School board approves tax break for downtown Lawrence condo project

Lawrence USD 497 school board

The Lawrence school board agreed Monday to join the city in providing a tax break for a proposed downtown five-story, mixed-used condominium project.

The board voted, 6-1, for the school district to participate in the Neighborhood Revitalization Area, which will provide Vermont LLC a 10-year, 75 percent rebate on property taxes paid on the value of improvements to the property in the 800 block of Vermont Street. Board member Melissa Johnson voted against the rebate. The Lawrence City Commission voted to approve the city’s participation in the NRA at its Oct. 3 meeting.

The plans of the developer, former City Commissioner Bob Schumm, call for a five-story building with retail space, offices and 12 condos to be built on two vacant lots on Vermont Street. The building would have a one-bedroom condo permanently designated as affordable housing.

Britt Crum-Cano, Lawrence economic development coordinator, told the board the district would benefit from the project despite the rebate because it would keep 25 percent property taxes paid on the value of the project’s improvements.

The district would receive $253,000 more in tax dollars from the project’s improvements during the 10-year rebate period, Crum-Cano said. The big payoff would be realized when the rebate ended, she said, noting the district would receive $641,000 more in taxes the first 15 years after the five-story tower was built.

The district’s 8 mill capital outlay levy will not be part of the rebate program, nor would the top-floor apartment that Schumm plans to use as his residence, Crum-Cano said.

In her comments, board president Shannon Kimball said she is withdrawing the district’s request that the city waive 50 percent of the cost of the building fees associated with projects in the $87 million bond issue voters approved in May. She was withdrawing the request, which would have saved the district about $90,000, because of the reservations Lawrence Mayor Leslie Soden and City Manager Tom Markus expressed, she said. It was never the district’s intent to waive any city requirements or inspections, Kimball said, adding that the district included the full cost of the fees in the bond issue.

The board also approved the guidelines an LGBTQ+ Advisory Group of district teachers, administrators and board members developed during the last year. Advisory group members Jose Cornejo, district mental health facilitator, and Mark Preut, assistant principal of Lawrence High School, said the guidelines require schools to address all forms of bullying and harassment, address students by their preferred names and pronouns, provide access to the locker room that corresponds to a student’s gender identity and allow students to participate in groups or activities that correspond to their gender identities.