their $$ let them take the risk.

John Graham 3 years, 7 months ago

If you believe healthcare is a free market system then you clearly don't understand how healthcare has worked in the US for the past several decades. The government has set the reimbursement for hospitals, surgery centers, doctors and other healthcare providers as part of Medicare. Whatever Medicare states is the reimbursement, the insurance carriers follow. Since the overwhelming majority of hospitals, surgery centers, doctors, and other healthcare providers accept Medicare, they are thus bound to Medicare rates. A provider is bound to Medicare rates such that a doctor giving a poor patient a discounted rate below what he bills medicare is breaking the law. The government mandates that they get the best rate. The healthcare system is and has been a government controlled socialist system for decades. Healthcare is as far from a true free market as one can get. Other than utility companies tell me a business in the US has its reimbursement rates set by the government. Hospitals and healthcare providers have no real say over what they get paid for a service no matter what they may bill. The only thing hospitals and providers control are the number of patients they treat.

John Graham 3 years, 7 months ago

The problem is you are confusing health insurance with healthcare. While interconnected they are very different entities.

Scott Burkhart 3 years, 7 months ago

Well said, John! Whenever the government gets involved in the marketplace, pandolerium ensues.

James Howlette 3 years, 6 months ago

Except for every other industrialized country where the government got involved with healthcare, sure. Back to patent medicine and snake oil treatments for us - wouldn't want any government interference in the free market.

Arnie Bunkers 3 years, 7 months ago

I would say the U.S. has the best health care in the world. No one is even close. I dont see folks flying to Russia or Mexico for advanced health care. The poorest people in the U.S. live like kings compared to most of the non-free world and certianly vs. history because of what the free market gave us. It lets folks like you and me use our Apple computer that was delivered using the free market Airlines etc etc

Cille King 3 years, 7 months ago

I was going to give several websites to debunk your statements, but then I realized it was all tongue in cheek.

James Howlette 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm also going to assume it's tongue in cheek to complain that our "socialist" health care system unfairly constrains prices for doctors while having just bragged last week that he earned so much from it that he retired decades early.

John Graham 3 years, 7 months ago

I was not complaining by the way. I was explaining that healthcare is not a free market system as Brett suggested.

James Howlette 3 years, 6 months ago

Ah good to know that you're in favor of non free market systems when they benefit you personally. I guess it's only the repeated complaints about having to pay taxes on that income that I'll take as being tongue in cheek.

Greg Easter 3 years, 7 months ago

Legends takes a big chunk out of our retail sales tax revenue as well.

Cille King 3 years, 7 months ago

This project of scaled down (to fit the Lawrence market - just like our current scaled down versions) of national retailers would never be a draw, or have the variety of Legends.

Cathy Tarr 3 years, 7 months ago

Cille do you not shop very often? It would be a draw

Sue McDaniel 3 years, 7 months ago

AND they do it again, I still remember the mall they wanted to build where all the businesses now are, just not in a mall. That made so much sense. I am sure these businesses really need to have our guidance on where their best location is. They just need to line certain peoples pockets like the others did.

Rick Masters 3 years, 7 months ago

Just like the Tanger and Riverfront malls destroyed downtown! Whew, we barely survived that onslaught...

Rick Masters 3 years, 7 months ago

The point was that downtown retailers were screaming about how it would be detrimental to the "downtown vibe" and run Mom-and-Pop stores out of business. They felt threatened by the dual menaces of Van Heusen and Maidenform.

Chelsea Kapfer 3 years, 6 months ago

and look at Tangers and Riverfront now. How much tax dollars went into those empty spaces?

Greg DiVilbiss 3 years, 7 months ago

They built the mall anyway it is just not in one building. I go downtown all of the time and it does not seem as if the non-connected mall killed it.

The nature of changing retail and the habits of buyers have made a difference in the way that people use downtown areas.

In 1850 when Lawrence had a general store that carried everything, and everybody loved to go there and get there clothing, tools, food, etc....that shop owner was pissed when somebody opened a downtown clothing store, followed by the hardware store, followed by the grocery store...retail changes over time and the business change with it or they just fade away.

The way local businesses can stay in business is providing something that people want like great customer service or customization. That is how Weavers has done it. Competition is coming, the way people shop is changing, if you want to stay alive you better change with it and do a better job delivering your vs. netflix is a perfect example. Who cries for blockbuster....

John Yocum 3 years, 7 months ago

You forget. It's not about planning, but about who it is that owns the land or who it is that wants to build the buildings.

Gary Rexroad 3 years, 7 months ago

A disappointing miss for our community… We need development in west Lawrence but we cannot force a developer to invest in an area just because you want it there. It has to make sense for them too. Let’s hope our City Commissioners can pull together a 4-1 approval to get this great project producing sales tax $$ our city desperately needs

Cille King 3 years, 7 months ago

Please see my comment, second from the top. Why would this project increase sales tax when in the last 10 years we have flat sales tax revenue while retail square footage has increased 4% each year during that same 10 years. Also, 3 of the stores wanting to move to this location would move out of their current Lawrence location.

Melinda Henderson 3 years, 7 months ago

Exactly, Cille. All the talk about leakage, but I haven't heard anything about what the pull factor would be. Probably because there isn't one.

Bruce Bertsch 3 years, 7 months ago

1st, there is no "Retail development" in downtown, unless bars and restaurants and apartments are now retail development. Downtown as a shopping area? That ship has sailed. So here we have a group of developers who want to spend their money to bring new and different retail to Lawrence and we say no because they didn't pick the spot we want them to? Maybe, just maybe their market research indicated that 31st and Iowa is a much better place than 6th and the SLT. I remember the zoning fight in a small village on Long island where they fought to protect the local delis against a Burger King. They claimed it would not only damage the local income but create an eyesore. So what they got instead was a Public Storage facility. So I guess we are only interested in additional property tax revenue and sales tax revenue if developers build where we think they should and not where research indicates they could prosper. Genius at work.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 7 months ago

I'm not sure if we need more retail, but isn't this the group that said they didn't need an special tax zones or tax abatements? Does our city only want developers who want us tax payers to pay for their investment?

Cille King 3 years, 7 months ago

Not mentioned; waste water treatment 50 + million, traffic signal at the intersection (no dollar amount estimated), road improvements on 59, Louisiana, Michigan (no dollar amount estimated). There would certainly be tax payer dollars involved.

Melinda Henderson 3 years, 7 months ago

"The city has done a good job of providing opportunities for development around the city," said Planning Commissioner Jim Denney, who supported the project. "But in the long run I think it should be business that decides where it puts its ventures. It is the business that is investing lots of money."

Seriously? Who appointed this man to the Planning Commission? Does he even understand what a Comprehensive Plan is?

If everyone who believes that planning should consist of the (developer) tail wagging the (community) dog can just be patient for a few more years until those of us who actually believe in the planning process are all finally dead and gone, then you all can have your "free-market" heyday.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 3 years, 7 months ago

I wonder what would happen if his neighbors opened a McDonalds across the street? He might whistle a different tune then.

Jeff Barclay 3 years, 7 months ago

Higher property taxes will be the result of saying no to more retail development. Insane. Seriously insane. But insanity is what make living in Lawrence so much fun.

Jeff Barclay 3 years, 7 months ago

Higher paying jobs come when entrepreneurs are given the liberty to be entrepreneurs. Higher paying jobs have never and will never come from the socialistic orientations found in today's left-leaning political climate. Selfishness on the right is not good either, but please give those who are willing to risk dollars in business development a chance!

Bruce Bertsch 3 years, 7 months ago

Wrong...Higher paying jobs come from demand for the product or service leading to increased production. Businesses provide products and services but employment is driven by demand for the product. Todays political climate is about as right wing as it has ever been and where has it gotten us?

Cille King 3 years, 7 months ago

Retail sales jobs are not high paying, but among the lowest paying jobs with fewest benefits. Just ask Wal-Mart employees who are told to ask for government assistance for their food, housing and health care.

Don Brennaman 3 years, 7 months ago

K 10 crosses US 40 and US 59. Wherever this happens will draw concern from the neighbors. Whatever the outcome please build built-to-last roads and utilities first.

Clark Coan 3 years, 7 months ago

Don't worry, this City Commission is so conservative (except when it comes to spending taxpayer money), it will approve the project at least 4-1.

Andrew Dufour 3 years, 7 months ago

We'll see, this city seems to reject retail developments like it is allergic to them. I'm not going to hold my breath that this gets approved, plus the city really wants the area around Rock Chalk to explode and lets be honest even people that would love to see this development have to understand that two "huge" retail developments would be too much for Lawrence.

One plus to the Rock Chalk development is potentially we could get a Costco, there isn't one west of KC and a Costco could do well between Lawrence and Topeka.

Carol Bowen 3 years, 7 months ago

The Planning Commission approved two large apartment complexes - a 900 unit out west and a complex with major tax breaks near the stadium. But isn't the apartment market bloated already? Do we need one bedroom apartments that cost over $1000 per month and have an elevator for cars?

On the other hand, we reject a retail development because Lawrence economy does not need more retail. All of these proposals affect market needs in Lawrence. We need consistency in our decisions. If we are looking for balance, then that criterion should be applied across the board. Approve the retail and apartment proposals or deny them.

As for local investors, the city has developed the habit of supporting local speculation. It's not speculation if there are no risks.

Cille King 3 years, 7 months ago

The development near the stadium includes a relatively large retail component. And there are areas already zoned for retail in the city, waiting for the surrounding area to more fully develop.

Cathy Tarr 3 years, 7 months ago

What large retail? Walmart? Really?!!!

Carol Bowen 3 years, 7 months ago

The retail development proposal is a tough one.

  1. They're not asking for tax breaks. The city needs revenue.

  2. Retail jobs do not pay well.

  3. Our downtown is becoming an Aggieville. Other than an evening stroll, I seldom go there anymore. We need to rethink the downtown concept while it is still healthy.

  4. The chain stores mentioned so far would improve our buying choices. Does Old Navy really compete with downtown stores?

  5. Like it or not, South Iowa is a desirable location for retail.

  6. So then, how do we make northwest Lawrence more attractive for development? We'd have to use tax incentives. Can the city afford more tax incentives?

Al Deathe 3 years, 7 months ago

Someone explain to me how a bunch of citizens that have been appointed to a planning commission seem to know more about retail business than a group of investors that make a living at it. Seems like Lawrence is all for spending millions on projects that cost money and then refuses to let business into Lawrence to pay for all those projects that never produce anything but bills. I for one am tired of being the total source of revenue for this town in property taxes. This town mutilates a retail project so much just to get approval of government that the projects always fail. A perfect example is the 6th and Wakarusa Walmart, customers that live in the area still go to the 33rd an Iowa store because it was so downsized most customers can't do all their shopping at the Wakarusa store.

Brad Hightower 3 years, 7 months ago

Sooner Investment Co Divests $300 Plus Million Property Posted on May 14, 2011 by Frank Soellig

Chicago real estate investor Inland America Retail Management LLC bought part of University Town Center in Norman from Collett for $32.5 million as part of a $300-plus-million divestment by Sooner Investment Co., which developed the 2-year-old Norman retail center with longtime partner Collett & Associates of Charlotte, N.C. Sooner Investment and Collett also sold nine other properties in three other states.

Three years ago these guys were just common retail property flipper. Build it, fill it, flip it. A lot of folks have faith in these out of townies and seem to think they are here to stay. It's not our community they care about.

Scott Burkhart 3 years, 7 months ago

The idiots that argued against the mall on the southwest side of town gave us Tanger Outlet Mall and the Riverfront Mall. Boondoggles both. One's an eyesore, visible from 100 yards at 75 mph.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

There are not enough retail dollars to support these mammoth projects because the pie does not magically become larger with each new addition.

Tighter markets produce higher wages, more tax dollar revenue per sq ft and strong economic growth. Why would any community of taxpayers want to engage in economic displacement?

Needless projects are for the investors and developers not for the community no matter that the community gets stuck with expanded budgets for infrastructure and maintenance thereafter.

Expanded budgets are tax increases.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

Out of control subsidies:

It's no secret that state and local government employment has nosedived during the current economic crisis. According to the St. Louis Fed, total local government employment has declined from 14,481,000 when the recession began in December 2007 to 14,033,000 in March. State government employment has fallen from 5,139,000 to 5,050,000 over the same period, for a total loss of 537,000 state and local government jobs.

This starkly illustrates the opportunity cost of out-of-control use of subsidies to business at the state and local level. In my academic work, I estimated these to be $48.8 billion a year in 1996, of which $26.4 billion was for investment attraction, and almost $70 billion in 2005, of which $46.8 billion was aimed specifically at investment attraction.

Many critics of investment incentives, such as Alan Peters and Peter Fisher, argue that the money would generally be better spent on education and infrastructure, policies that benefit businesses generally as well as the entire population. My cost estimates show just how true this is.

Total business subsidies could be used to hire 1.4 million government workers at $50,000 per year in salary and benefits. Instead, what we have seen in state after state is that there have been sharp cuts to these very areas, even extending to such economic development crown jewels as the state university systems in California and North Carolina, among others.

This is doubly short-sighted: It weakens the very factors that make a state or locality attractive to investment in the first place, and the state/local economic development subsidies largely cancel each other out with little net effect on the overall location of investment in the country.

From the point of view of the country as a whole, then, most of these subsidies are a waste of money. But changing the way the economic development game is played will require tremendous effort at the local, state, and federal government level.

Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

The bottom line is that new development is costing us money.

Suburban sprawl has been rightly blamed for many things: destroying green space, increasing air and water pollution, fracturing our neighborhoods and forcing us to drive gridlocked roads for every chore. But there is one consequence that usually goes unmentioned - sprawl is draining our pocketbooks and raising our taxes.

Sprawl is the result of over five decades of subsidies paid for by the American taxpayer. These range from the obvious to the obscure and include big projects-like the billions we spend on new roads as well as smaller ones-like the tax-breaks that encourage businesses to move to the edge of town. We've subsidized sprawl at such a basic level for so long, that many people believe the status quo is actually fair and neutral. This is false-what we think of as a level playing field is tilted steeply in favor of sprawling development.

How we subsidize sprawl:

--- building new and wider roads

--- building schools on the fringe

--- extending sewer and water lines to sprawling development

--- extending emergency services to the fringe

--- direct pay-outs to developers

How do we subsidize sprawl? Through an array of state, local and federal programs-and through incentives built into the develop-ment process itself. The biggest federal contribution to sprawl is the billions of dollars spent on building new roads. Over the past 50 years, we have built almost 4 million miles of highways.

Other federal programs are also encouraging sprawl. For years we have subsidized construction in flood plains while making it far too easy to destroy critical wetlands. This encourages the destruction of open spaces and adds to the pressure to sprawl.

Over the past few decades, corporations have become increasingly skilled at playing one community against another in an effort to wrest greater perks from state and local governments. Big-box retailers and isolated business parks are unwittingly subsidized by our own tax dollars.

Sprawl subsidies are also built into the development process itself. Most new, sprawling development costs more to build and service than the taxes or fees it generates. When a new residential or commercial development is built outside of an existing community, roads, sewer systems and water lines have to be built.

As the development expands, it requires schools and emergency services. Where does the money for all this come from? In most cases, neither the developers nor the new residents pay their full, fair share - it is the rest of us who make up the difference.

The bottom line is that new development is costing us money.


Richard Heckler 3 years, 7 months ago

I live in Mayberry as we speak. Mayberry can make more money and tax dollar revenue without flooding the markets.

Tight markets mean higher wages,stronger residential market values, substantial economic growth and and way more dollars per retail square foot.

Greg DiVilbiss 3 years, 7 months ago

It also means higher prices for everything...see Boulder. The median sales price for a home in Boulder is $455,000.00.

You are correct Richard a tighter market does increase values, it also make it impossible to have affordable homes.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.