Archive for Thursday, February 15, 2018

City has limited recourse after 3 acres of neighborhood’s mature trees were bulldozed

A third of a nine-acre plot of land at the southwest intersection of Clinton Parkway and Crestline Drive has recently been bulldozed. The land is pictured, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018.

A third of a nine-acre plot of land at the southwest intersection of Clinton Parkway and Crestline Drive has recently been bulldozed. The land is pictured, Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018.

February 15, 2018


After 3 acres of mature elm, hackberry and Osage orange trees in southwestern Lawrence were bulldozed, there is no guarantee that the longstanding grove will ever be restored.

The owner of the property had the trees cleared after a proposed apartment project failed to win the planning approvals necessary to move forward. Neighbors organized strong opposition to the project, and Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen said she thinks it’s a tragedy that the property owner decided to take such “extreme action."

“When you take this, what I consider to be a retaliatory action, on the property it’s just going to continue to foster bad blood between neighbors,” Larsen said. “I don’t believe it’s the way we should be reacting to this type of situation.”

The trees were bulldozed earlier this month from a site near Clinton Parkway and Crestline Drive even though they fell under the city’s “sensitive lands” regulations. Larsen said the property owners were notified Wednesday that they violated city regulations related to erosion control by clearing the land.

The property is owned by Iowa Street Associates, a company that is in turned owned by a California investment firm, S & P Investment Properties LP. The company has an Overland Park representative, but an attempt to reach him was not immediately successful.

Violation or not, the city’s recourse in such situations is somewhat limited. The city cannot fine the property owner for removing the trees. What the city can do is require that a portion of the trees be replanted under certain circumstances.

Director of Planning Scott McCullough said that if the property is developed in the future, the city can require that some of the trees be replaced, up to 20 percent of the total area of the nine-acre property.

In this particular case, McCullough said trees covered about 3.2 acres, and the sensitive lands designation would have required that about 1.8 acres of trees be preserved. He said that now that most of that 3.2-acre area has been removed, the property owner could be required to plant new trees to get up to that 1.8 acres if the property ever develops in the future.

“We don’t have code authority to require that they go replenish those sensitive lands to their full extent now based on the current code,” McCullough said. “It will be an exercise completed at the time of a development proposal.”

McCullough said that the code would require a 4-inch thick deciduous tree or 8-foot tall evergreen when replacing damaged or destroyed trees.

Meanwhile, apart from a string of trees along the property line, all that remains of the 3-acre grove is a band of overturned dirt. Before they were cleared, the old trees had risen well above the adjacent homes.

The trees bordered the Springwood Heights neighborhood, and residents say they provided a visual and noise buffer from traffic on Clinton Parkway as well as a habitat for animals. Springwood Heights resident David Teska said neighbors were shocked to wake up and find the trees being torn out. Now that the trees are gone, he said not only can they clearly hear all the traffic, but the character of the neighborhood has changed.

“(The removal) broke up the secluded nature of the neighborhood,” Teska said. “And I know that’s a very intangible thing, but it’s one of the reasons why people move to neighborhoods like ours is because of that. And now we’ve got this big open vista that goes all the way to the old Hastings video store.”

McCullough said that while the situation does present a challenge, he sees it as an anomaly and he thinks the city has had success with the sensitive lands standards. When asked whether the code inadvertently creates an incentive for people to just take down trees before a site plan is filed, McCullough said the city has mapped its sensitive lands and could still require that trees be replaced according to the code.

Larsen said she would be open to discussing the city’s options, but that she sees what happened as more of a glitch. She said the city should enforce the replanting requirements that are on the books but that she’s never in a hurry to create additional regulations or fines in such instances.

“You can’t regulate every single twist and turn that somebody is going to try to find to get out of it, but we can put together regulations that provide the level of protection that the citizens want,” Larsen said.


Gary Pomeroy 2 months ago

Permits? We don't need no stinkin' permits!! (for the sarcasm impaired, look it up)

Bob Smith 2 months ago

“...(The removal) broke up the secluded nature of the neighborhood,”..." Guess you can't have everything.

Jeff Dean 2 months ago

Is throwing a temper tantrum a business plan? Make them replant.

David Teska 2 months ago

Jeff, not sure (because I don't know you) if you are serious or trolling or what, but who is throwing a temper tantrum? I know I'm not as aren't any of my neighbors involved in this matter.Thanks for reading the article and giving it a thoughtful review!.

Alex Landazuri 2 months ago

i believe that hes talking about the group that owns the property. based on the documents filed during the now failed project, and some research into said company, it was a firm in CA that was representing an elderly couple from Overland Park who were probably looking to cash in on this before they pass away.

David Teska 2 months ago

What didn't come out in the article was the removal of the trees had both tangible and intangible results - loss of habitat (owls, coyotes, etc.), increased traffic sound. The intangible is the loss of the nature of the community we have here. What is also not known is the effects this altering of the area will have on property value. When asked that of the developer at an open meeting, they admitted they didn't have any data on properly loss due to projects they developed.

Glenda Susie Breese 2 months ago

I totally agree with you on this matter. I would like to point out however is the fact trees are where earth gets its oxygen. Migrating birds will surely miss the roosting place. HAGD everyone and happy exchanges.

RJ Johnson 2 months ago

The property owner can do what they want with their property. They do not need the neighbors permission to cut the trees down! It is going to be developed anyway. That's why they call it an investment property!!

P Allen Macfarlane 2 months ago

Why would you sink money in an investment property if you knew it was given a sensitive lands rating? Unless of course you planned to flagrantly violate the city's codes.

Andrew Applegarth 2 months ago

According to an earlier article, that fact was not revealed to the development group until they had filed plans for their project. There have also been hints that the designation wasn't sought or granted until after the plans were filed as a way to stop the project. Either way, there is no indication that the property was bought with an intent to "flagrantly violate the city's codes".

However, no matter whether they knew in advance of not, it's a brilliant move by development group. The designation does not prevent removal of the trees. Rather, it adds stipulations for replanting some of them when (if?) the property is developed. Thus, if the neighbors want trees replanted, they have to support a project on the property. If they continue to effectively oppose them down, the owner has no compulsion to replant the trees.

You can blame the development group all you want, but it really boils down to a bunch of neighbors trying to control somebody else's property for their personal benefit and now fuming because the owner didn't bow to their wishes for a free noise barrier and playground.

Kay Springer 2 months ago

Welcome to Douglas County where the city and county will micromanage you as well as the community, your neighbors and everybody else who has an opinion wants to tell you what to do with your property. I can't stand it when people try to tell me what to do. I figure the owner of the property feels the same way. Kudos

Whoever buys it will be required to plant a 4" tree every 40 feet and those trees will be selected for beneficial traits. The wild unmanaged mess of scrub trees and brush piles back there were harboring disease spreading vermin. Guaranteed Douglas County and the City of Lawrence will make sure the developer plants a boat load of new quality trees.

Alex Landazuri 2 months ago

we hope the city will do this with whatever new development will go in at that location.

Tony Peterson 2 months ago

Not true. Every property comes with some sort of restriction on what's allowed and not allowed. That's why there are codes in place. If there weren't any you could end up a pig farm 20 feet from your own front door.

Carol Bowen 2 months ago

Surrounding the day care center, cutting down trees - these are SOPs when a developer wants in. It's aggressive. HERE did this. The Target developer and Home Depot did this. Some communities resist, other communities give in.

Richard Heckler 2 months ago

Neighborhoods should beware. Take steps to downzone existing vacant properties.

Andrew Applegarth 2 months ago

People like you are what give HOAs (and Lawrence) such a bad name. You're not satisfied with minding your own business, but want to control all around you. They, their rights, and their property values don't mean a thing to you as long as your own agenda doesn't take a hit.

You're just another example of how being a liberal has morphed from being a person who is generous with their own to a person who is generous with everybody else's.

Dan Eyler 2 months ago

It seems the property owner bulldozed out of spite. But let's not pretend this was prime timber. Basically this is hedge and piss elm as my grandfather called it. If these were good property owners and neighbors they would have allowed people to haul if off for firewood. Either way the trees were coming down. Now or during development. But no one is going to keep thsee types of trees in a developed area or backyard.

Bob Summers 2 months ago

At least the yard refuse from neighbors adjoining the property was cleaned up.

David Teska 2 months ago

Bob, it was never clear (or proven) that nearby residents were dumping yard waster but I guess they could have. It was would be pretty inconvenient to do so, especially if the city picks it up.

P Allen Macfarlane 2 months ago

The city could still take some action based on the effect the bulldozed property will have on offsite movement of sediment, unless the owner put in measures to prevent the loss of soil during storm events.

David Teska 2 months ago

P Allen that's a good observation. The original apartment complex development plan had an underground cistern to capture runoff from the paved surface of the complex; not sure what is in play now - tree planting w/ ground cover to prevent erosion?

Ken Lassman 2 months ago

Since the landowner has the ultimate say whether wildlife habitat is given a place on the property they own, they can also take measures to protect it. There is a growing movement where landowners who value the "green space" and habitat that their land provides to local ecosystems, choose to place a conservation easement on the land, which provides a legal clause that restricts future owners from destroying that quality in the parcel of land. Such "conservation easements" cost money and reduce the resale value of that property because the "development rights" are restricted for future owners, but for some people who really care strongly about the habitat on their property, this is a price worth paying. Similarly, some people are actually drawn to property that can't be developed.

Conservation easements are typically placed on rural property in order to protect environmentally and historically significant land, and organizations such as the Kansas Land Trust are excellent resources for these situations. Applying such a tool to preserve "green space" in more urban settings would be a very specific application, and has some history of being abused by rich folks who want to avoid taxes so they place easements on their golf course, for instance. But it seems like there might be a real opportunity to apply this tool, if well designed, to property owners who want to ensure that part of their property that has become a green corridor be protected into the future. I'm not aware of anyone doing this in the area, but perhaps this is something that could be developed.

It likely wouldn't have been a choice that these out of town investors would have considered in this situation, meaning that these trees were doomed. But it would be interesting if such an option could be developed to see if it takes hold on a voluntary basis. There are lots of landowners who DO want to be good neighbors, and might create building blocks to construct privately held green corridors that could enhance what the city and county can afford to create in their planning process.

Armen Kurdian 2 months ago

I don't like it either. But if he did buy the land to build an apartment building, those trees were coming down anyway. It really sucks for the neighborhood, I would wonder if they could sue the developer that in cutting down the trees he caused a tangible reduction in their property values, but I very much doubt it would even be entertained.

He didn't do anything illegal, but basically being a bad neighbor. I'd almost imagine those homeowners would want something developed there soon to block highway noise and add the seclusion back in.

Steve Mechels 2 months ago

Has anyone contacted KDHE? Did they have an NPDES permit to disturb over one acre of land and a Stormwater Pollution Prevention Plan? (Federal requirements delegated for state enforcement)

Monty Scott 2 months ago

Now that the land is cleared, I say we plow up the lot, plant corn and let the deer and the antelope play. Home, Home on the range! Build it and they will come!

Cadence Wilson 2 months ago

I think the developer should get a medal! Obviously those were racist trees! I just don't understand liberals...If they want trees gone, they call them racist. If they want them to stay, they call them a wildlife habitat. They were a small grove of trees that were going to be gone eventually during development, and replaced with attractive trees where feasible. Here's an idea: if you buy a house, do some research on the future plans of the land surrounding your house. If that land gets developed, don't be a cry baby. Simple enough. I doubt you'd like someone telling you what to do with your land. Does your neighborhood vote everyone plants or takes out a rose bush? GROW UP!

Alex Landazuri 2 months ago

forget your meds today? looks like you did.

Cadence Wilson 2 months ago

Good one! That's some upper-level discourse there!

Alex Landazuri 2 months ago

perfectly matched to your rambling.

Sam Crow 2 months ago

Apparently Alex is unaware that in December the city of Palm Springs CA declared trees planted on a golf course in the 60s were racist. The trees were along a road and the neighborhood had changed to predomintly black over the years.

The 55 year old offending trees were removed, and the city apologized for them being there.

The cost to the taxpayers of removing the racist trees is $169,000.

Alex Landazuri 2 months ago

nope, didnt know that happened. also, i dont really care.

Sam Crow 2 months ago

You sure cared when you made your typically snarky remark about Wilson's post where racist trees were brought up.

Matthew Cosgrove 2 months ago

These NIMBYS in this neighborhood just cant win.

Alex Landazuri 2 months ago

didnt you support the development? apparently you cant win either.

Greg DiVilbiss 2 months ago

First, the headline for this article is terrible. It was not the neighborhood's trees, it was the property owners trees.

I personally hate the unnecessary destruction of trees and personally, I see no reason for those trees to have been removed at this point. However, I am not the property owner.

I would love to know how this particular property got the sensitive land's designation, it was an empty lot.

Secondly, if you move next to an empty lot, you are setting yourself up for disappointment if you think it is always going to remain an empty lot. I personally move into developed neighborhoods so that I know exactly what is going to be next to me. This theme seems to be common here in Lawrence. The only people as far as I know who have taken matters into their own hands was the neighborhood by the orchards golf course where they purchased and got a permanent green easement.So now they have the say of what happens to that area.

So the moral of the story is empty lots don't always stay empty and property owners may not do what you want. (Since it is their property)

Derek Neibarger 2 months ago

You obviously don't live in the neighborhood, which means you don't appreciate the quality of the area and value it the way the residents do. Judging by your words you also wouldn't have been willing to put in the time and effort they did to keep an evil corporation like Gilbane from bullying their way into development by harassing the daycare owners and pushing for the destruction of the treeline. Unlike you, they care about their neighbors and the surrounding area and were willing to fight for it instead of settling. They don't need to get over themselves. Everyone else, like you, needs to grow a spine and follow their example. The whole city would be better for it.

Andrew Applegarth 2 months ago

Well, apparently you didn't appreciate or value it enough to buy the land necessary to maintain it. No, apparently you felt entitled to exploit another person's property for your personal gain (at no cost to you) while opposing their attempt at personal gain from it.

As for the daycare, I wouldn't feel too sorry for them. I can understand holding out for the price you want, but their anger looks like nothing more than sour grapes that their property wasn't as important to the project as they thought. Go read some of their comments, at least the early ones, and they're not complaining about the project. They're just complaining that they didn't get bought out for it.

Derek Neibarger 2 months ago

The owner of the property just made it way harder for him to sell off the land. Serves him right for throwing his destructive little temper tantrum. Small consolation for the wildlife he drove from the area and the property owners whose homes just lost value, but it's something.

Andrew Applegarth 2 months ago

Well, if it going to be hard to sell, why don't you buy it at a discount, replant the trees, restore the quality of the neighborhood, pay the property taxes, and sleep easy knowing the wildlife is safe? Oh yeah, because that would mean you would have to fork out the money for those things you care so much about (when somebody else is paying for them).

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