Queens Road taxing districts don’t restrict property use, judge rules; hearing for request to halt project upcoming

photo by: Mike Yoder

Queens Road is pictured on Nov. 29, 2018.

Though one claim against the City of Lawrence related to the controversial Queens Road taxing districts has been dismissed, the larger questions remain regarding whether the districts were improperly set up and whether the project could be temporarily halted so the case can be heard.

In Douglas County District Court Thursday, Judge Amy Hanley ruled on two aspects of the case, one in favor of the city and the other in favor of a homeowner in the special taxing districts who filed a lawsuit against the city.

In January, homeowner Kurt Schaake filed a lawsuit claiming that the taxing districts, under which property owners near Queens Road would pay most of the cost of the improvements, are inequitable and not in line with state law. Schaake also claimed that the taxes restrict the use of the properties and requested that the project be halted so that the case can be heard, counts that the city asked the court to dismiss at Thursday’s hearing.

Specifically, Schaake claims that the special taxes constitute an “inverse condemnation” of the properties in the taxing districts, alleging that the tax lien placed on the properties creates a legal restriction on the use of the property. Schaake’s attorney, Richard Hird, told Hanley that having the special taxes placed on the property means that it is no longer freely transferable.

“The idea that the City of Lawrence can impose a tax and say it doesn’t impact the use (of the property) is clearly untrue,” Hird said.

Deputy City Attorney Randall Larkin told Hanley that assessing taxes does not constitute “taking” a property under the law or restrict the use of the property. Larkin cited a case, Allison v. Board of County Commissioners of Johnson County, in which it was ruled that levying of taxes didn’t qualify as taking land without just compensation.

Hanley ultimately ruled that the special assessments don’t qualify as a restriction on the use of the property, and therefore ruled in favor of the city’s motion to dismiss that claim. She also agreed that the Allison case indicates that the levying of special assessments doesn’t constitute an actual taking of land.

Larkin also asked that Hanley dismiss the request for a temporary injunction halting the project because he said the petition was not properly filed with the court and relied on another referenced document. Hanley said that because the referenced document was also filed with the court and sufficiently laid out the claims, the petition was in line with legal requirements, and she therefore denied the city’s motion.

Two benefit districts will fund the $5.3 million Queens Road project: one that funds the $4.85 million reconstruction of Queens Road itself, from Sixth Street to Eisenhower Drive; and another that funds $450,000 of improvements to the intersection at Sixth Street and Queens Road, including the addition of a traffic signal.

The city is going to pay about $640,000 toward the project, or about 12 percent of the total costs of the road and intersection. The commercial and multifamily developments will pay for about 67 percent of the costs. The approximately 20 percent remaining will be paid by the single-family homes, which amounts to thousands of dollars for most homeowners.

Thursday’s hearing was only for the city’s motions and did not discuss the claims against the city regarding the taxing districts themselves, which allege that the boundaries and assessment method used are arbitrary and don’t comply with state law. The city has denied those claims and says instead that the districts are reasonable and lawful.

Bidding for the project is scheduled to occur in April or May, with construction beginning in early summer, according to an approximate timeline for the project. The timeline calls for letters to property owners with the final costs to be sent in early 2020, after which owners could either pay the full amount all at once or spread it out over 10 years.

A hearing for Schaake’s request for a temporary injunction to delay the finalization of the taxing districts so that the lawsuit can be heard is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Feb. 25.

Recent coverage

Jan. 30, 2019 — In response to lawsuit, city denies claims that Queens Road taxing districts are unlawful

Jan. 22, 2019 — Lawsuit filed against city of Lawrence over Queens Road taxing districts

Dec. 4, 2018 — Lawrence City Commission denies Queens Road protest petitions, finalizes special taxing districts

Dec. 2, 2018 — Neighbors file protest petitions against Queens Road tax districts; city staff says that isn’t enough to stop the process

Oct. 21, 2018 — Debate over multimillion-dollar Queens Road benefit districts raises questions for all homebuyers

Oct. 3, 2018 — City leaders move ahead on $5.3 million Queens Road project; nearby property owners to pay most of costs

Oct. 1, 2018 — Lawrence City Commission to decide who will see tax bill increase for Queens Road

Sept. 3, 2018 — Lawrence City Commission to consider benefit district boundaries for Queens Road

Aug. 17, 2018 — Town Talk: Hundreds of unsuspecting homeowners may see tax bills rise to pay for northwest Lawrence road project


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