City leaders move ahead on $5.3 million Queens Road project; nearby property owners to pay most of costs
photo by: Nick Krug
Property owners near Queens Road in northwest Lawrence will see thousands added to their tax bills to fund improvements to the crumbling roadway.
After years of debate and delay, the Lawrence City Commission on Tuesday voted 4-1, Commissioner Leslie Soden against, to establish two benefit districts to pay for more than $5 million in improvements to Queens Road and its intersection with Sixth Street.
Commissioners agreed that since the city has been using benefit districts to pay for infrastructure in new developments for decades, it would not be fair to deviate from that and have the city, or taxpayers at large, fund a larger portion of the project.
“This resolution, 7267, is consistent with the way we’ve dealt with these things in the past — George Williams Way, Wakarusa (Drive),” Mayor Stuart Boley said. “And consistency is important.”
The formerly rural road — a pothole-riddled, gravel and asphalt-sealed road with open ditches for drainage — runs through more than $100 million in new developments and is meant to be a main roadway in the area. Developers made agreements not to protest the benefit districts years ago when the neighborhoods were planned, and those agreements run with the land and would be included on titles and other paperwork.
There are two benefit districts that together fund the $5.3 million cost of the road, from Sixth Street to Eisenhower Drive, and intersection improvements. Commissioners previously agreed to pay $638,250 toward the project, for the multiuse path and bikes lanes along the road plus the equivalent of what two nearby city-owned properties would have paid if they were included in the benefit districts.
Some homeowners who spoke during public comment Tuesday said they were not aware of the no-protest agreement when they bought their homes, and several asked the city to pay a larger share toward the improvements. Another commenter asked the commission to consider regulations to make sure Realtors inform potential homebuyers about benefit districts.
The city’s contribution represents about 12 percent of the total costs of the road and intersection. The benefit districts include several large commercial and multifamily developments, and those properties will pay for about 67 percent of the costs, according to a staff memo to the commission. Of that amount, The Links, a new apartment complex with more than 600 units, will pay about 26 percent, or $1.36 million total. The approximately 20 percent remaining will be paid by the single-family homes.
Soden suggested significantly shrinking the project. Specifically, Soden suggested closing Queens Road between Fort Benton and Wakarusa drives and having the intersection with Sixth Street be restricted to right-in, right-out instead of adding a traffic signal.
Municipal Services and Operations Deputy Director Chuck Soules said that at some point, Queens Road would extend farther north, tying into North 1700 Road and even the Farmers Turnpike beyond that. He said that those plans are included in the city’s long-term transportation plan, Transportation 2040. Soules noted that completing only portions of Queens Road would not provide the access and connections desired or be in line with the long-term transportation plans.
Vice Mayor Lisa Larsen she was glad that the commission previously voted to increase its share toward the project, and that she realized it’s not as much as some would like. Larsen said she had talked a lot with homeowners in the area and that she took the decision very seriously.
“I’ve really struggled to find out some way to lessen the cost of it and bring in some other ways that we could pay for this,” Larsen said. “But we’re building for the future here, and I think we need to stick with our plan.”
Boley and Larsen both agreed that benefit districts need to be better communicated to potential homebuyers. The first no-protest agreements date back 18 years, and Boley also said part of the problem was that the city delayed the project for so many years. Larsen said that developers and Realtors did a disservice by not making sure all buyers were aware of the no-protest agreements, and that the city needs to make sure they are up front with that information in the future.
Commissioner Jennifer Ananda said she heard the concerns of homeowners and it wasn’t a decision she made lightly. But she noted that single-family homeowners will only be paying 20 percent of the costs, and that the commission did need to stick to its transportation plans and consider future development in the area.
Commissioner Matthew Herbert also said he was fully aware of the implications that the commission’s decision had on people’s lives, especially retired people living on a fixed income. However, to be fair, Herbert said the commission needs to proceed with the benefit district just as it has with others. He added that he thinks the commission needs to keep the situation in mind when it considers future annexations of land into the city for development.
“That’s a conversation that needs to have a whole lot more weight to it, because as a result of growth, these conversations end up happening,” Herbert said. “And sometimes that can gets kicked down the road for 18 years, and so those conversations happen with people who had no idea that conversation was going to happen.”