Lawsuit filed against city of Lawrence over Queens Road taxing districts
photo by: Mike Yoder
Story updated at 3:56 p.m. Tuesday
The debate about who should pay for the multimillion-dollar reconstruction of Queens Road is moving from City Hall to the courthouse.
A homeowner in the special taxing districts set up to pay for the project has filed a lawsuit against the city and is asking that the project be halted so that the case can be heard. The lawsuit, which was filed by Kurt Schaake in Douglas County District Court last week, claims 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’s attorney, Richard Hird, said that they have asked the court to issue an injunction to stop the city from proceeding with the taxing districts. Hird said they simply want to maintain the status quo until the case is heard.
“I think it’s important that we select the best and most equitable method of paying for improvements like Queens Road, and the purpose of this lawsuit is to make sure that we’re doing that,” Hird said.
A hearing regarding the request was scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. Thursday in Douglas County District Court, but was canceled Tuesday afternoon because the case was reassigned to a different judge. A new hearing was not immediately scheduled.
The lawsuit makes several claims against the city, including that the boundaries and assessment method used for the taxing districts are “arbitrary and capricious,” which would be against requirements under state law.
The city is calculating how much each property owner will pay based on the area of each parcel, with each property owner being charged the same amount per square foot. Hird said that assessment method assumes the benefit from the project is the same for someone who lives right along Queens Road and someone who lives farther from it, which he said doesn’t seem logical. He also noted the boundaries themselves are not symmetrical on both sides of the road.
Schaake declined to comment regarding the case, and city legal staff did not immediately return a phone call from the Journal-World on Tuesday afternoon.
In October, Lawrence city commissioners approved a plan to have nearby property owners pay the majority of the costs for the $5.3 million reconstruction of Queens Road. Homeowners filed protest petitions against the taxing districts, but in December the commission voted to reject the petitions, saying that they fell short of state requirements. State law requires that at least 51 percent of the property owners in the district sign a protest petition and that their properties make up more than half of the geographic area of the taxing district. A city staff review determined that the petitions hadn’t met either of those requirements.
There are two benefit districts that will fund the 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 commission previously agreed 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, according to a staff memo to the commission. The approximately 20 percent remaining will be paid by the single-family homes, amounting to thousands of dollars for most homeowners.
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. Letters to property owners with the final costs would be sent in early 2020, and owners could either pay the full amount all at once or spread it out over 10 years.