City Commission delays decision on HERE @ Kansas parking ‘mess’ for second time

The HERE @ Kansas apartment and retail project at 1111 Indiana St. is seen looking south from the intersection of 11th and Indiana Streets, Monday, March 14, 2016.

The Lawrence City Commission delayed, for a second time, a decision on what commissioners and developers have called a “mess” of a parking situation for a large apartment and retail structure near Kansas University.

After hearing about a parking plan slightly revised from what it had been in January, commissioners again gave direction to developers on how they want it fixed before they’d approve it.

HERE @ Kansas is an under-construction development at 1101 and 1115 Indiana streets that comprises 624 bedrooms and approximately 13,500 square feet of retail space. Under the previous City Commission, it received an incentive package from the city including a 10-year, 85 percent tax rebate.

Developers’ original plan for an automated parking garage for the site was thwarted when the company building it went bankrupt in October. They’ve since been working on a solution to meet the city’s parking requirements with the already-constructed parking deck, which was not built to city standards for a self-park garage.

“This is just a mess I feel like I’m continuing to have to clean up,” said Vice Mayor Leslie Soden, after about two hours of discussion. “I do want to see the project successful, no matter how nasty I may say things. It was stuck in our laps, and we have to make the best of what we can.”

James Letchinger, the president of the company behind HERE, responded, saying: “This is a mess, and I wish I wasn’t involved in it, either.”

“We tried to give you every piece of documentation humanely possible to explain how this works,” Letchinger said. “We’re stuck. We’ve done everything we can to solve our problem.”

Letchinger proposed Tuesday operating the parking deck with valets, which would cut the number of spaces in the garage and put the development about 100 short of what the city requires. Because of the shortfall, Letchinger suggested filling only 592 of 624 bedrooms and not filling any retail space until more parking were secured. Letchinger said he’s close to proposing a solution that would create another 100 spaces, though he didn’t divulge details Tuesday.

Commissioner Matthew Herbert presented another option that the City Commission directed developers to plan: filling only 486 bedrooms and at least some of the retail space by the time the development opens this August. Herbert said he did not want 108 on-street spaces to be counted toward resident parking, but devoted to the retail.

“My concern is, this entire agreement was made with the city based on the notion of this being mixed-use,” Herbert said. “I’ve got to think the [Neighborhood Revitalization Act] would never have happened if they said, ‘Hey, we want to throw up an enormous apartment house.’ What I want to see happen is the mixed-use, from day one.”

Commissioners also told developers they didn’t want an entrance to the parking deck off 11th Street, and instead wanted vehicle elevators added into the garage for valets’ use.

Mayor Mike Amyx reiterated that he wanted the parking spaces and aisles in the garage to be built to city standards, saying, “I really believe in our code.”

But Letchinger said it was impossible with how the columns were built to make the spaces and aisles wide enough to meet code.

“What a mess,” Amyx responded.

The commission is expecting to see the issue again in two weeks, at the latest.

In other business, commissioners:

• Voted 5-0 to allow the Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market to move its Tuesday evening markets to the plaza area near the Lawrence Public Library, 707 Vermont St. Tuesday markets start May 3 and run from 4 to 6 p.m.