It is going to take more than old-fashioned pedal power to make Lawrence into a first-rate bicycle-friendly community. City Commissioner Bob Schumm suspects it will it take a bit of tax increase too.
Schumm at Tuesday evening's Lawrence City Commission meeting urged commissioners to consider a half-mill property tax increase in 2015 to fund a variety of projects related to bicycle paths, sidewalk repairs and other improvements that would make the public less reliant on motorized transportation.
"We could have a real network for nonmotorized transportation," Schumm said. "Everything we have right now is too piecemeal."
A half-mill property tax increase likely would generate about $450,000 in funding in 2015. Schumm said that over a 10-year period the dedicated funding source could lead to substantial projects and could be used to help leverage numerous grant opportunities for bicycle and sidewalk projects.
An increase of a half-mill in the city's tax rate would add about $8.60 to the annual property tax bill of a $150,000 home in the city.
A large crowd showed up at City Hall Tuesday to support the idea of more bicycle funding being included in the city's budget. Michael Almon, a leader of the Lawrence-based Sustainability Action Network, urged commissioners to spend about $2 million a year on bicycle-related projects in the city. He said the city has talked for years about a creating a network of bicycle routes and paths, but the system doesn't work well for bicyclists who want to rely less on cars.
"Bicycles traditionally have been viewed here as recreation rather than transportation," Almon said.
Commissioners took no action on Schumm's funding request. Instead, it will be considered during budget deliberations that will take place through July at City Hall. Commissioners are scheduled to conduct their first study session for the 2015 budget on Tuesday.
In other news, commissioners:
• Approved a city advisory board's recommendations on funding allocations for the Community Development Block Grant and HOME funds that the city receives from the federal government.
• Agreed to add the Haskell French House, 1300 Haskell Ave., and the John G. Haskell House, 1340 Haskell Ave., to the Lawrence Register of Historic Places.
• Approved on second and final reading a rezoning ordinance that would allow a 108-room hotel to be built as part of the Bauer Farm development near Sixth and Overland Drive. Commissioners approved the rezoning on first reading last week, but on Tuesday heard concerns from Lawrence Public Schools Supt. Rick Doll about a hotel being located so close to Free State High School. Commissioners agreed to the rezoning but directed staff members to bring back any final development plans for the property for future City Commission approval. Currently, the development group does not have a developer for the hotel project.
City commissioners noted the zoning ordinance does prohibit a traditional bar from being located in the hotel. Any drinking establishment in the hotel would be required to make at least 55 percent of all its sales from food.