Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
City to consider approval of proposed housing development southeast of Sixth and SLT, near Langston Hughes Elementary
City commissioners tonight will debate a somewhat controversial development project near the corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway, and this one doesn’t involve a recreation center.
Commissioners at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today will consider plans for a new housing and apartment development on about 27.5 acres of ground southeast of the Sixth Street and SLT interchange.
More specifically, the project is just west of the area commonly known as the Diamondhead subdivision. On the off chance that you are not a planner or a taxicab driver, and therefore don’t know the names of subdivisions (yes, taxicab drivers know that and much more) the area is on the east edge of the South Lawrence Trafficway. It is just a bit northwest of Langston Hughes Elementary.
The project proposes 52 single-family homes, 22 duplexes and 86 apartment units on the 27.5 acres. This project has definitely gone through the sausage making process, as neighbors objected to the amount of duplex zoning that was proposed in the project late last year. Developers responded by cutting the number of duplexes by more than 50 percent, but they were replaced by 23 single-family homes that will be built on smaller-than-average 5,000-square-foot lots.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission on a 6-3 vote recommended approval of the project. City commissioners will have the final say on it tonight.
The project is interesting enough in itself, but the more interesting issue is how this entire area near Sixth and the SLT may take off in the near future. There is obviously the $75 million worth of improvements being contemplated across the street at Rock Chalk Park. That tends to wake up developers and land speculators.
But perhaps an even larger factor is the pending completion of not only the South Lawrence Trafficway but a new Bob Billings Parkway interchange on the SLT. The Bob Billings interchange is south of this property.
Below is a picture from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Office that shows the land between Sixth Street and Bob Billings Parkway, bordered by the South Lawrence Trafficway on the west. Look at how much undeveloped land is out there.
The chart to the left of the drawing shows what the land is currently zoned for, and then lists — theoretically — how many housing units could be built in that zoning category. If you total it all up, there is theoretically zoning in place for about 1,300 new homes or apartments in the area.
Plus, that includes two pieces of land that aren’t zoned for anything. Two development groups — Alvamar Inc. and the Diamondhead group — own about 50 acres that are zoned as urban reserve, meaning it will get some sort of residential or commercial zoning in the future.
Commercial zoning certainly is a possibility in the area. Diamondhead owns 31 acres immediately south of Sixth Street at the Sixth and SLT interchange. It will be interesting to see if that property ever gets into the discussion about locations to build more retail to serve the proposed Rock Chalk Park development.
Alavamar also has about 12 acres zoned for commercial uses at the northeast corner of where the Bob Billings and SLT interchange will be built. That also will be an interesting piece of property to keep an eye on.
But perhaps the most interesting land owner in the area is the Lawrence school district. In addition to the property it owns for Langston Hughes Elementary, it also owns about 35 acres surrounding the school. The property is zoned for residential development. The school district, of course, may want to hang onto it for school expansion. But if it decides it isn’t need for such, I’m sure it won’t have a problem finding a buyer for the property.
Anyway, commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. today to discuss the Langston Heights development. Here’s guessing that it will be the first of many discussions about development for the area in the coming months and years.
Soon a yellow and black sign likely will be prominently displayed to reserve a prime parking spot in downtown Lawrence.
No, Hell hasn’t frozen over and the city isn’t beginning to reserve parking spaces for Missouri Tiger fans. (Although, we ought to consider it. If a Tiger fan is willing to go to the trouble to take his car down off the blocks in his front yard, the least we can do is help him get a parking space.)
But no, that’s not what city commissioners will be contemplating tonight. Instead, commissioners will be considering a program to allow Hertz — and its yellow and black sign — to begin an on-demand car rental program in downtown.
Hertz has four cars that are part of an on-demand program on the KU campus. The program has been used enough that the company has an interest in placing a fifth car in downtown.
The program works like this: Hertz will have a dedicated parking spot — hence the sign, which, have I mentioned, is yellow and black — in the free two hour lot on the west side of New Hampshire Street near Eighth Street. (City lot No. 4, if you are scoring along at home.)
If you think you may want to use the car sometime, you sign up for the program and get a swipe card. Then, you can rent the car anytime online, swipe the card to unlock the doors, and away you go.
Eileen Horn, the city-county sustainability coordinator, worked to get the program in place for downtown because she thinks it may actually make people more comfortable using public transportation.
Horn said some people are nervous about riding the bus, biking or walking to work because they never know when they may unexpectedly need to use a car.
“If you have to run and get your child at school for some reason, you’ll have a car to do it,” Horn said as an example.
City commissioners are being asked to give final approval for the program at their 6:35 p.m. meeting today.
There are no fees for the city to pay to be a part of the program. The city, however, will need to donate use of the parking space to Hertz. The city is proposing a month-to-month donation agreement to monitor how the program progresses.
Horn said she expects the program could begin in two to four weeks.
Iwig Dairy seeks license for mobile food truck in North Lawrence; also considering future North Lawrence store
Mobile milk — and you don’t even need an app for it — is set to come to North Lawrence.
Iwig Dairy has filed for a permit to have a mobile food truck that sells fresh milk and dairy items in a city parking lot near Second and Locust streets in North Lawrence.
Tim Iwig, owner of the Tecumseh-based dairy, told me the food truck idea is a bit of a test to determine the level of demand in the North Lawrence market. He confirmed his company is looking at a permanent store location in a small, vacant building a bit north of North Second and Lincoln streets.
It won’t quite be the grocery store that North Lawrence has long said it needs, but it might meet a bit of the demand in that category.
“If we could get it started, then we could see what we could pull together,” Iwig said. “We have guys who like to bring us produce and eggs and that sort of thing. If we could get people going to the location, I think it could make a difference for us and for North Lawrence.”
But first, the food truck. Iwig hopes to have his business up and running within the next week. He said he plans to sell most of the items that he currently sells in his Lawrence store at 19th and Massachusetts. That means milk, cheeses, butter and probably some ice cream. Iwig, by the way, said the mobile food truck is not meant to replace the store’s 19th and Massachusetts location. (In case you are wondering what the construction is at 19th and Mass., there’s a coffee shop that will be going into a space next to the dairy store. I’ve got an interview with the owner and likely will report back tomorrow.)
Iwig hopes to have the mobile food truck up and running within a week. I don’t yet have days or hours for the truck, although Iwig has indicated it likely would be open a couple of weekday afternoons and Saturday afternoons.
In case you are confused about what location we’re talking about, it is the city-owned lot that basically is caddy-corner from Johnny’s Tavern. (I knew providing directions from a bar would help some of you.) It will be interesting to see if the city has helped start a trend here. If Iwig has success at the lot, will other mobile food vendors seek permission to locate there?
Food trucks are big business in some cities, and they usually take off when there is a spot that allows them to co-locate and build up some critical mass. That North Lawrence parking lot wouldn’t have been the first one to come to mind as a candidate for such a location, but I guess you never know.
What I do know is a cup of fresh ice cream, a fishing pole, the Kansas River, and perhaps a cold beverage other than milk sounds like a pretty decent afternoon. (And this time, I’ll keep the ice cream farther away from the bait bucket.)
This talk of Lawrence really becoming a retirement community is getting more serious all the time.
The city and county last month already committed to a marketing strategy and have expressed a willingness to boost the salary of the open position for director of the Douglas County Senior Services in an effort to get an expert into the community. Together, those two initiatives may cost $75,000 to $100,000 a year to fund, although there is hope the private sector will help with the marketing campaign.
But now there are signs of an effort that may dwarf that. The city on Tuesday will consider spending up to $12,500 to help draw up the paperwork for a new nonprofit organization that would be tasked with creating a “retirement village” in Lawrence or Douglas County. The money also would go to help pay for a consultant, with the balance of the funding likely coming from other partners.
Tuesday’s action would just get the ball rolling, but where it rolls to is the interesting part. City Commissioner Hugh Carter, KU Professor Dennis Domer and others have been talking for quite awhile now about the idea of an intergenerational village that would attract KU alumni and others back to the community.
There are still a lot of details that need to be worked out; where such a village would be built and how it would be funded are two of the larger ones. But a proposal to the City Commission starts to paint a picture. Here are some details:
• A village likely would be anywhere from 20 to 60 acres in size.
• Potential partners for the project include the city, the county, Kansas University, Lawrence Memorial Hospital and the private sector, among others.
• About 25 to 35 percent of the project would be single-family homes, apartments and condominiums designed to attract people 62 years and younger. The private sector would build those living units.
• About 50 to 60 percent of the project would be a not-for-profit “continuing care retirement community” for people 62 and older. Such a facility would include independent living, assisted living, skilled nursing and memory care facilities.
• The project would include a substantial health care facility that would offer diagnostics, laboratory services, radiology, urgent care and other services that could be offered a by a community-based nursing program. Organizers hope the facility would be run by Lawrence Memorial Hospital.
• The project ideally would be located next to park land and athletic facilities. The design would highlight pedestrian activity, access to nature, and would integrate the senior and nonsenior living areas.
It appears the structure for the development would call for a new nonprofit organization to oversee the development. Creating that organization is what city commissioners are being asked to help with at their Tuesday meeting. The county also would be asked to contribute $12,500.
Once the organization is formed and a board is created, further planning can begin, including “creation of a development calendar, project visioning, financial projections, and site review,” City Commissioner Hugh Carter wrote in a memo to commissioners.
Eventually, it sounds like the group will want to hire a consultant that specializes in creating nonprofit retirement communities. Carter estimated the cost for the first phase of planning may run to about $75,000. Besides the city and the county, other potential funding partners are LMH, KU and Douglas County Senior Services.
If this project makes it past Tuesday — and it appears it will because the request is on the city’s consent agenda — it will be a project to watch in the weeks and months ahead.
Curbside recycling committee recommending city sign contract with Hamm Companies for local recycling center; question of whether to accept glass still undecided
So, this is what Lawrence’s more than year long process to add curbside recycling has come to: Would you like to supersize that?
City residents, and more directly city commissioners, are at the point of the ordering process where they have to decide just how much value they want to get out of their value meal. Or in other words, they have to decide how much extra they’re willing to pay for a few extras.
Commissioners will be tackling that subject at their meeting on Tuesday.
Unlike at your favorite fast food establishment, in the world of curbside recycling the choices don’t come down to whether you would like a mega fry or a super mega fry. Based on a new report out of City Hall, it appears commissioners have two decisions to make:
• How much extra are they willing to pay to have glass included in the city’s curbside recycling program.
• How much extra are they willing to pay to do business with a locally based company.
The city committee responsible for making a recommendation to the commission has punted on the idea of whether glass should be included in the city’s programs. City commissioners will have to figure that out sans a recommendation. For much of the last year, staff members have been assuming glass would not be part of the program. But last month the mayor and a few other commissioners expressed interest in adding glass once they saw the first round of bids for the service.
On the second issue, though, the city committee is making a strong recommendation to do business with a local company. The committee is recommending the city sign a contract with Perry-based Hamm Companies to build and operate a new recycling processing center just outside of North Lawrence.
That also would mean city of Lawrence crews would be responsible for collecting the curbside recycling materials. The city is recommending that option over two turnkey proposals from Kansas City’s Deffenbaugh Industries and Topeka’s Waste Management. Both of those companies already have recycling processing facilities, and both were proposing to have their private crews pick up the curbside recycling.
Both also are proposing to do so at a price that is less than the city’s recommended option. It still looks like a safe bet that curbside recycling will add less than $4 per month to the bills of city residents, even if the city includes glass in the program. But the city recommendation for city crews do the collection and to go with the brand new Lawrence-based center will add an extra 48 cents to 58 cents per month onto the bills of Lawrence residential trash customers, compared to the other proposals.
Here’s a quick look at the pricing options for what appears to be the top three options:
• Deffenbaugh Industries: Its crews would collect and its Kansas City center would process materials. Unlike the other companies, Deffenbaugh is not offering direct curbside service for glass, but has said it would work with Ripple Glass on a program. Monthly costs for the program: $2.25 to $2.57.
• Waste Management: Its crews would collect and its Topeka center would process materials. It has an option to either included glass in the curbside program or exclude it. Monthly costs for the program with glass: $2.81 to $3.22. Cost for the program without glass: $2.57 to $2.98 per month.
• Hamm Companies: Its lone proposal is for city of Lawrence crews to collect, while Hamm would process the material at a new facility it would build near the Douglas County-Leavenworth County line at the intersection of U.S. 24-40 Highway and Kansas Highway 32. The property currently is operated by Honey Creek Disposal, a solid waste company that provides service in several smaller towns, but Hamm has an option to buy the site. Hamm officials have said the center would involve a multimillion-dollar construction project and would employ 15 to 20 people once it becomes operational. Monthly costs for the program with glass: $3.39 to $3.78. Monthly costs without glass: $2.69 to $3.08.
At the moment, all recommendations focus on service being an every-other-week system. It appears cost concerns have eliminated the idea of weekly service at this point. All recommendations assume customers would be issued a 96-gallon plastic cart, which is a bit bigger than the city’s standard issue 65-gallon cart it uses for trash.
Like previous proposals, the new city system would be based on a "mandatory pay, voluntary usage system." That means every residential property in the city — single-family and multifamily — would pay for the curbside service, regardless of whether it's used.
Commissioners will sort out all the details at a 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday at City Hall. Here’s hoping there at least will be some fries to help us get through the meeting.
New York-based company confirms it has bought Naismith Hall and plans renovations; other real estate sales for the week
As we previously reported in Town Talk, all the signs were indicating that the major national apartment firm The Bromley Companies had purchased the large, privately owned student residence hall at the northeast cover of 19th Street and Naismith Drive.
Well, the New York-based company has now confirmed it. In a press release, the company said it has purchased the 504-bed Naismith Hall and plans some major renovations.
“It is an attractive, well-located building that has housed over 20,000 University of Kansas students over the years, and we plan to make a significant capital investment to transform the common areas and student rooms into exciting, fun, modern spaces for future generations of KU students.”
The company in 2013 plans to renovate the lobby to create a new lounge, study area, eating area and exercise area. Plans also include a multiyear project to modernize student rooms. Part of the renovations will focus on expanding wireless Internet connections throughout the building and upgrading broadband speeds, the company said.
After last night’s basketball game, I wonder if there are some flat screen TVs to replace as well.
According to property records, a Miami Beach-based company previously owned Naismith Hall.
As far as other land transfers, I have the list for the week ending Jan. 28. Click here to see it. There’s not much to report that we haven’t already mentioned before.
It does appear several deals we have reported on got finalized in the week. Investors in the Poehler Lofts building in East Lawrence purchased from longtime Lawrence property owner Harold Shepard additional land just south of the building for a possible second affordable house apartment project. And Genesis Health Clubs also completed its deal to buy the real estate of the former Lawrence Athletic Club from the lender that had taken over the property.
Lawrence’s South Iowa Street still isn’t going to have a mall, but soon it will have a staple of mall food courts across the country.
Panda Express, the country’s largest quick-service Chinese food restaurant chain, has filed plans to locate in the new building in front of Wal-Mart at the southeast corner of 33rd and Iowa streets.
As previously reported, an AT&T Wireless store will take a portion of the building, and in a little bit of a turn of events, Panda Express will take the rest. At one point, speculation was strong that Chipotle would occupy the building, but it looks as if the nationalities have changed on us.
I don’t have any word yet on when the restaurant may open. (The AT&T store, I’ve been told, is slated to open in March.) The Panda Express filing at City Hall was sparse on details. In fact, it doesn’t spell out that a Panda Express is the tenant, but the architectural plans have a Panda Express logo on them, which is a pretty good indicator.
The restaurant serves a lot of the basic Chinese dishes you are familiar with, such as, Kung Pao Chicken, Mandarin Chicken, and Broccoli and Beef. But it also has some less standard dishes like Honey Walnut Shrimp, Eggplant Tofu, and even some dishes with Angus steak. (Tofu or Angus steak, how am I ever going to decide?)
More interesting than the company’s menu, though, is its back story. I found this recent article on CNN Money that interviews the company’s two founders and co-CEOs, Andrew and Peggy Cherng.
Apparently, they met while in school at Baker University in Baldwin City, in the late 1960s. Both had immigrated to America — Andrew from China via Japan and Peggy from Burma.
Who knows? Maybe the founders will come back to the area for the store’s grand opening. It does appear that they’ve returned to Baker on occasion to help with fundraising at the private university.
If you are like me and enjoy reading about entrepreneurs, the entire CNN article is a pretty good read. It also isn’t too bad of a testimonial on the value of a Baker education. Panda Express, with about 1,500 restaurants, had revenue of about $1.7 billion last year.
‘Nanobrewery’ hopes to set up operations in western Douglas County; demand for tickets to downtown Lawrence craft beer expo anything but ‘nano’
My wife is always harping at me (we could just end the sentence right there) to consume more locally grown food.
Well, I’ve just heard of a local garden that has piqued my interest. Among its main crops are hops and barley. And no, they’re not using them to make some earthy breakfast bar. We’re talking about growing local crops to produce beer.
Lovers of craft beers will want to keep their eyes on a western Douglas County property that hopes to become a significant craft brewing operation.
Neil Hull, president of Flint Hills Brewery LLC, has purchased a former horse farm near the intersection of U.S. Highway 40 and Stull Road in western Douglas County.
Hull has begun the process of winning approval to locate a “nanobrewery” on the property. But the brewery will have a twist. It hopes to grow on site most of the grains it needs to produce its brews.
“We want to have a place where we can educate people about quality beer instead of just focusing on quantity of beer,” Hull said.
Hull said a hops crop already has been planted, barley was grown last year, and of course, growing wheat isn’t much of a problem in Kansas. The property already has large amounts of blackberry and raspberry plants that can be incorporated into the beers. (Oh, my wife is going to be pleased. I’m going to be so healthy.)
I hadn’t heard of much hop or barley production in Kansas, but Hull said the climate actually works pretty well for it here. The trick is having the right soil conditions and acid level and such. As a result, they do quite a bit of container farming so they can control those conditions better.
The brewery plans to use the locally grown products to specialize in Belgian style beer making. Hull was in the Marines and also worked for the Department of Defense and has traveled the world. He’s made several contacts in the Belgium brewing industry, and has a host of recipes for Belgian beers. The brewery, though, also will produce some American ales, IPAs and other such brews.
But it may not be doing any of that right away. Hull has just started the process needed to get the necessary permits for the business. The idea of a nanobrewery isn’t addressed in Douglas County’s zoning code, so planners are having to write new language for the business. That’s the part of the process the brewery is in now.
The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission has recommended approval of a new nanobrewery use that could be allowed in agriculturally zoned districts, as long as the brewery goes through the conditional use permit process. It now will have to be considered by the Douglas County Commission.
Bottomline, it may be another one to two years before the brewery has everything in place to open.
Once it does open, it won’t be a huge operation, but it also may not be as small as its ‘nano’ title suggests. As I read through the proposed regulations, it looks like a nanobrewery was limited to production of four barrels of beer, which I think would be a little less than 470 liters. So, I was thinking of this as a weekend brewery — as in enough beer to last about a weekend. (Doesn’t that sound about right to you?)
But as I talked to Hull, he said the four barrel limit was not an annual limit. It was a limit on how much the brewery could produce during any one brewing session. It basically is a limit on how much brewing equipment the brewery can have.
Hull said, eventually, he believes the business will produce 1,000 to 2,000 barrels a year. Hull, though, said that won’t require him to build some type of industrial type of building on the rural property along Stull Road.
“We’re not going for the sky out there,” Hull said. “It will look like the buildings that are already out there. We don’t want to be an eyesore or generate a lot of truck traffic or anything like that.”
Hull said he and his investors' plans do call for a tasting room on the property. But he said if all goes well he would hope to open a full-scale brew pub in west Lawrence in the future.
So, lots of things to keep an eye on out there in coming months. In the meantime, we can all just daydream of gardening season.
• Perhaps some of you may skip over the daydreams of gardens and start dreaming of the upcoming second annual Kansas Craft Brewers Exposition set for March 2 in downtown Lawrence.
Well, hopefully you didn’t fall asleep at the switch during the ticket purchasing period for the event. Cathy Hamilton, Downtown Lawrence Inc. director, confirmed to me that the expo is sold out.
Tickets went on sale Jan. 29, and Hamilton said the local supply of tickets sold out in about five minutes. The supply on Ticketmaster lasted about two hours. The event — which will take place in the Abe & Jake’s Landing building along the Kansas River in downtown — hosts about 700 spectators.
Organizers of the event — which includes Downtown Lawrence Inc. and Chuck Magerl of Free State Brewery — thought they were on to something last year when the event sold out in about 10 days.
This year’s success likely will lead to brainstorming of how to expand the festival, which already has more than 20 brewers signed up to provide samples of their products.
There had been a rumor that the festival was going to expand to two days this year, but Magerl recently told me that upon examination, a two-day festival would have created too many logistical problems for the breweries.
Hamilton, though, said organizers likely will do some thinking on how to accommodate the growing popularity of the festival.
“I think we’re looking at a festival here that could become a real signature event for downtown Lawrence,” Hamilton said.
The event provides a direct boost to Downtown Lawrence Inc. Proceeds from the event go to Downtown Lawrence Inc. Last year’s event generated upwards of $9,000 for the organization, Hamilton estimated.
Lawrence home sales increase by nearly 28 percent in 2012, but home values on the decline, according to two new reports
Another day and another sign that Lawrence’s economy had a bit of a bounce-back year in 2012.
Yesterday we reported on strong growth in retail sales in Lawrence. Well, Lawrence homebuyers are not to be outdone. They actually increased their buying pace faster than shoppers did.
A new report shows homes sales in Lawrence increased by 27.9 percent in 2012 compared to 2011 numbers. Real estate agents sold 899 homes in the city limits during the year, according to numbers compiled by the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Sales hit an abysmal level in 2011, so having a large increase over those numbers is one thing. But also important to note is that sales totals for 2012 were about 8 percent above 2010 totals. So, the local real estate market made up for more than two years worth of losses in 2012.
Sales of newly constructed homes jumped by nearly 40 percent, totaling 88 for the year. But new home builders haven’t yet returned to the 2010 level of activity, when they sold 102 new homes.
Not all of the numbers indicated a housing rebound. Some indicated that sellers adjusted their expectations downward on what their homes are worth.
The median selling price in Lawrence checked in at $159,500, down 5 percent from $167,900 in 2011. The Board of Realtors report comes out at the same time that the Douglas County Appraiser’s office is finalizing its work on change-of-value notices that will be mailed to Douglas County homeowners.
While the Board of Realtors data shows a 5 percent drop in selling prices, most homeowners shouldn’t expect to see that type of decline in the home values that the county creates to figure your property tax bills. But many will see a decline, and for some this will be at least the second year in a row they’ve seen their properties lose value.
The preliminary numbers show about 28 percent of residential homeowners will see a decline between 2 percent and 4.99 percent in value.
Another 24 percent are expected to see declines between .01 percent and 1.99 percent, while another 8 percent are expected to see values drop by 5 percent or more.
About 33 percent of homeowners are expected to see their values remain steady.
The appraiser’s office is estimating 7 percent of residential properties in Lawrence and Douglas County will see some sort of increase in values.
When you add it all up, local governments may see their tax bases decrease by 1.2 percent to 1.5 percent as they begin building 2014 budgets this summer.
Homeowners should start receiving their change-of-value notices on Feb. 28, and then can begin determining whether they want to contest their values through the county process.
If you are wondering why the Board of Realtors numbers show a 5 percent decline in the average selling price, yet the appraiser is projecting most homeowners will see declines far less than that, there are some reasons.
The biggest is sample size. The Board of Realtors number is a selling price for just 900 homes. The appraiser’s office is trying to create a value for about 30,000 residential homes in the county.
A second factor is randomness. There’s no guarantee that the 900 homes sold by local real estate agents are representative of the type of housing stock that exists throughout the county. For example, four-bedroom ranch homes may have been the big seller in 2012. (This is just an example. I don’t know what the big seller was.) But four-bedroom ranch homes don’t make up the majority of the homes in Douglas County, so it would be difficult to use the selling price of those ranch homes to determine the value of other dissimilar homes.
But perhaps the most interesting reason is foreclosures, or their close cousin, short sales. I don’t have final 2012 foreclosure numbers yet, but I’ll work to get them. What I do know is that the Douglas County Appraiser’s office is not considering many of those foreclosure sales to be valid in terms of being comparable sales to set values for other properties.
On foreclosed properties, banks don’t get to keep the amount of money that is over and above the amount owed on a foreclosed mortgage. So, banks don’t have a lot of natural motivation to negotiate a deal that represents the full market value of a property. Their motivation is to get the foreclosed homes off their books. At least this is how Douglas County Appraiser Steve Miles has explained it to me previously.
In a recent report, he noted he’s seen several foreclosed properties bought and then almost immediately sold for double the purchase prices. That leads him to believe the foreclosure sales aren’t representative of fair market value in most cases.
All of it leads me to believe that it will be another interesting year in Douglas County real estate in 2013.
Tonight is one of those nights at Lawrence City Hall where people may come to appreciate the importance of technicalities.
There’s an item on the City Commission’s agenda that looks pretty technical because it involves a lot of language about development codes, definitions and other terms of art that make the hearts of city planners everywhere swoon.
There’s no denying there is plenty of technical stuff to wade through here, but really, city commissioners will be talking about an issue that often pits neighborhoods against landlords: How many people can live in a house in Lawrence?
The general rule for several years now has been that no more than three unrelated people can live in a single-family home, and no more than four unrelated people can live in a multifamily apartment and such.
But the key word in the phrase “general rule” is “general.” As the mayor recently found out, there are plenty of neighborhoods in Lawrence where more than three unrelated people can legally live in a single family home or duplex.
That’s because there are plenty of single-family homes or duplexes that are built on land not zoned for single-family or duplex construction.
In very simple form, the City Commission tonight will consider new rules that will take about 3,000 of those homes that currently can legally have four unrelated people living in them and reduce that number to no more than three unrelated people in them.
If approved, landlords will soon find out how a technicality can technically hit them in the wallet.
On the flip side, neighbors may find out how a few word changes can help reduce issues of overcrowding in their neighborhoods.
Which neighborhoods are we talking about? Well, for one, the west Lawrence neighborhood the mayor lives in. He discovered the vagaries of the city code when he realized there were more than three unrelated people living in a home across the street from his house on St. Andrews Drive.
But you are perhaps looking for more specifics than that. So, grab some toothpicks and prop those eyelids open. We are about to discuss the not-so-exciting world of zoning.
If you live in a neighborhood that falls into what I call the category of ‘P’ zoning, you will want to pay attention. (Gentlemen, you also don’t want to get confused about what rights ‘P’ zoning gives when you are faced with a full bladder and a long line at the restroom. It is not a defense that holds up in court.)
What I call P zoning are categories the city calls Planned Unit Developments, Planned Residential Developments, Planned Commercial Developments, Planned Industrial Developments and Planned Office Developments. Those are all specific zoning types in the city, and all of them technically allow for some residential development to occur.
The way the city code is written currently, any residential development in those P zoning categories can have up to four unrelated people. This gets confusing to neighbors because the houses often look like any other single-family house or duplex in the city, which are limited to three unrelated people. But it is the zoning of the land that dictates the rules that the house must follow.
The rule change up for discussion at tonight’s meeting would make it clear that single-family homes and duplexes in those P zoning categories would be limited to no more than three unrelated people.
A new city report estimates there are about 2,700 such homes in the P zoning districts that would be affected by the change. How many of them are rentals isn’t known, but I suspect the number is fairly large.
A few other zoning categories also would be affected. They include commercial and industrially zoned properties, which occasionally have homes built on them.
One category that is not included is the RM district, which is a type of multifamily zoning category. There are single-family style homes and duplexes built on that type of zoning, however. The Oread neighborhood is a good example of an area that has several homes that are on RM zoned property.
City staff members are not proposing that homes with RM zoning be included in the rule change. But a few residents of the Oread neighborhood are asking the City Commission to consider such a change. That would be a big one. The city estimates there are about another 4,000 units that may be affected by the rule change, if the RM district were included.
The discussion tonight is just the beginning of the process. If the city decides to move forward the Planning Commission will also have to debate the item. But if you are a landlord or a resident who lives in an area with a lot of rentals, it might be a debate worth watching. The City Commission meets at 6:35 p.m. today at City Hall. You’ll have to bring your own toothpicks, though.
New numbers suggest Lawrence shoppers didn’t exactly go crazy during the holiday shopping season, but they did a pretty good job of being loose with their wallets every other time of the year.
The city has closed the books on its 2012 sales tax collections, which means we also can look at 2012 retail sales.
The year end report shows $1.35 billion worth of taxable sales took place in Lawrence in 2012, up from $1.29 billion in 2011. That’s an increase of 5.2 percent, which is the largest growth rate for retail sales since 1998, when the city had an 8.5 percent jump in sales.
The city posted the strong numbers despite the fact that sales tax collections in December were down significantly. December collections were off by about 6 percent from the same period in 2011. The December report — because of lag times in reporting — represents sales made in mid-October to mid-November, which means the early part of the holiday shopping season.
The city also released its January 2013 report, which gives a little more hope that the holiday season wasn’t all that bad. Collections during that period were up 6.7 percent from the same period a year ago. That report tracks sales made from mid-November to mid-December, so right in the heart of the holiday season.
The December and January reports kind of offset each other, so the holiday sales totals thus far are a bit of a wash. The 2012 holiday totals are up 0.1 percent from the same period in 2011. The February report, which will report sales from mid-December to mid-January, will tell the story on this year’s holiday shopping season. Those numbers should be out in a few more weeks.
Until then, here are some other facts and figures from the 2012 sales tax report:
• The city collected $32.36 million in sales taxes in 2012, which was up from the $30.55 million the city had budgeted to collect during the year.
• Retail sales in Lawrence were up on a consistent basis throughout 2012. Retail sales were up during 10 out of the 12 reporting periods in 2012. Only the December and September periods were down when compared with the same period a year ago.
• The $1.35 billion in taxable sales, when adjusted for inflation, was the highest total since 2008, when the city had $1.36 billion in inflation adjusted sales. That’s significant because it shows Lawrence’s retail numbers almost have recovered what was lost during the Great Recession.
As for how Lawrence compared with other cities around the state, here’s a look at a few:
• Lawrence: 5.2 percent
• Baldwin City: 0.7 percent
• Basehor: 20.9 percent
• Emporia: down 1.9 percent
• Eudora: 8.6 percent
• Kansas City, Kan.: 5.9 percent
• Leavenworth: 0.9 percent
• Olathe: 4.3 percent
• Ottawa: 0.8 percent
• Overland Park: 3.5 percent
• Shawnee: 0.9 percent
• Tonganoxie: down 8.0 percent
• Topeka: 0.1 percent
One thing I did notice is that most cities had a better first half of the year than they did a second half. We’ll see what 2013 brings. More credit bills in my mailbox is my guess.
A bit “earthy” is how Lawrence city officials described the taste and smell of the city’s drinking water for a period in June 2012.
I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that is the adjective of your choice to describe the city’s tap water during last summer’s outbreak of geosmin, an algae byproduct that was in the city’s drinking water.
While “algae byproduct” certainly is a phrase city officials would like to no longer have associated with their water supply, city commissioners have a multimillion dollar question facing them on that subject.
City officials continue to estimate that it will cost about $19 million to equip the city’s two water treatment plants with new equipment to make it less likely that geosmin outbreaks will affect the city’s tap water. If the geosmin posed a health risk to the public, it would be an easy decision. But geosmin isn’t a danger to health; it's just a danger to taste buds.
At their meeting on Tuesday, commissioners will receive a report from the city auditor on the water’s occasional taste and odor issues, but it doesn’t do much to answer the tough question of whether commissioners ought to undertake a major, unbudgeted upgrade to the city’s water treatment plants.
But the audit does include results from a survey city officials took of water customers. Let’s see if you feel the same as respondents to the survey, which was sent out to about 1,700 water customers in early December. Here’s a look at the results:
• 56.8 percent of respondents were either satisfied or very satisfied with the taste of their drinking water.
• 18 percent of respondents were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the taste of their drinking water. The balance of people were either neutral on the subject or didn’t have an opinion.
• 60.7 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied with the smell of their drinking water.
• 16 percent were either dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the smell of their drinking water.
• 92.2 percent were either satisfied or very satisfied with the reliability of the water service.
• 51.3 percent were satisfied or very satisfied with the overall value they received for their water and sewer rates.
• 21.2 percent were dissatisfied or very dissatisfied with the value they received for the water and sewer rates. Those last numbers about the value customers think they’re getting for their water and sewer service could end up being particularly important. If the city is going to make $18 million worth of upgrades to its water plants, it is hard to imagine how it will do that without raising rates.
Commissioners have been sensing that customers may have a bit of rate fatigue, and this survey, which has a margin of error of about 5 percent, may raise some new flags on that subject.
City officials still haven’t settled on a new rate plan for 2013 for the water and sewer service. The city has been using 2012 rates thus far in the new year. Commissioners are scheduled to have a study session on Feb. 12 to discuss those issues.
Shortly after last summer’s issues with taste and odor, city commissioners were talking pretty strongly about the need for improvements at the water plant. But since then, staff members have been highlighting the improvements they already have made; they’ve bought specialized equipment to better test for geosmin, for example.
The new report from the city auditor on the taste and odor issue was the type of report that could have provided more fuel to the fire for improvements at the water plants. But it didn’t. The report really didn’t get into the issue of how other communities deal with this and what type of improvements would be appropriate.
So, it will be interesting to see where this issue goes. It may boil down to a simple question: What leaves a worse taste in your mouth, a little bit of algae byproduct or an increase in water rates?
It’s beginning to make a little more sense.
Perhaps you are not like me and you don’t spend a good part of the year wondering why Winnie the Pooh acts so dang strange. Perhaps you also don’t have a spouse who fills your home with the odd little bear every holiday season. (You don’t know what you’re missing out on.)
Well, word of a potential new business has given me a clue why that dumb-dumb is always getting his head stuck in a bee hive: Mead.
Yeah, mead. A new business venture is betting you are not familiar with the alcoholic beverage, which is made of … fermented honey.
Work is underway to build a new microbrewery in downtown Eudora that will offer a variety of craft beers but also will be one of the few facilities in the region to produce mead.
Area residents John Randtke and James Hightree are teaming up to open the Wakarusa Brewery in the coming months.
As anyone who has listened to me on a Saturday night can attest, that when I combine stories and beer, the details can get a little fuzzy. That’s the case here too. I chatted briefly with Randtke, and he said he hopes the business will be open by the fall, but said it could get pushed to early next year.
The business has signed a deal to purchase a long vacant building in the 700 block of Main Street in downtown Eudora. If you are familiar with that bustling thoroughfare, is the old vacant antique store building kind of across the street from the post office.
The building needs significant work, but Randtke has been through those type of projects before. He’s a mechanical design engineer for a local company that works to make buildings more energy efficient.
“We’re going to try to make it a small-town pub feel,” Randtke said of plans for the building. “I want it to be a quiet place where folks can go hang out and have a drink.”
But make no mistake, brewing will be the main activity at the building. About two-thirds of the building will be devoted to the brewing process.
Randtke said he and Hightree, who will serve as the day-to-day brewmaster, will specialize in making strong IPAs and stout, hoppy brews.
And, of course, there will be the mead. Randtke said he’s not aware of any restaurants or bars in the area that are serving locally produced mead, but he said the idea is catching on in some larger cities, like Chicago.
Technically, state regulators don’t consider mead a beer, and so Wakarusa Brewery will have to get a winery license to produce the beverage. But that has an advantage, Randtke said, because a new state law allows wineries to get a license to sell their products at farmers markets and such. That is part of the company’s future plans.
As for what to expect when you get that first chalice of mead (I don’t know why, but that’s what I expect my mead to be served in), it could be a little bit of anything. Randtke said meads can take on all different types of flavors. Some commercial meads have strong flavor patterns of cinnamon or vanilla, and many are pretty sweet. Randtke said he plans to make several drier varieties.
I think I would ask Winnie the Pooh what he likes. He might be a good customer. On second thought, I’m not sure he’s the type you really want around in a bar. With a last name like his, he’s bound to get into a lot of bar fights.
Economic development board questions whether new vo-tech campus ought to be located on former Farmland Industries site
When voters go to the polls in April, they may have junior college on their minds just a bit. That’s because about $5.7 million of the Lawrence Public School district’s proposed $92.5 million bond issue would go towards bringing together three area community colleges to create a new campus for vocational and technical training.
For one group of voters, though, the idea will be on their minds more than just a bit. Economic development leaders have made the idea of a new technical training center one of their higher priorities.
On Friday morning it started to become clear that some eco devo leaders may want to see the plans for the new technical center changed some.
Doug Gaumer — chair of the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce's board — raised a question at the meeting of the Lawrence-Douglas County Joint Economic Development Council: Why isn’t the school district planning on building its new vocational and technical training center on a portion of the former Farmland Industries site along Kansas Highway 10 in eastern Lawrence?
Currently, the school district has been focusing on refurbishing an existing school district building — commonly known as the Community Connection Center — which is sort of hidden a couple of blocks west of 25th and Iowa streets. Current plans call for Johnson County, Kansas City and Neosho County community colleges to provide classes at the location.
Gaumer said he was concerned about whether that location would be visible enough and convenient enough for employers who want to send employees to the center for training.
“I’m afraid we wouldn’t get any play off of that location,” said Gaumer, who is the president for the local Intrust Bank locations in Lawrence. “It would be good to have it next to more businesses.”
That’s why the former Farmland property might be a good location, Gaumer said. The city is working to convert the approximately 400-acre former fertilizer plant into a business and industrial park. The property has high visibility along K-10 highway.
The Joint Economic Development Council was more in a brainstorming mode today than a decision-making mode, so the group didn’t take any action on the idea.
But I got the impression that this might be an idea that starts gaining some momentum, or at least causes economic development leaders to ask the school district to consider changing plans.
City Manager David Corliss said he suspects the City Commission would be open to listening to any request for the school district to use a portion of the Farmland property for a vo-tech/community college branch location. The Farmland property has about 200 acres that can be redeveloped, and the vo-tech campus would only require a small portion of it.
The bigger issue may be whether the $5.7 million currently included in the proposed bond issue would be enough to accommodate an entirely new building. I believe the district was planning on doing more renovating rather than new construction on this project.
But the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce continues to talk about the need for additional vocational training as being one of the community’s top economic development priorities. The chamber also continues to explore the feasibility of a multimillion-dollar, multiyear private fundraising campaign for economic development initiatives. It will be interesting to see if there’s any talk of private fundraising being used to help build a more ambitious vocational school.
Lawrence, don’t be alarmed, but a group of Gorillas have been watching you. Now, it is our turn to watch them, for at least a moment.
The folks at Pittsburg State University — home of the Pitt State Gorillas — have been reading with interest all the comings and goings related to the proposed Rock Chalk Park athletic center concept involving KU and the city of Lawrence.
That’s because Pittsburg State and the city of Pittsburg have been working on their own partnership to build a new athletic facility.
Some of you recently saw articles reporting that the city of Pittsburg had agreed to contribute $5 million to a proposed $17 million athletics and events center project at Pitt State. And several of you had asked me how that compared to what was going on in Lawrence.
Well, I recently chatted with a Pitt State official. I’m not sure it is wise to make too many direct comparisons between the Lawrence and Pittsburg projects, but I’m sure that won’t deter some of you. The projects have different components, so it is a little like comparing apples and oranges — but, hey, they’re both fruit anyway.
But here are the details I’ve been given by Pitt State’s Shawn Naccarato, director of government and community relations: The university is planning to build on campus an approximately 123,000 square foot building that will house a competition-grade 300-meter indoor track, an 80-yard practice football field that also can be used for soccer and such, and spectator seating for about 1,000 people.
Sound kind of familiar? Well, familiar, if not necessarily similar. If you are scoring along at home, the proposed Lawrence recreation center is a 181,000-square-foot building that would have eight full-size basketball courts, a walking track, fitness area, an indoor turf field, gymnastics area, a wellness center and a few other features.
The area articles reported the Pitt State project has a price tag of $17 million, but Naccarato told me that also includes an upgrade of the nearby gymnasium and locker rooms where Pitt State plays its basketball games. The new building is estimated to cost about $13 million.
The Lawrence recreation center project has many price tags. The city has one architectural report that estimates the city’s project has a market value of $33.5 million. But that includes all the parking for the project, all the roads leading to the project and other improvements that go beyond the recreation center building itself. The price tag most publicly talked about is $25 million. That is the guaranteed price for the entire project that a partnership involving Kansas University Endowment and Lawrence businessman Thomas Fritzel are offering to the city.
In terms of just the recreation center building itself, the city’s report estimates it has a market value of about $19.3 million. At 181,000 square feet, that equates to about $106 per square foot.
The Pitt State project, at about 123,000 square feet, comes to about $105 per square foot. So, in the same ballpark for sure, but how many times do I have to tell you that you shouldn’t compare these two? (I don’t know why you keep comparing them.) They’re different projects. For example, I didn’t get any details about whether the Pitt State project includes parking in the $13 million pricetag, and that would impact the price comparison significantly.
(Plus you definitely don’t want me doing architectural comparisons, as my last foray into architecture — a simple birdhouse — would attest. I’d tell you to ask the birds about that project, but they’re not chirping anymore, if you know what I mean.)
One aspect of the Pitt State project that may draw some attention here is that the facility is being designed to include a special flooring that can cover the track and turf field area, which will allow the building to be easily converted into an expo center or convention hall.
There really hasn’t been any talk of that yet in Lawrence. Maybe that is the sort of thing that can be added later, or maybe it is the sort of thing that has to be contemplated at the design stage of the building. I don’t know. But it is kind of surprising that it hasn’t received much, if any, discussion. If the city ever thinks it needs a convention center — and that idea has come up before — this likely will be the largest public building constructed in quite some time in Lawrence, and it has a pretty wide-open design that could accommodate convention and expo-like events.
Of course, there’s also lots of development land immediately adjacent to the recreation center, or just across the South Lawrence Trafficway, that could support hotels, restaurants and the other types of development you would expect to see around an events center.
We could go on and on about what type of events that sort of facility might attract to the city, but we won’t. I’ve got to wrap this article up because the chirping birds outside my window are driving me crazy.
Time to build another birdhouse.
Another week means another week of real estate sales and land transfers as recorded by our friends down at the Douglas County Courthouse.
Nothing too much to report on the commercial front this week, but click here to see the complete list of property sales for the week ending Jan. 21.
One listing of note did take place in downtown Lawrence. The weekly report lists the buildings at 930, 932 and 934 Massachusetts St. sold from Round Corner Building Corp., which was led by the late Lawrence businessman James Salyer, to CNH LLC, which is led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton.
The building is the large multitenant building that includes Minsky’s Pizza, The Yarn Barn and several professional service offices. The ownership change really isn’t all that new. Compton has controlled the buildings for quite some time. According to the filings at the courthouse, his group was buying the building on contract, and this most recent listing just signifies the completion of that transaction.
Ever since back in July when we reported a new ethnic restaurant that billed itself as the Indian version of a Chipotle was going to open in downtown, I’ve been getting questions about what the heck that means.
Well, soon you’ll be able to find out. Chutney’s at 918 Massachusetts St. is set to open on Monday.
Owner Rasesh Patel said the Chipotle description is still a good one, but that doesn’t mean the restaurant’s menu is going to be full of wraps. Instead, it is just his way of saying that it will be a casual-style, quick-service type of restaurant.
“It is going to be completely different than the typical Indian restaurant you are used to seeing,” Patel said. “It is Indian food, but we are trying to make it a little faster so that it can be food on the go too.”
Patel has been working with a chef out of Chicago who has patented a process for efficiently preparing a variety of Indian dishes.
Now, I don’t know enough about Indian food to even make a good joke here. (I know, you’re asking yourself when the Town Talk standard became that the jokes had to be good.) But in terms of menu items, Patel shared a few details with me. He said the restaurant regularly will offer chicken, beef, lamb and pork dishes, plus bean, rice and other dishes that will qualify as vegetarian, or in some cases, vegan.
Expect to see classic Indian dishes (or so I’m told) such as: Chicken Tikka Masala; Pork Vindaloo (I don’t know how it tastes, but it is fun to say); something called Spinach Paneer, which I believe is a spinach and cottage cheese-like dish; along with some fried-rice based dishes, various types of Indian tea, mango juice and a couple of Indian desserts.
The restaurant also will have a small bar area, but Patel said Kansas liquor laws have made it difficult for him to get the large assortment of Indian beers that he originally planned to stock.
• While we’re updating restaurant news, there was quite a scene last night at a local restaurant that surely says something about Lawrence. It either says we really like the idea of a new restaurant or we’re really cheap, or perhaps both.
Freebirds World Burrito was holding a special preview party at its new restaurant at 739 Massachusetts St. The event featured a free entrée and a drink. When I drove by at 6 p.m., there was a line out the door that stretched the width of two or three downtown stores. And this was in the rain. About an hour later, the line was even longer.
It will be interesting to see what burrito madness takes place today. The restaurant is officially opening tomorrow, and it is offering a promotion that the first 25 people in line will receive free burritos for a year. So, with a forecast of 18 degrees tonight, we’ll soon see just how cheap Lawrence is.
Last night’s event, however, did have a charitable cause connected to it. The Freebirds folks were suggesting a $5 donation to their nonprofit partners in the event, The Lawrence Humane Society and the Boys & Girls Club of Lawrence. So, I’m sure Lawrence last night was lining up in the rain to be charitable, not cheap.
Pets, phones and less dresses, I guess: That’s what a little bit of sign watching on South Iowa Street has produced today.
• First, pets. All you pet lovers can quit worrying about the future of Lawrence’s Petco store near 31st and Iowa. I had several readers ask if the store was on the way out because it recently had removed the signs from its building at 3115 Iowa St.
A store employee there told me this morning that wasn’t the case. Petco has a new logo and sign strategy, and the Lawrence store is set to get new signs in another week or so.
“We’re not going anywhere,” the employee said, who noted the store underwent a fairly significant interior remodeling in June.
But she said she had fielded several calls in the last few days about what was happening at the store.
“People come in and ask what happened to the sign, and I tell them someone came in and stole it overnight,” she said.
• Beautiful orange awnings are now a part of the South Iowa Street corridor. It looks like crews are getting close to completing the new retail building that is in the northwest corner of the Walmart parking lot at 33rd and Iowa streets.
We previously had reported that the speculation was an AT&T Wireless phone store and a Chipotle restaurant were going to move into the space. Well, the orange awnings probably are all the confirmation you need that an AT&T store is set to move into the space, but we now have official word as well. City officials confirmed that AT&T has filed for a sign permit at the location. Chipotle, however, hasn’t yet filed for a sign permit, so we’ll keep an eye open for that.
My understanding is the new AT&T store will replace the company’s store on 23rd Street. An employee at the 23rd Street store told me a move is scheduled to happen sometime in March.
• Now, about this idea of less dresses. Wait a second, that’s a misread on my part. It actually is dress for less. We’re talking about the Ross discount clothing store that is slated to go into the former Old Navy location near 33rd and Iowa streets.
For several months now, there has been a lot more of the “less” than there has been of the “dress” in the Ross project. We’ve been reporting since January that there was speculation a Ross store was set to swoop in and take the spot left vacant by Old Navy’s closing in early 2012.
This summer, the company pulled a building permit to do about $800,000 worth of work at the store.
By the time the holiday shopping season arrived, Ross had a sign up, but it never did open. I did a little window peeking today, and the main part of the store is completely empty except for a single folding table. For $800,000, I had expected to see gold-ensconced clothing racks, or at least a multistory, dressed-for-less mannequin named Ross. (In seriousness, I heard a lot of the construction was related to the store’s rear loading dock, for whatever reason.) I’ve tried to get in touch with Ross officials at their California headquarters at various times over the past few months, but with no luck. But I’ll try again and see if I can get an opening date for the store. There are still ads online for part-time sales associates, and the sign still says “coming soon.”
Online petition drive asks city commissioners to put $25M recreation center project up for citywide vote
There was a fairly interesting development this weekend related to the city’s proposed regional recreation center.
It started with an article in the Journal-World on Sunday about the various positions each City Commission candidate has taken on the proposed $25 million regional recreation center.
Candidate Scott Criqui said, among other things, that he would support the commission calling for a citywide election on the recreation center vote, if residents showed they really wanted a vote — like through a petition drive.
“If a group gathered 3,000 signatures or something like that, it would tell me that there is some concern out there,” Criqui said in the article. “But I haven’t heard of anyone who has done that yet.”
Well, Criqui might as well have said the word “abracadabra,” because by Sunday morning an online petition had begun.
The petition is active at the online site Change.org. The petition was started by some fellow named Nick Danger. I didn’t find a listing for him in the local phone directories, but I’m working under the assumption that Nick Danger might be an assumed name.
As of Monday morning, the petition had 69 signatures. I’m not overly familiar with Change.org, so I haven’t figured out yet how to see the full list of signatures. But the Web site shows several of the people who have signed, and it appears to be full of real-life people with real-life names.
It will be interesting to see what the number gets to by the time city commissioners are scheduled to perhaps take formal action on the recreation center project at their Feb 19 meeting.
The petition, of course, has no binding impact on the Lawrence City Commission. Its only impact will be whether a lot of signatures causes commissioners to reassess their thoughts on the need for an election.
Commissioners already have voted 5-0 to not put the issue on the ballot. Most of the commissioners have said that a 1994 sales tax vote for recreation projects and other needs made it clear that residents were in favor of such a project. Commissioner Mike Amyx, though, made his vote with the caveat that if residents presented a significant petition asking for a citywide vote, he would support putting the issue on the ballot.
I’m not sure what number, if any number, of signatures would cause a majority of commissioners to reconsider the idea of a citywide vote. As far as a legal petition that would force the city to place the issue on a ballot, I think that is a pretty tall order in Kansas.
But there is a state-prescribed referendum process for cities, and I believe in Lawrence it requires valid signatures totaling 25 percent or more of the number of voters in the last city election. (I’m basing this off what [I read online].) But if my interpretation is correct that the signatures only have to total 25 percent of the number of voters in the last election, then a successful petition would need somewhere between 1,700 to 2,700 signatures of registered voters. (I don’t have the exact number of voters in the 2011 election in Lawrence. There were 10,839 voters throughout the county in 2011, and I’m estimating about 7,000 of them were in Lawrence.)
If by chance I’m wrong, and you have to get 25 percent of the total number of people registered to vote, the number of signatures would grow to about 20,000. (I’ve got a call into the county clerk’s office to get a better education on this, and will update this post with what I learn.)
The referendum law also requires that the question on the ballot be a specific ordinance that would be adopted into law. So, asking a simple question of whether we should build a $25 million recreation center wouldn’t pass muster. It would have to be something like, an ordinance requiring public recreation projects totaling $25 million or more to be voted on by the voters of the city of Lawrence before construction can commence. (Again, I’m on a bit of shaky ground here in my understanding of the law.)
What is clear, is that an online petition is a heck of a lot easier. We’ll see where it goes.
UPDATE: I chatted briefly today with Douglas County Clerk Jamie Shew, and he confirmed that there is a process for putting issues on the ballot. Shew, though, said it is most likely to be used to call for a vote on an item that already has been approved by the City Commission, rather than proposing a new ordinance that the City Commission adopt.
How that would apply, if at all, to the recreation center issue, is a little tough to figure. But Shew said most of the Kansas laws regarding using a petition to put an issue on the ballot call for signatures equaling 25 percent or more of the voter total from the last city election. In Lawrence's case, that would be around 2,000 signatures.
So bottomline, if folks really want to try to create some sort of binding petition-drive, they'll need to do a bit more research with Shew, the city attorney or both.
Work to begin soon on 23rd and O’Connell traffic signal; developers and housing authority still working on plans for rent-controlled apartment complex for area
All you growth hawks who have had your eyes trained for so long on northwest Lawrence may want to look briefly to the east for a bit.
One of the more visible signs that growth is expected to come to an area soon will pop up at the intersection of 23rd and O’Connell: a traffic signal.
City officials have awarded a nearly $572,000 bid to King’s Construction Co. to begin work on improving the intersection, including adding a traffic signal. In addition to the signal, the work also will include concrete medians on 23rd Street and a left-turn lane for eastbound traffic on 23rd Street.
Work is expected to begin on Wednesday. Traffic on 23rd Street will be reduced to one lane in each direction periodically. The bulk of the work is expected to be completed by the end of March. But the traffic signal won’t be installed until June because there apparently is quite a backlog of traffic signal orders nationally. (I had heard somewhere that repairs related to Hurricane Sandy had caused a spike in traffic signal demand.)
Some of you may be confused about a left-turn lane for eastbound motorists on 23rd Street. Currently, if eastbound motorists turn left off of 23rd Street, you don’t get to much. That’s where the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant is located. But that 400-plus acre piece of property has big plans for the future. The city is working to convert it into a new business and industrial park. A new lighted intersection will be needed to get traffic in and out of the business park, and that intersection will be 23rd and O’Connell.
But make no mistake, the property on the south side of 23rd Street will benefit from the improved intersection as well. Eventually, that area may become the city’s next commercial area. The southeast corner of the intersection is zoned for significant retail development. Tractor Supply Co. opened a store out there, but the retail growth to follow has been a bit like a parade of tractors — kind of slow to develop.
Instead, expect to see some more housing in the area, which probably will lead to more commercial development. On Monday, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will hear a request to rezone 10.5 acres on the south side of the intersection for residential development. (It already is zoned for single-family residential but it is being rezoned to another type of single family residential. From the RS-7 zoning category to the RS-5, if you are scoring at home.)
There’s also some replatting going on in the area. I could go all technical on you here and drop some cool planning terms on your head (all planning terms are cool, right) but what it comes down to is the development group that owns the land is fine tuning some plans to actually get ready to build some houses out there.
“We’re mostly excited about the city’s new investment out there,” Bill Newsome, who heads the Fairfield Farms development group, told me recently.
He said plans call for 38 new entry-level homes to be built at the property, basically on the portion of ground that is south of 25th Terrace and just a bit east of O’Connell. If you remember, Lawrence’s Cornerstone Southern Baptist Church bought the eight acres of ground right along O’Connell.
Newsome said his group has begun talking to builders, and there is optimism about starting a new housing development in the area because there’s hope the Farmland redevelopment will create new jobs nearby. In other words, maybe some folks want to live close to where they work.
“There is a lot of synergy coming together with the new business park,” Newsome said.
Even if the new jobs don’t materialize right away, the area could be ripe for new housing development because of the pending completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway. The eastern interchange of the SLT will be just down K-10. Suddenly, the entire Prairie Park neighborhood not only has good access to the Kansas City metro area, but it also will have a pretty easy drive into the Topeka area as well. Plus, don't forget about the metropolis of Ottawa to the south. The trafficway will make it pretty easy for neighborhood residents to connect to U.S. Highway 59 as well.
There is one more project to keep your eyes on at the intersection. As we reported in October, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority is considering teaming up with Newsome’s group to build more than 100 rent-controlled apartments near the intersection.
I checked in with Shannon Oury, director of the Housing Authority, in the last couple of days and she told me her board is still giving serious consideration to the idea of a 128-unit apartment complex.
No final decision has been made yet. Oury said her board and staff are still trying to figure out some of financing and taxing issues that would be part of the public-private partnership.
The project, somewhat like the Poehler project in East Lawrence, would use federal tax credits to help build the complex. The use of those tax credits and the involvement of the Housing Authority would ensure that the apartment units remain rent-controlled for the long term. A study commissioned by the Housing Authority estimated a one-bedroom, one-bath apartment would rent for $560 a month; a two-bedroom, two-bath for $715 a month; and a three-bedroom, two-bath unit for $835 a month.
Oury said the project would be targeted to working families that have incomes that would qualify for the rent-controlled program. The study indicated those incomes ranges would fall between about $33,000 and $50,000, depending on the size of the family.
Oury said even with the new rent-controlled development in East Lawrence, there is still a need for more of the projects. She noted that Westgate Apartments, 4641 W. Sixth St., recently left the rent-controlled housing program. Its requirements under the tax credit it used to be constructed recently ended, which meant its 72 units left the affordable housing program, Oury said.
Oury said she expects her board to make some decisions on whether to move forward with the project this spring. But thus far, there is optimism about its prospects.
“I would say we feel very positive about it,” Oury said. “So far, we have not seen anything that makes us feel skeptical.”