Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Area bridegrooms have it easy these days. It used to be that planning a wedding involved so much running around that you would ruin a perfectly good set of radials. (As I’ve explained many times, that’s why I bought her a new set of Goodyears for our first anniversary.)
But now there has been a new development in the world of local wedding planning. J. Lynn Bridal has opened up a full service bridal and wedding shop in the Holiday Plaza shopping center at 2449 South Iowa Street. The shop has a heavy emphasis on dresses, tuxedos and other such nuptial accessories. More on the new business in a moment. But first I want to help area grooms. Think of what is located just across the parking lot from the new bridal store. First, there is Kief’s Audio and Video, where you can pick up some new audio equipment for the reception. Then, there is Biggs BBQ, where you can sample and order the several hundred slabs of ribs that will be needed for the reception meal. And finally, there is Sunflower Pawn, where you can get the gifts for the wedding party. Wedding planning done in about an hour. She’ll be so surprised.
I suppose you could run the plan by the folks at J. Lynn, if you feel you must. The new business — which opened about two weeks ago — also provides wedding consulting services.
Owner Jena Lynn Dick said she decided to open the shop after seeing so many people travel to Kansas City or elsewhere to do their wedding shopping. She’s confident a bridal shop can do well in Lawrence because the city seems to be gaining quite the reputation as a wedding location.
“I really couldn’t believe that Lawrence didn’t have anything like this,” Dick said. “With the university, lots of people keep KU near and dear to their hearts and want to get married here. It is really a neat city for weddings.” Dick — who grew up in Lawrence — said the shop offers bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, mother’s dresses, flower girl dresses, shoes and accessories, tuxedo and suit rentals, and seamstress services. The business also will take on entire event planning.
The business also carries a line of prom and formal wear dresses.
If City Manager David Corliss has his way, property tax bills in Lawrence may go up just a bit in 2014.
Corliss is in the process of preparing his recommended 2014 city budget, but he has provided city commissioners a peek at one of the bottomline numbers. Corliss is forecasting that his recommended budget will call for at least a 0.4 mill increase in the city’s property tax rate, mainly to pay for four new positions in the city-county 911 center, for increased overtime costs for the police department and for additional equipment in the public works department.
In case your abacus is acting up in the heat, let me take my shoes off and do the math for you. A 0.4 mill increase would amount to an extra $9.20 a year in property taxes for the owner of a $200,000 home.
But as the saying goes at City Hall, the city manager proposes and the City Commission disposes. In other words, just because Corliss is recommending a mill levy increase doesn’t mean that City Commissioners will approve one.
Corliss is scheduled to provide a budget update to commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting. But most of the heavy budget lifting for the commission comes after Corliss releases his recommended budget, which is scheduled to happen in the last week of June. Commissioners then have until early August to finalize the budget for 2014.
There are still several questions outstanding on what else will be included in Corliss’ recommended budget. Budget-makers will have to make some decisions related to the budget for the Lawrence Public Library. Leaders at the library have asked for about $173,000 in additional funding for its operations. The library’s mill levy is separate from the city’s general fund mill levy, but both are controlled by city commissioners. Corliss didn’t provide a forecast for what may happen to that mill levy, but staff members previously have said the additional funding would either require a mill levy increase or a draw down of the library’s reserve funds. In other words, the total increase in the tax rate for city property owners may be more than 0.4 mill, depending on what happens to the library fund.
A mill levy increase for the library shouldn’t really catch anybody by surprise. During the bond election, library supporters said they would need a mill levy increase for both the construction of the expanded library and for the operations of the larger facility. Thus far, city commissioners have mainly just increased the mill levy to cover the construction costs but not the operational costs. The library is expected to move into the larger facility in 2014.
If the city’s mill levy does increase, it will continue a trend. The city’s property tax rate has increased each of the last two years, mainly due to increased spending to add more police officers and the voter-approved $19 million library expansion. The increases ended a period in the mid-to-late 2000s where the mill levy either held steady or declined. Here’s a look at mill levy rates:
• 2003: 28.09
• 2004: 27.86
• 2005: 26.36
• 2006: 26.36
• 2007: 26.79
• 2008: 26.65
• 2009: 26.69
• 2010: 26.69
• 2011: 28.61
• 2012: 29.53.
It is also worth noting that in 2008, city voters approved three new sales taxes — two for public transit and one for infrastructure — that took significant pressure off the city’s property.
It will be interesting to see if city commissioners balk at any increase in the mill levy this year, or whether they are willing to live with a small increase. An increase this year will come on the heels of the city’s decision to use recently unencumbered sales tax dollars to pay for a $25 million recreation center and infrastructure for the KU-oriented Rock Chalk Park project. City commissioners resisted calls to use those recently unencumbered sales tax dollars to fund other city budget priorities.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall.
As my wife sometimes tells our kids — and often tells me — we’re going to nip this in the bud. (We start taking her seriously when she says it with actual nippers in her hand.)
Discovery Furniture has announced a major moving and expansion project for its Topeka store, but the move is not affecting its location on South Iowa Street in Lawrence.
There perhaps has been some confusion about that. The company is currently running a “moving sale” that includes its Lawrence location. That, coupled with some advertisements about the larger Topeka store, has caused some people to come under the false impression that the Discovery store in Lawrence is moving to Topeka. I received a phone call about that, and a store manager said she had heard some of that as well. Jess Bundy, store manager at the Lawrence location, said business has been good at the furniture center that technically houses the Discovery, RoomMakers and Mattress Headquarters furniture businesses in the large building that used to be occupied by Food-4-Less.
The big news for the company, though, is what is going on in Topeka. The company is in the process of leaving its Wanamaker Drive location and moving into the former Macy’s location in the Westridge Mall. The new location represents a large expansion in showroom space and will be marketed as the Kansas Furniture Mall. It will have all three of the furniture business that are located in Lawrence, but it also will have the Marlings furniture business in it as well.
Many of you will remember Marlings furniture was a mainstay in the Lawrence furniture market for decades, before it closed its Lawrence store and focused on the Topeka market several years ago.
Bundy said there aren’t any plans currently to bring the Marlings name and furniture line back to Lawrence, but my understanding is the Discovery folks now control that brand, so who knows what the future may bring.
Bundy said the Lawrence store, however, will be getting a new manager soon, as she transitions over to the larger Topeka operation.
Maybe it's time for me to bring back the mullet, and for my wife to break out the legwarmers. We’ll once again have the soundtrack to fit our ultra-cool look.
A local radio executive has launched a Lawrence-based Internet radio station that plays pop hits from the ‘70s, ‘80s, and ‘90s. (I realize mullets and legwarmers are mainly from the ‘80s and ‘90s era, but I don’t know what you guys had going on in the ‘70s, and I’m not sure I want to know.)
Jay Wachs, the former general manager of Great Plains Media — which runs 105.9 KISS, 1320 KLWN and other stations — has launched lawrencehits.com.
The station certainly is a new twist for Lawrence radio — starting with that it is not on the radio. But it is available anywhere you can access the Internet — on your computer, your iPad, your smartphone or your tablet. The station also is available on the smartphone app Shoutcast, but Wachs said the station is developing its own app as well.
The programming model for the station also provides a twist. From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., it will be a constant barrage of ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s music — everything from the Bee Gees to Madonna to Mariah Carey, Wachs says. (That’s not exactly the trio that us fellows with mullets would cite, but you get the point.) The station will sell advertising, but Wachs said his plan is to have about half as many advertisements as a traditional radio station.
During the evening hours, Wachs is developing a system in which local residents can buy their own radio time by the hour to produce their own shows. It could be music-oriented, it could be business-oriented, or I suppose it could even be mullet-oriented. At the moment, Wachs said an hour of time costs about $25.
During the overnight hours — midnight to 6 a.m. — Wachs is working to develop a local music program. He said he is currently going to the various local music venues in Lawrence to start recruiting bands and musicians that can provide a cache of music for the program.
At the moment, the radio station doesn’t have any local disc jockeys, but by the time the new school year begins, Wachs expects that to change. He said providing truly locally produced shows is at the heart of his strategy.
“There is a big movement in the radio industry to move away from live and local programming and toward syndicated and network-style programming,” Wachs said. “People are getting laid off, and with fewer people at the local level, what gets lost is the local content.”
It will be interesting to watch this station venture and how it evolves. Wachs said his plan is for the station to be mainly entertainment-based — rather than news or talk-radio, for example — but he said the station may try to develop a weather department.
And get this, the station already has brought back a blast from the past: The old time and temperature telephone number. People can call 749-1200 and hear what time it is, what the temperature is and what the forecast is for the next 48 hours.
As for the idea of radio stations succeeding on the Internet, there are several national Internet radio services. Local-oriented Internet radio is less common, but Wachs thinks the industry may be ripe for a change. Wachs, who has been in the radio business for 28 years, said the model of Internet radio already works well for people who want to listen at home or at work. He said auto companies increasingly are adding options to allow people to plug their smartphones or tablets into the speaker systems of their cars, which means Internet radio will work in vehicles too.
“I don’t think terrestrial radio signals are ever really going to go away,” Wachs said. “But we are moving toward a digital world. I think more and more people will be getting their radio and television through the Internet.”
It will be interesting to watch. So will Massachusetts Street tonight. All this talk of ‘80s and ‘90s music has got me in my cruising mood. Perhaps I’ll shine up the F150 today, grow a mullet this afternoon, and dust off the old letter jacket this evening. Look for me. The F150 doesn’t have the fancy smart phone or tablet technology, so I’ll be the guy with the really long modem cord.
Briefly, while we’re on the subject of radio: I’m also hearing talk that there is an effort in its early stages to bring a low-powered community radio station to Lawrence.
Local resident Steve Stemmerman confirmed to me that he and a few other residents are beginning to go through the process to apply for the appropriate FCC licensing for a low-power community-access radio station. Stemmerman, however, didn’t want to say much about the efforts at the moment. He said the group is working to find support from a local nonprofit organization. It has been a while since I’ve checked in on the effort, so I’ll get back in touch and try to provide an update in the next few days.
This is fair warning to all you K-10 commuters who may stop at the McDonald’s in De Soto to get your morning caffeine fix: By Thursday morning, the restaurant will be rubble. (Perhaps like you without caffeine.)
Lawrence-based Dobski & Associates, the owner of the area McDonald’s franchise, has confirmed it will tear down the De Soto store on Thursday morning and begin building a larger McDonald’s that is expected to open in late September.
The new store will have seating for 89 people, up from 40 in the current restaurant. Other design features:
• Free Wi-Fi Internet service and a host of electrical outlets designed for customers to recharge their laptops.
• A side-by-side double drive-thru window system to increase drive-thru capacity.
• A special third window designed to serve customers who have to wait for a special order. (Perhaps caffeine-laced french fries. They can’t do that, can they?)
Michael Dobski, owner/operator of the De Soto location and son of Dobski & Associate founders Tom and Marilyn Dobski, said the De Soto restaurant was 22 years old and the decision was made that the restaurant needed an expansion and update.
The store has about 30 employees, and Dobski spokesman Patrick Manning said those employees will be transferred to other Dobski-owned McDonald's restaurants during the construction period.
The new restaurant will be on the same site as the current McDonald’s, which is along Kansas Highway 10, just east of the primary De Soto interchange.
Being a pioneer in a new industry can be a bit like taking a ride in my old F150: It can get mighty bumpy, and you’re wishing you would have known beforehand that the brakes sometimes don’t work.
Scott Zaremba, owner of the Lawrence-based Zarco 66 gasoline and convenience store chain, has been a pioneer in the industry of E15 ethanol. As we’ve previously reported, Zaremba’s Zarco chain became the first in the country to sell the E15 product, which is gasoline that contains 15 percent ethanol rather than the more standard blend of 10 percent ethanol.
According to an article this week from the news organization Reuters, Zaremba is finding out how rough the ride can be in the E15 industry. The article paints a picture of some of the largest companies on the planet — oil companies like Exxon, Chevron, BP, and Phillips 66 — taking aim at the E15 industry. Zaremba and his Zarco stations, apparently, have become one of the first targets.
Phillips 66 has sent Zaremba a new set of regulations on how he must sell the E15 product in order to stay in compliance with his marketing contract with Phillips 66. The end result has been Zaremba stopped selling the E15 product at his stations last month. It is estimated there are now fewer than 30 stations nationwide that sell the product.
The new protocols would require Zaremba to add special yellow hoses to all his pumps to dispense the E15 product. Previously, Zarco dispensed the product through the same hose that carried traditional unleaded gasoline, which has up to 10 percent ethanol in it.
Zaremba said adding the hoses would cost several hundred thousand dollars. In the Reuters article, Phillips 66 officials said the change is about ensuring motorists know that they are buying a different product than traditional gasoline. The article notes that use of E15 can void the warranty of many vehicles that are older than 2013 models.
But Zaremba told me he’s convinced the new regulations are part of an effort by Big Oil to nip the E15 trend in the bud. Zaremba said the stakes are significant for Big Oil because E15, if widely adopted, could reduce the oil company’s market share in the gasoline industry by 5 percent. In addition, it would create new competitive pressures that, in theory, would help control the upward price pressures in gasoline.
“I’ve had people complain to me for 40 years about the price of fuel,” Zaremba said. “I tell them we need to find something different. That is what we’re trying to do.”
Zaremba, who also is an advocate for biodiesel, compressed natural gas and other fuel alternatives, said he knows ethanol has received some negative publicity because of the impact it may have on the country’s food supply and the amount of water it takes to produce.
But he said the potential is strong for ethanol to be produced from other nonfood-producing crops, if the ethanol market can withstand the negative publicity that he believes is being generated by the Big Oil companies.
Zaremba, who is the president of the state’s petroleum marketers association and also an officer with the national trade group, said the figures he’s seen indicate the big oil companies will spend tens of millions of dollars this year lobbying against the E15 product.
“I understand what is going on,” Zaremba said. “If you were making a billion dollars a quarter, would you want some little guy from Kansas trying to change your dynamic? Of course you wouldn’t. Would you try to create every negative article you could to protect your product? I bet you would.”
As for the future of E15 in Lawrence, Zaremba said he’s not sure at the moment. He said he hasn’t yet filed any legal action against Phillips 66, but said he’s still crafting a strategy that would allow him to resume selling the product at some point.
“When you are the first, it is never easy,” Zaremba said. “That’s where we are right now. But I chose this path because I believe we have to do something different.”
A Lawrence resident with experience as a fundraiser for nonprofit agencies has been named the new executive director of Downtown Lawrence Inc.
Sally Zogry has been selected by the Downtown Lawrence Inc. board to replace retiring director Cathy Hamilton. Zogry currently is the development officer for the Kansas Historical Foundation in Topeka and formerly worked as the development director for Lawrence-based Health Care Access.
Zogry will start work July 1. Hamilton has agreed to stay on the job through July 19, which will allow Zogry to receive some on-the-job training during the busy time period of Downtown Lawrence’s annual sidewalk sale, which is set for July 18.
Expect to see a few hundred enthusiasts of both Elvis and running in downtown Lawrence on June 22. A group of area Rotary Clubs will host a unique event: Elvis Visit to End Polio Now.
The event is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at Watson Park with a 5K walk and run that will travel around the park and through the Old West Lawrence neighborhood. (Just to be clear, you don’t have to wear an Elvis costume to run, but all the cool kids will be.) The Rotary Clubs that evening will host a concert by noted Elvis tribute artist Joseph Hall at 7:30 p.m. at the Lied Center. Unless you are like me, the 5K run and walk shouldn’t take you until 7:30. (In my defense, blue suede shoes, a guitar, and 15 pounds of hair oil will slow a guy down.) Organizers will provide lunch to the runners, host several Elvis-themed contests, and also have some tours of Lawrence set up for out-of-town visitors to enjoy before the concert.
The event is part of Rotary’s effort to eradicate polio, which is known to still exist in three countries: Pakistan, Nigeria and Afghanistan. Rotary has made eradicating polio by 2018 a major international mission for years, but this is the first time they have enlisted the help of the King. The idea of combining the worldwide brand of Elvis with the worldwide effort to end polio was the brainchild of Lawrence Rotarian Bob Swan.
“I just felt like we needed a new tool to fight polio,” said Swan, a member of Lawrence’s Central Rotary Club. “We need to do something to get the support of nonRotarians.”
Swan had seen Hall — who was a finalist on the television program America’s Got Talent — perform several time at Branson, Mo. Swan figured nothing packs in a crowd like Elvis, so he began planting the seed of an Elvis-themed fundraising event.
Members of about a dozen area Rotary Clubs have helped organize the event. Proceeds from both the concert and the run will go to Rotary’s worldwide fund to fight polio. Swan said he hopes the event will raise several thousand dollars, and will become a model for area Rotary clubs across the country to use in fundraising.
But if Elvis isn’t your thing, there will be another celebrity of a sorts on hand. Mary Jean Eisenhower, a granddaughter of President Dwight D. Eisenhower, is lending her support to the event. Eisenhower — who is a Kansas City area resident and has been a leader of the People to People International organization founded by her grandfather — is a polio survivor, and plans to be on hand for both the race and the concert event.
People interested in more information on either the race or the concert, can find additional details at elvisendspolio.org.
Lawrence city commissioners at their meeting tonight are being asked to give final approval for the group’s use of Watson Park for the race and associated events. The item is on the city’s consent agenda, so approval is not expected to be a problem.
UPDATE: Since we're talking about Elvis, I also put a call into Downtown Lawrence Inc. to see if it was again planning to host its Elvis Spectacular, an event where numerous Elvis personalities come to downtown. Well, you are in luck King fans. The second annual event is set for Sept. 28. It will be held in conjunction with the Rev It Up car show that is held in and along South Park. Look for more details as the event gets closer. But DLI director tells me the event will be celebrating the 50th anniversary of "Viva Las Vegas."
The national attention on the Oklahoma City tornadoes has begun to fade a bit, but the tragedies still are very much are on the mind of one Lawrence city commissioner.
Commissioner Jeremy Farmer vowed shortly after the storms to make improving storm shelter availability in Lawrence a major issue during his four-year term. He plans to get started on the subject by convening his own task force on the topic on Thursday.
Farmer will host a meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday at Lawrence High School for anyone interested in serving on a task force that will examine ways the city could better ensure that residents have a safe place to take shelter from a storm.
Currently, there are no public tornado shelters available in Lawrence, none of the Lawrence Public Schools have FEMA-approved safe rooms and Farmer believes many businesses don’t have adequate shelter areas for employees and customers.
“I really want to focus on what we can do to make the community safer and what we can do to make our schools safer too,” said Farmer, who was elected to the commission in April.
He said two school board members tentatively have agreed to come to Thursday’s meeting. As we've previously reported, other school districts in the area — most notably Baldwin City, Eudora and the private Bishop Seabury Academy — have won grants to build significant FEMA-approved concrete-encased safe rooms at several of their facilities.
Farmer said he is still uncertain about an idea requiring all new homes to be built with storm shelters, although he said he wants to hear what task force members think.
“My inclination is that it is really hard to legislate a change in the development code that all houses built from this point forward have a place to go,” Farmer said. “I think it would be good to make it a strong suggestion, but to make it a requirement that could stop people from building a new home, I’m not sure of that.”
That will be an issue the local building community will want to watch, and it may be a bit ticklish. No one wants to come out against people having a place to take shelter in a storm, but adding safe rooms for new construction could add several thousand dollars to the price of a new home.
The idea of creating a network of publicly accessible storm shelters throughout the community could be an interesting one, too. The number of public shelters needed to adequately cover the entire community would be very large. An emergency management official has told me that FEMA recommends that effective public shelters need to be within five minutes of a person’s home.
If local officials find that standard unworkable, they could choose to build shelters in the most vulnerable areas of town — but how they determine those areas could be tricky. Previously there have been suggestions that mobile home parks be required to have a storm shelter for residents.
Even if city officials do settle on some shelter locations, there still will be the issue of who is responsible for running the shelters. That’s no small task. Essentially, someone always will have to be ready to unlock the doors during the event of a storm. Plus, in a previous interview, Jillian Rodrigue, assistant director of Douglas County Emergency Management, brought up a point I hadn’t thought of: Somebody also has to be responsible for locking the door when a storm is bearing down upon a shelter. Think about that for a second: People are still pulling into the parking lot but the storm is nearing. Someone with some training will have to make the call of when the door must be locked to preserve the safety of those inside.
But other communities figure out how to deal with these type of issues, and I suspect the task force will spend some time researching what other communities do. Farmer said he envisions the task force could have 25 to 30 people on it. He said he will start recruiting members — depending on who shows up to Thursday’s meeting — to ensure that it has a good mix of interested citizens and professionals. He will be looking for architects, construction engineers and others with technical expertise. Farmer hopes to have a set of recommendations to deliver to the other city commissioners by the end of the year.
“We’ll have to go into this understanding that everything will cost money that we don’t have,” Farmer said. “Is this something that people in our community will support? I think they will. We just have to package it in the right way.”
Despite an earlier exit by the Jayhawks in the NCAA basketball tournament this year, Lawrence residents still did a pretty decent job of buying veggie trays, guacamole dip, crimson and blue face paint, beer koozies, extra televisions for the bathrooms, 50-foot Jayhawk yard inflatables and all the other standard March Madness purchases. (My list probably misses a couple of items for your typical basketball party, but I didn’t want to be accused of going overboard.)
City officials have received their latest sales tax report, which covers mid-March through mid-April. Even though the Jayhawks’ run in the tournament ended a few games earlier than the 2012 trip to the championship game, sales totals for the period were off by only 0.1 percent.
The report found that retailers did about $111.9 million in sales for the period, down from about $112.1 million during the same period a year ago.
As usual, it is never wise to put too much stock in one month’s worth of sales tax data, so let’s take a look at the broader picture. The most recent report represented the fifth of 12 sales tax reports for the year, and, thus far, sales in the city are up about 2.4 percent compared to the same period a year ago.
Taxable sales in the city check in at about $568 million through the May reporting period, up from about $554 million a year ago. The totals represent a slowdown in the growth rate from a year ago, when retail sales grew by a little more than 5 percent, and from the 2011 growth rate of 4.5 percent. Lawrence’s growth rate of 2.4 percent is just a bit behind the statewide average of 2.7 percent. As for how Lawrence stacks up to some of the larger retail centers in the state, here’s a look:
• Emporia: up 2.2 percent
• Hays: up 2.3 percent
• Kansas City: up 4.3 percent
• Manhattan: down 3.4 percent
• Olathe: up 2.9 percent
• Ottawa: up 4.2 percent
• Overland Park: up 2.9 percent
• Salina: up 1.0 percent
• Shawnee: up 4.5 percent
• Topeka: down 0.2 percent
The latest numbers also show that the Douglas County communities of Baldwin City and Eudora also are having nice years thus far on the retail front. Sales tax collections in Baldwin City are up 6.8 percent, and in Eudora collections are up about 15 percent.
Forget about the city waiting for its ship to come in. Its train finally has arrived.
Lawrence officials have been awarded a federal transportation grant that will pay for 80 percent of the approximate $1.5 million cost to renovate the Santa Fe depot in East Lawrence.
The 1950s-era depot at Seventh and New Jersey streets would receive a major makeover with that level of funding. The building, currently owned by the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad, long has needed a new roof, new heating and cooling systems and other mechanical repairs. But with the grant money, improvements to parking and other improvements also are likely. The station already has received $1.5 million in upgrades to its boarding platform from Amtrak to help make the station ADA compliant.
Now city officials will need to restart discussions with the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway about purchasing the depot. The railroad previously has expressed interest in selling the station to the city for a nominal amount. There have been conditions — such as the railway not wanting to sell the ground the station is on, and the need for the city to accept any environmental liability that exists on the property — that are likely to require more discussion. But city staff members have said indicated railway officials are still open to negotiation on the purchase terms.
The city also will have to come up with a little more than $300,000 in local money to meet the 20 percent matching requirement of the grant. That probably will be an unexpected expense in the 2014 budget, but it is a one-time expense, and the city previously has made it a priority to find money to take advantage of federal grants. What won’t be a one-time expense will be the city’s costs to maintain, heat and cool the building. Those expenses will have to be built into future budgets.
It also will be interesting to see if the city starts looking for additional uses for the building. Its main use will continue to be as a train depot, particularly for the Southwest Chief Amtrak train that comes through the city twice daily. The city, however, had been seeking other uses for the building, in part to improve the building’s chances of receiving grants. A plan to make the depot the central station for the city’s bus system was considered but ultimately rejected because of space concerns and objections from several neighbors.
Now that the building seems to have a much brighter future, I wouldn't be surprised if other groups start getting more serious about ways that they can use the building during the day. The Amtrak stops are late at night and early in the morning, leaving the station largely unused during normal business hours.
Based on the terms of the grant, the city needs to have a renovation project underway by September 2014. The grant the city received was a Transportation Enhancement grant, which is funded with federal dollars but is awarded by the Kansas Department of Transportation. I’m a bit surprised the TE grant program didn’t become wrapped up in the federal sequestration, but it appears it hasn’t.
The depot project was the largest TE grant project the city applied for in this funding cycle. But there were others, and there is good news on those fronts, as well. City officials have received word they’ve received Transportation Enhancement funding for two other projects:
• A grant of $218,838 to extend the paved Burroughs Creek Rail Trail from 23rd Street to 29th Street. The trail — which runs along the eastern edge of Haskell Indian Nations University — currently exists as a paved gravel path. The funding will allow the route to be paved, similar to the Burroughs Creek Rail Trail that is just north of 23rd Street. In case you are having a hard time picturing the area, it is just below the recently-replaced 23rd Street bridge. That project included a new parking area for people to access the trails. Like the depot grant, the city will need to come up with a 20 percent match in local funds — about $43,000 for this project.
• A grant of $55,000 to restore some old stone monuments at the entrance of the historic Breezedale neighborhood just south of 23rd and Massachusetts streets. The city will need to provide a 20 percent match, or about $11,000.
City commissioners will be asked to formally accept the grants at a future City Commission meeting.
West Lawrence spa to open with new concept that combines hair and beauty, chiropractic and meal programs
My wife tells me I don’t know anything about spas. Once again this summer, our two kids are raising pigs for the Douglas County Fair, and I tell my wife all the time to come out to the pen with us. It is a great way to get a mud bath.
Somehow, I think she is going to be more interested in a new business venture in West Lawrence. A pair of sisters is teaming up to open a new spa that combines everything from chiropractic care to hair and beauty treatments to a nutritious meals program.
la Bella Vita Studios and Rodrock Chiropractic are set to open early next month in a 4,000-square-foot space at 1440 Wakarusa Drive. In case you are having a hard time picturing that, it is the building just north of the Social Security Administration office at Bob Billings and Wakarusa. The space previously was occupied by a women’s health care group.
“We’re trying to create a concept that is about total body wellness,” said Kristie Denham, owner of the la Bella Vita side of the business. “My sister is working on the inside, and I’m working on the external beauties.”
On the la Bella Vita side of the business, Denham will have six studios that she will rent out to independent beauticians who will run their own small businesses out of the space. Those are expected to include hair, nail, skin care, waxing and facial services. Denham is a longtime hair stylist who will be moving her hair studio, currently located in the 700 block of Massachusetts Street, to the new location.
Denham’s sister, Amelia Rodrock, will run the Rodrock Chiropractic side of the business and also will offer a food program called Optimal Living. The food program delivers a week’s worth of meals to people’s homes. The meals are made from locally sourced meat and produce and are prepared by the chef at Antonucci’s Italian restaurant in Baldwin City. As for the chiropractic side of the business, it takes all types of clients but specializes in care for women and children, Denham said. Rodrock’s husband, Jeremy Rodrock, operates Rodrock Chiropractic in Baldwin City. That business will remain open.
Denham said she thinks the new spa model will create excitement both among clients who are looking for one-stop-shop service and among beauty professionals who are looking for a chance to rent their own studio space. “We’re seeing success of similar models in Kansas City and Overland Park,” Denham said.
Remodeling work is already under way at the location, and the businesses hope to be open by July 1. In the meantime, I’ll keep mentioning the pig pen to my wife. You should see how I exfoliate out there.
Excuse me while I put away my cot here at Lawrence City Hall. City commissioners met from about 3:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. on Tuesday. And with several big topics — the recreation center and the budget — there were a few items of note that my deadline didn’t give me time to write about. So, let’s fix that:
• The Lawrence Community Shelter will get more bus passes to provide to residents of the shelter. There was much discussion at Tuesday’s meeting about simply making the bus stop at the homeless shelter a free stop, meaning people entering the bus at that location wouldn’t have to pay the $1 fare.
Transit staff members recommended against that option. They were concerned about the precedent it might set. Commissioners instead decided to give the shelter 50 bus passes a day. At $1 per pass, the passes have a market value of a little more than $15,000 for a year. Currently, the shelter receives about seven passes per day from the city, although the shelter uses private money to buy additional passes.
Shelter director Loring Henderson said the demand for bus passes from residents is far outstripping the supply. As you probably remember, late last year the shelter moved from downtown to the far eastern edge of the city, next to the Douglas County Jail.
Both city and shelter leaders knew transportation would be an issue, but it has been a bigger problem than expected, Henderson said. The shelter gives passes to residents for purposes such as job interviews, doctor’s appointments and other appointments related to their efforts to find work and housing. The shelter operates its own van service as well, but has found that fuel prices alone will total about $15,000 a year.
“I want people to understand we’re not unhappy with the facility or its location at all,” Henderson said. “If we were in the middle of downtown, there would be other issues we are dealing with. There are always issues to deal with. This is the issue we’re dealing with at this location.”
• The more interesting information about the shelter is that the facility already is running at near capacity, Henderson told commissioners.
The shelter has been at or near its 125-person capacity on most nights, even as the weather has turned warmer. “The 125 number is one that we thought we may reach on freezing nights, but it really has become an almost every-night number,” Henderson said.
Henderson said he thought the increase largely could be attributed to the rise in the number of homeless families that now feel comfortable using the new shelter.
• Shelter officials also are asking for a unique piece of financial assistance from the city. Shelter leaders want the city to provide financing for about $500,000 in construction costs that were related to the new facility.
The shelter currently is repaying a $500,000 construction loan to a local bank, but that loan has a 5 percent interest rate. If the city shifted the loan over to the city’s books, the interest rate would be significantly lower. Shelter officials believe the interest rate could drop to about 2 percent, although that is dependent on the bond market. Henderson estimates the new financing could save the shelter about $15,000 a year in interest costs.
The shelter is proposing to repay the city the $500,000 in principal and interest over a 30-year period. City commissioners took no action on the request. Instead, city staff members are researching the feasibility of the proposal.
• Tennis courts also were discussed at Tuesday’s meeting. The Lawrence Tennis Association has been lobbying for the city to install lights at the eight tennis courts near Lawrence High. Nearby residents have staunchly opposed the idea because they fear the lights would shine into their homes.
Commissioners thought they had settled the issue earlier by agreeing to build eight lighted tennis courts at the Rock Chalk Park property in northwest Lawrence. Tennis association members said they’re excited about the prospect of those courts, but they still feel that lighting the existing courts makes sense and would complete a promise made by the city.
So commissioners agree to re-open the issue. But the effort to add lights was about as successful as my backhand volley. (If I played on the courts, neighbors would need to worry about tennis balls entering their homes, not light.)
Residents around the court nearly filled the City Commission room to express opposition to the lighting plan. Commissioners had heard enough, and voted 5-0 to deny the lighting. Commissioners also directed staff members to look at the special-use permit for the tennis courts and determine whether language could be added to the permit to make it clear there won’t be lights at the facility in the future.
The tennis issue has been a lengthy one. The issue has been brewing since 2008, when the school district approved plans to remove the previous courts to make way for renovations at Lawrence High.
The issue also has been a costly one. Originally, the city was planning on spending $100,000 to add lights at the new facility. But when neighborhood opposition emerged, the city eventually shifted gears to the new tennis facility at Rock Chalk Park.
The city had estimated it would cost about $640,000 to build those courts, but it appears that estimate was low. Although it didn’t receive much discussion last night, commissioners did learn that the cost for the tennis facility has increased.
As part of the new estimates for Rock Chalk Park infrastructure, it was learned a $170,000 retaining wall will need to be built as part of the tennis court project. In case you add like I volley, that brings the tennis court portion of the project to $810,000.
City to consider covering domestic partners as part of city’s health insurance plan; commissioners now qualify for city coverage, thanks to Obamacare
Lawrence city commissioners soon will get to weigh in on the issue of domestic partnerships versus traditional marriages.
After digging through a few more documents related to the city’s proposed budget, I found a memo detailing changes to the city’s health insurance plan. One recently implemented change and one proposed change caught my eye. The recently implemented change: City commissioners are now eligible to be on the city’s health insurance plan. (More on that in a moment.) The proposed change: Staff members are recommending that domestic partners of city employees be eligible to join the city’s health insurance plan, just as spouses of city employees are eligible.
Lori Carnahan, human resources manager for the city, said several city employees have been asking about the availability of a domestic partner benefit. The city recently conducted a survey of its employees, and of the 146 respondents, 30 percent said they would use the domestic partner benefit.
“It is an issue that my colleagues in the human resources industry have discussed the concept of for probably six to eight years,” Carnahan said. “But the discussion really has been increasing over time.”
Obviously there are several large, international private companies that offer domestic partnership benefits. But I’m not sure how many area governments have adopted the practice. Douglas County approved a similar health plan benefit for domestic partners in 2011.
As far as the logistics of this go, the city is well-positioned to deal with it. In May 2007, Lawrence became the first city in the state to create a domestic partnership registry. The registry allows domestic partners — both gay and heterosexual couples — to file paperwork with the city clerk’s office that provides evidence they are living in a true domestic partnership. The registry then can be used by insurance companies to verify that a domestic partnership exists.
The city will use that registry to verify domestic partnerships involving city employees. The registry requires that partners share a common permanent residence, have agreed to be in a “relationship of mutual interdependence,” both “contribute to the maintenance and support of the household,” are not married to a third individual or are a member of a domestic partnership with a third individual, are 18 years or older, have the mental capacity to enter into a contract and are not related by blood in any way that would prevent a marriage in the state.
Carnahan said the city’s insurance plan manager — the city is technically self-insured but hires a professional company to help manage the operation — has said the change is not expected to create any increased underwriting costs. The city will have to comply with a federal law that does not allow insurance premiums of domestic partners to be paid for with pre-tax dollars — married couples can have their premiums deducted from their paychecks before taxes. But Carnahan said the city has the necessary software to accomplish the task.
Now all that is left is to determine whether city commissioners have an interest in creating the new policy. Commissioners will get briefed on insurance issues at today’s budget study session, which begins at 3:30 p.m. But commissioners don’t take formal actions at study sessions, so I would expect the issue to come up at a future City Commission meeting.
Beginning June 1, city commissioners became eligible to enroll in the city’s health insurance program. They have the Affordable Care Act — or Obamacare — partially to thank for that.
City commissioners previously had not been eligible for the health care benefit because they are not considered full-time city employees. But the Affordable Care Act mandates that large employers generally offer health insurance to employees who average 30 hours per week for a year.
Do city commissioners work 30 hours per week? Well, that’s tough to say because city commissioners don’t punch a time clock.
Carnahan said her staff decided that making city commissioners eligible for the health care benefit would be the safest way to ensure the city was in compliance with the new federal law.
It is unclear how many commissioners may take advantage of the new benefit, but it is a significant benefit.
If a city commissioner wanted to insure just himself, it would cost only $5 per pay period — or $130 per year — to be covered under the city’s plan, which is considered to be a good one. That’s the same rate all city employees pay for single coverage.
Commissioners also can choose to have their families and spouses covered under the plan. Those rates — which are the same for all city employees — range from $69 a pay period to $118 per pay period, depending on the type of coverage.
City commissioners currently receive a $9,000 per year salary, while the mayor receives a $10,000 per year salary. However, commissioners in April said they wanted to have a discussion about possibly raising those salary levels.
I know there have been lots of folks in Lawrence doing various projects or fundraisers to help the victims of the tornadoes in the Oklahoma City area. Well, here’s another one and this one involves an opportunity to stuff your gut full of pizza and to break out your best New York accent.
Morningstar’s New York Pizza, 4931 W. Sixth St., will donate the proceeds from all of its Tuesday sales to The Salvation Army in Oklahoma City. In addition, staff members at the restaurant have agreed to donate all their tips for the day to the effort.
Roger Morningstar, the former KU basketball player who opened the store at Sixth and Wakarusa, said he wanted to make sure people understood this wasn’t an “after expenses” type of donation. He said, for example, if a person orders $50 worth of pizza and tips the server $10, all $60 will be shipped to The Salvation Army in OKC.
All that is left for me to do now is practice my New York accent. I think when my wife asks me to take out the trash tonight, I’ll say : “Fuhgeddaboudit.”
Look for me at Tuesday’s fundraiser. I’ll be the guy gumming my pizza.
If there is one thing I know about gardening, it is that change is inevitable. For instance, I’ve observed that plants in my yard are green for about a week and then brown for much longer.
Well, change is in store for Sunrise Garden Center, the popular nursery and landscaping center at 15th and New York streets. But we’ll have to wait a bit longer to see exactly what the changes mean.
Longtime Sunrise owner Greg McDonald confirmed that he is retiring from the business and has placed the nearly three-acre property up for sale.
McDonald plans to keep the business open until he finds a buyer for the property and he hopes that the eventual buyer will want to keep the garden and nursery business open. But there are no guarantees on that.
“I think it can be very successful doing what it does today, but I think there are a lot of possibilities for people who have new ideas,” said McDonald.
The centerpiece of the property is a large greenhouse that McDonald said is about the size of a football field under glass. That’s enough space that if someone wanted to do some truck farming or shift the business over to more a specialty wholesale operation, it could do so, McDonald said.
Veteran commercial real estate broker Doug Brown of Lawrence’s McGrew Commercial is listing the property, and plans to market it to both retail and wholesale interests. But Brown said he plans to focus on marketing the property to people who want to use the greenhouse as a greenhouse in some way, shape or form. In other words, the plan isn’t to completely redevelop the site.
“We think that is the way to go with the success the business has had over the years,” Brown said. “It would be an attractive business for somebody to get into. It is a good business for Lawrence because it certainly has the green factor.”
As for McDonald, he has owned the business for the last 14 years, and he is ready to have more time to spend on other pursuits. But he said business at the garden center remains strong and that gardening remains very popular in the Lawrence area.
“This Mother’s Day was probably one of the best weekends we have ever had, and I know Memorial Day was the best Memorial Day weekend we’ve ever had,” McDonald said. “There are just so many people who enjoy doing things with the products that we sell.”
My neighbor tells me that some people even enjoy watering their plant products after they buy them. She reminds me of that frequently, for some reason.
It is not only the season for George Brett tattoos and Royal-blue face paint. (I assume we’re all doing that to celebrate Brett’s recent return the Royals’ bench. Aren’t we???)
Oh well, it is also budget season at Lawrence City Hall. And that means city commissioners have a long list of monetary requests from city departments and outside agencies to consider. That process gets started in earnest at a 3:30 p.m. study session Tuesday at City Hall.
Here’s a look at some of the requests:
• The Lawrence Public Library is requesting an extra $173,000 in its budget — about a 5 percent increase — to fund operations at the new and expanded library facility. But the extra money won’t be going to buy more books or other items to fill the shelves. The biggest factors in the request are a 12 percent increase in health insurance premiums and a state-mandated increase in contributions to the KPERS pension program for employees. The library’s $3.4 million budget also doesn’t include many new employees to run the library, which will about double in size. The library is creating two new positions — a book stack manager and a technology position — but those positions will be added through a staff reorganization rather than a staff expansion. As for books and other reading materials, the library’s budget holds those expenses steady at $540,000. It is worth noting, however, that the library isn’t expected to move into its new facility until the spring or summer of 2014, so its 2015 budget may be a better indicator of how much it will cost to run the larger library.
• The Lawrence Community Shelter also is learning how to operate in a larger facility. The homeless shelter is seeking $100,000 in general tax funds to operate the shelter. That’s an increase of $8,000 over 2013 totals. The shelter also is set to receive $44,000 in liquor tax funds from the city. That’s the same amount it received in 2014.
• Douglas County officials are asking the city to provide about $135,000 to add four dispatchers to the jointly operated Emergency Communications Center, which handles all 911 calls in the county. It will be interesting to watch this one. The city and county have clashed in past years on some of these jointly funded ventures. Past administrations have negotiated the cost-sharing agreements, and city officials recently have expressed dissatisfaction with some of them. In this case, the city pays 66 percent of the operating costs of the center, while the county pays 34 percent. Other cities in the county, such as a Baldwin and Eudora, don’t directly pay for any of the costs, although their police departments also use the dispatching service. The bigger issue, though, is that city officials feel like city residents are getting taxed twice for the service because Lawrence residents also pay county taxes. County officials have indicated the arrangement is fair because a large majority of calls come from Lawrence residents.
• The Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department — another jointly funded agency — is seeking about a $13,000 increase in city funding, about a 2 percent increase. The city pays for about 20 percent of the department’s operating budget, while the county, grants and user fees pay for the rest of the approximately $3.3 million budget. The city, however, may be on the hook for significant costs related to the Community Health Building, which houses the Health Department, Bert Nash and the Visiting Nurses Association. The city and county currently are gathering estimates to increase security at the building. The city would be obligated to pay half of those costs, which haven’t yet been determined.
• On the law enforcement front, a major increase in funding may depend on a grant application. City commissioners are being asked to apply for an $875,000 federal grant that would provide funding for seven school resource officers for the next three years. The city would have to provide about $460,000 in matching funds for the grant. The new school resource officers, which would be in addition to the four school resource officers the city already has in place, would allow each high school and all the middle schools to have a dedicated officer. Currently, high schools and middle schools often share officers. The city would find out whether it has won the competitive grant funding by the beginning of 2014. As we have previously reported, the police department also has several other facility and equipment needs, but those probably merit a separate discussion since they could total $20 million or more. Whether city commissioners have any interest in having that discussion during this budget round will be one of the key things to watch during Tuesday’s study session.
• City Manager David Corliss is recommending the city budget $120,000 to help Johnson County pay for the K-10 Connector transit service that runs between Lawrence and portions of Johnson County. That amount is proposed to grow to $275,000 by 2016. Johnson County officials have said the popular commuter service is at risk of being closed down if Lawrence officials don’t assist in funding the program.
• The city attorney’s office is estimating it will need about $138,000 more to cover the costs of housing prisoners in the Douglas County Jail and also for providing defense services to indigent clients who come through Lawrence Municipal Court.
• Public Works would like to add an additional maintenance worker — at a cost of about $45,000 — to help care for the new parking garage that is being built next to the expanded library.
• The Lawrence Humane Society is seeking a nearly 35 percent increase in city funding for 2014. It is seeking $377,000 in funding to care for the stray animals that the city’s animal control officers bring to the facility.
• The Lawrence Arts Center is asking for more money on multiple fronts. The center, which is housed in a city-owned building, is seeking $51,000 in general city funding to pay for a new custodial position, increase technical staff and increased maintenance. The center also is seeking an additional $25,000 from the city’s liquor tax revenues to provide scholarships to children who can’t afford to pay for classes and programs. The city currently provides $25,000 for scholarships, but center leaders say demand is high. The center provided $100,000 worth of scholarships in the last year. The Arts Center also is seeking about $15,000 for a new phone system, and about $20,000 to upgrade the building’s kitchen, which serves a variety of events.
• Finally, there are a host of social service agencies and other not-for-profits that request funding from the city each year. A city advisory board is recommending that most of the funding amounts to those organizations hold steady for 2014. But that’s not the case in every instance. You can look at the entire list here.
If you're like me, you’ve been known to have a bad taste in your mouth after a few golf outings. (Not to mention wet socks from playing through he pond, and bunker sand in your shorts from . . . well, let’s move on.)
An area golf club is trying a new concept that might be able to do something about the bad taste in your mouth. The par 3 golf course Twin Oaks Golf on Kansas Highway 10 just east of Lawrence has teamed up with rural Eudora winery BlueJacket Crossing to offer wine tastings at the golf course’s clubhouse.
We reported over a year ago that a deal was in the works between the two businesses, but the new venture just started a couple of weeks ago.
BlueJacket is hosting tastings at the course — which is located at the intersection of K-10 and County Route 1057 — from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on Friday evenings and from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. But a big part of the concept is groups making special appointments to hold golf and wine combination events.
Golf course owner Jeff Burey calls the concept Nine and Wine. The Twin Oaks course is a pitch and putt style of course that takes far less time to play than a traditional course. So groups could do a golf outing followed by a wine tasting and still have an event that lasts a only couple of hours.
“We’re finding people have an interest in those type of outings,” said Pep Selvan, owner of the winery. “It is working out nicely. We want it to become a little bit of a recreation destination.”
The winery produces nearly 20 different wines that it offers for sampling as part of a tasting. After sampling the wines, patrons, of course, can buy a bottle to take home. County regulations, however, don’t allow for people to buy the wine and consume it on site, such as on the patio of the clubhouse. Such on-site consumption is allowed at BlueJacket’s actual winery (more on that in a moment.)
But before we leave the golf topic, I have one last idea. They call it Nine and Wine, but I wonder if it could be Wine and Nine. Maybe a bit of wine before the golf would make the sand less uncomfortable.
Selvan has plans for BlueJacket’s winery and vineyard facility at 1969 N. 1250 Road, which is about a mile south of the golf course.
Work is expected to begin this summer on a new 2,000-square-foot tasting room at the vineyard. The facility currently has a small tasting room that can accommodate about 25 people. The new room will be able to accommodate about 75 people, and will be an all-season facility with air-conditioning, a patio and a fireplace. Unlike at the golf course, patrons will be able to linger and enjoy a bottle of wine they buy on site.
Selvan said wine tastings are becoming a popular outing for events such as bridal showers, birthday parties or corporate retreats.
While work will begin this summer on the project, the room is not expected to be completed until the spring of 2014. That’s because the winery will have to take a break from construction in the fall to concentrate on the grape harvest.
The nearly five-year-old winery tends about 4,000 vines, although that number was reduced by about 1,000 due to the recent drought. Selvan is in the process of re-establishing those vines, which can take anywhere from two to four years.
The good news, however, is that Selvan is pleased with how the weather is shaping up this year. Even with snow in May, the vines were able to avoid untimely frosts.
“The key thing with the vines is that we don’t have an early blast of heat and then come back with a cold spell,” Selvan said. “We’re off to a heck of a start right now. But it will still be interesting. It is farming, after all.”
And that’s one thing that can get you dirtier than even a round of golf.
Perhaps you are like me and are still feeling a few aftereffects of consuming approximately 17 packages of hot dogs and a case of baked beans this Memorial Day weekend.
Well, there’s new a report out of City Hall, and although I’m not sure reading it will cure us, it won’t produce as much heartburn as our weekend did. The city has compiled its annual report on tax abatements and other economic development incentives, and the numbers generally are positive.
The city found all three companies that currently receive tax abatements from the city are meeting their targets when it comes to jobs, investments and wages paid.
In total, the three companies have made $7.3 million in real estate investments, up from $7.1 million projected; $10.3 million in equipment investments, up from $9.6 million projected; have used the abatements to hire 152 full-time employees, up from 141 projected; and paid an average wage of $36,226, up from $29,772 projected.
Here’s a look at each of the three companies:
• Amarr Garage Doors, a manufacturer in the East Hills Business Park, had 477 full-time employees in 2012, up from 340 prior to its tax abatement. As part of the abatement process, the company had committed to add at least 40 jobs. Average wages for full-time employees were $16.64 per hour, and 99 percent of positions had a wage that met or exceeded the community average wage for that type of position.
• Prosoco, an East Hills company that produces masonry cleaning and restoration products, had 67 full-time employees in 2012. Prior to the tax abatement, Prosoco had no Lawrence employees because it was based in Kansas City. As part of the abatement process, the company committed to bring at least 50 jobs to the city. Full-time employees had an average wage of $22.11 per hour, and 78 percent of positions had a wage equal to or above the community average for similar positions.
• Grandstand Sportswear & Glassware, an East Hills company that provides glassware and promotional products for the craft brewing industry, had 45 employees at the beginning of 2012. That was six fewer than the company had committed to as part of the abatement process. But the report notes the shortfall mainly is a result of timing. The company did not move into its new East Hills facility until December 2011. Once the company began operations in earnest at the new facility, employee totals grew to 71, which is 20 above its projection. The average full-time wage was $16.79 per hour, and 70 percent of positions had wages equal to or above the community’s average wage for similar positions.
In total, the three companies had $183,296 in property taxes abated in 2012. But since none of the companies are receiving 100 percent property tax abatements, they paid a total of $754,402 in property taxes for the year.
The report also provides details about other incentives besides tax abatements. One incentive that always gets questioned is the creation of special taxing districts. The city currently has two, with a third on the way. The Oread Transportation Development District, which covers The Oread hotel, has generated $321,000 in taxes from the special 1 percent sales tax since its inception in 2009. The Free State/Bauer Farm Transportation Development District, which includes the businesses on the northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa, has generated $141,000 since 2009 from its special tax. The third district will be for the new downtown hotel at Ninth and New Hampshire, which is expected to begin construction soon.
You can read the entire economic development report here. It is a good read for those with an interest in the world of incentives. Speaking of which, I could use an incentive to get through this day: A roll of antacids, perhaps.
Kansas Supreme Court hands neighbors victory in legal dispute over industrial land near Lecompton interchange
Well, it is not exactly a Perry Mason moment, but a piece of legal drama surrounding one of the more promising pieces of industrial land in the Lawrence area has ended after nearly five years.
The Kansas Supreme Court recently has said it has no interest in hearing a case that questions whether the area around the Lecompton interchange on the Kansas Turnpike was properly annexed into the city of Lawrence for industrial use. That means an October 2011 ruling by the Kansas Court of Appeals that found the Douglas County Commission improperly allowed the annexation now stands.
That essentially sends Lawrence’s efforts to create a new industrial area near the Lecompton interchange back to square one.
The case involves a 155-acre tract immediately north of the Lecompton interchange. Economic development leaders have said the area has great potential to attract distribution centers and other industrial users that have a need to be just seconds away from Interstate 70, AKA the Kansas Turnpike.
At the time, in 2008, the property was owned by a group led by Lawrence developers Duane and Steve Schwada. The group went through the process to have the property annexed into the city and zoned for the city’s broadest industrial category.
But neighbors in the area expressed significant concern over the annexation and especially the rezoning. The industrial zoning would have allowed for some of the heavier types of industrial uses permitted in the county to develop at the site, and neighbors found that potentially worrisome.
Lawsuits were filed alleging that Douglas County commissioners did not go through the proper process in permitting Lawrence officials to annex the property. The neighbors lost that argument in Douglas County District Court, but in October 2011 the Kansas Court of Appeals sided with the neighbors. It reversed the district court decision and said the county commissioners had not adequately considered whether the city’s annexation of the property would “hinder or prevent the proper growth and development of the area.”
The county appealed the ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court, but it recently issued a notice saying it would not review the case. And with that simple statement, neighbors had won an important legal victory.
Now the issue turns to what will happen to the area in the future. Industrial development is still a possibility. The ruling from the appeals court does not prohibit industrial development in the area. It just says Douglas County commissioners must go through a more thorough process in reviewing any annexation requests for the area. Another possibility is that the county could allow industrial development without the property being annexed. The large Berry Plastics warehouse and distribution center was built just to the west of the interchange using county zoning rather than city of Lawrence zoning.
Ron Schneider, the Lawrence attorney who represents the neighbors, said his clients long have been open to discussing a deal that would allow some light industrial uses at the site, but that would prohibit many heavy industrial uses that neighbors would find objectionable.
“My clients just want a reasonable resolution,” Schneider said. “But their frustration levels are high because this has cost them a lot of time and money.”
I would guess frustration levels are high in a lot of camps regarding this issue. The lawsuit not only delayed any potential development on the 155-acre site, but it also has impacted rezoning requests for two other pieces of nearby property that were annexed into the city for potential industrial use. In talking with other attorneys, it now appears likely those two pieces of property — one owned by a Schwada group and the other owned by a group led by the Rothwell family — will also be sent back to square one.
What’s done is done, but it will be interesting to see whether city, county and economic development leaders have any regret about how this matter was handled. Perhaps it is a moot issue because many of the players involved in this decision are no longer in power. The Chamber of Commerce’s economic development team has changed, all three county commissioners have changed, and several of the faces at City Hall have changed. Even the ownership of the 155 acres has changed. Area residents Russell and Penny Tuckel bought the property at an odd sheriff's auction in 2010.
But what remains true is that Lawrence only has three interchanges on the important I-70 corridor. The West Lawrence interchange is largely fully developed with major job centers such as the KMart distribution center, the Del Monte pet food plant and Hallmark Cards. (It's worth watching some of the vacant ground around Hallmark, however. There is talk in some circles that some of the excess property near the plant may become available now that Hallmark has reorganized its production plants and has a better idea of its future plans.)
The East Lawrence interchange has vacant land, especially around the airport, but neighbors there are highly organized to fight industrial development that they believe would increase flooding problems in the area.
That leaves the Lecompton interchange. Think about what has happened here: This lawsuit essentially has delayed any marketing of the property to potential job creators for about five years. The rezoning and annexation of the property occurred in 2008, and the lawsuits were filed soon after. Different people will have different opinions on who is to blame for that, but what’s no longer in dispute is that the neighbors held the stronger cards in this hand.
We’ll see if that sparks a compromise.