Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
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.”
City clears the way for traffic-calming devices to be installed on 27th Street between Iowa and Louisiana
Here’s a free tip for all those people looking for a new business venture in the future: An auto alignment shop — or maybe a muffler repair business — near the corner of 27th and Iowa streets.
It is beginning to look more likely that the busy stretch of 27th Street between Iowa and Louisiana streets may get a series of speed humps or other traffic-calming devices.
The city has agreed to add 27th Street to the list of areas in the city that are in need of traffic calming. Getting added to that list, however, doesn’t mean traffic-calming devices are going to be built on the street in the near future.
The city currently has 17 such areas on the list, and some have been on the list for years. The city basically says it will start building the projects as funding becomes available, and funding for traffic-calming projects has been a bit hit or miss in previous city budgets.
But David Woosley, the city’s traffic engineer, told city commissioners recently that the combination of traffic speed, volume and the number of pedestrians along 27th Street causes the stretch of road to rise to No. 1 on the city’s list of traffic-calming priorities.
So, it will be worth watching if funding develops. I would guess that the next time 27th Street gets repaved that the city strongly will consider adding speed humps as part of the repaving project. The city has found the traffic-calming work becomes cheaper if it can be incorporated with another project.
Traffic calming on 27th Street will be significant. The city is estimating that the one mile stretch of street will need about six traffic-calming devices in order to be effective. The city is estimating the cost of the project to be about $90,000.
City commissioners briefly discussed the traffic-calming request — which came from a leader of the Indian Hills Neighborhood Association — and approved the idea on a 5-0 vote.
I have a particular member of my household who uses that stretch of road to get to the shops on South Iowa Street from time to time to time to time. (You get the idea.) I’m sure speed humps would create some noise in my house. Perhaps not slower speeds, but noise — like the kind you hear when your muffler has been knocked off by a speed hump.
New $16M water plant project buying more land; signs of change at Naismith Hall student dorms; and other property sales for the week
Another week and another set of property sales and land transfers to review.
This week, water and student housing (I don’t recall that being the most popular beverage in student housing, by the way) are subjects that stand out from the list of recent sales.
Before we get to that, though, my standard disclaimer: Unless otherwise noted, most of this information is just me relaying information from various public documents from the Douglas County Courthouse and the Kansas Secretary of State’s office. In an effort to be timely, it is not always possible to contact everyone involved. It is not always easy to ascertain what is going on with a property just by looking at the documents, so I would read these listings as a first draft of activity in the local real estate market.
• First, the water: Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25 has signed another deal to purchase property for a new water treatment plant between Lawrence and Eudora.
The most recent deal — the largest yet for the district — is for about 25 acres of land near the Kansas River just north of the intersection of North 1500 and East 1750 roads. North 1500 Road is what East 15th Street turns into in the county, and East 1750 Road also is Noria Road.
If you remember, Public Wholesale Water Supply District No. 25 is a fairly new entity that has been formed to provided treated water to other rural water districts, and perhaps entities such as cities, in the future.
Currently, the city of Lawrence is the largest provider of treated water for water districts in the area. The idea for the wholesale district has evolved over the years, in part, because there has been some uneasiness about the terms the city has dictated for its water treatment services.
There’s always been some question, though, whether this new wholesale water district really could get off the ground. But as we reported in May, the project received its financing from the USDA, and the district made its first small land purchase this summer.
This most recent purchase is more substantial. Larry Wray, the leader for the wholesale water district, told me the 25 acres is where the actual treatment plant and well field will be. The district will take its water from wells that are recharged by the nearby Kansas River.
The land purchase is the most visible sign yet that the district is moving full steam ahead with the project. “We’re pretty much at the point where we are saying we are going to build this,” Wray said. “I’m not saying something silly can’t happen to derail it, but we wouldn’t have bought the land if we weren’t going to do this.”
A water plant won’t pop up over night at the site. Wray said there is at least another year’s worth of design. He believes it will be three to four years before a water plant is operational.
That’s in part because construction will be substantial. The two water districts that have signed up for the wholesale district so far are Douglas County Rural Water District No. 5, which serves parts of southern and western Douglas County, and Osage County Rural Water District No. 5. I’ve previously reported the project will involve laying about 30 miles of pipe across the countryside The district will start acquiring easements for that pipeline this year, Wray said.
Wray is estimating the project will have about a $16 million price tag.
What remains to be seen is how substantial the project will be in terms of impacting the city of Lawrence’s business as a wholesale water supplier. The city sells lots of water to rural water districts, and theoretically those sales help hold down the costs the city has to charge to Lawrence water customers.
A few months ago, the city was at risk of losing its largest wholesale water customer, the city of Baldwin City. But a new contract has solidified that relationship. The agreement now limits how much Lawrence can increase the price it charges to Baldwin City.
• Now, student housing: It appears that Naismith Hall, the private student-housing complex at 19th Street and Naismith Drive has sold.
The property transfers show New York-based Bromley Naismith LLC has purchased the property from Miami Beach-based LBUBS 2003-C5 Naismith Drive LLC. (Try saying that when you answer the office phone everyday.)
Bromley Naismith appears to be an entity of Bromley Companies, a large real estate and development company headquartered on Fifth Avenue in New York, according to its Web site. The company for the last 40 years has been involved in private student housing complexes, and touts itself as having the second largest portfolio of “privately held residence halls” in the U.S.
I put a call into Naismith Hall, but a manager wasn’t available to talk. So, I don’t know what, if any, changes may be on the horizon for the property. It looks like the company runs its own food services company to provide dining hall service to all its dormitory properties. According to the company’s Web site, it has about 3,500 residence hall beds at public universities including the University of Illinois, Texas Tech, Ohio University and Northern Illinois.
As for other Lawrence and Douglas County property sales for the week, click here to see the complete list for the week ending Jan. 14.
Lawrence-based software development firm seeking incentives to create new jobs; also has expressed interest in possible site at former Farmland Industries location
There are signs that city of Lawrence officials are circling in on what could be the first tenant in a project to convert the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant into a business park.
There also are signs that the public may get its first taste of what type of incentives it will take to lure new businesses to the site.
The Lawrence-based software development firm AllofE Solutions has filed paperwork with the city seeking an unspecified job creation incentive and a possible relocation grant to assist with an expansion of the company. In a letter to city officials, it acknowledges that the Farmland property is one of the sites it is considering for a new building.
AllofE currently is located at 2510 W. Sixth Street, which is office space right across the street from the Cadillac Ranch nightclub. (That’s eerie because during an earlier period in my life, I would have sworn that the Cadillac Ranch actually was named AllofmyPaycheck because that is what it usually ended up with most weeks.)
AllofE touts itself as a software development firm that has created products for several industries, but currently it is heavy into the education market. Based on its Web site, it looks like the company has software systems to help school districts manage data related to various assessment scores, programs to help universities and school districts manage social media connections with the public, and a program that helps educators manage curriculum and other issues in the growing field of health sciences.
The company has been in business for about 10 years, and was founded and is still led by former KU professor Amit Guha.
Currently the company has about 10 full-time employees in software development marketing, administration and such. The company has submitted estimates to the city that the company plans to add about four new employees to the company each year for the next 10 years. (Technically, it is 35 full-time employees over 10 years.) The company estimates average salaries for the new positions will be about $45,000 in the beginning years and about $55,000 in the out years.
Details are still emerging on the specifics of the incentives the AllofE is seeking. Britt Crum-Cano, the city’s economic development coordinator, told me the request falls into two categories. One is a job creation grant. In other words, the company would be provided a certain amount of money for each new job created in Lawrence. My understanding is the specific dollar figure is still in development at City Hall, but I’m working on getting it.
The second type of incentive could involve either a free building site — or a greatly reduced price on a site — for a new office for the company. That site would be at the city’s developing business park at the former Farmland Industries property. Crum-Cano said the company is looking at about a 1.3 acre site for its facility.
Providing free land to a company hasn’t been the sort of thing the city has done in the past, but that’s in large part because the city hasn’t had land to give. With the city being the owner of the Farmland property, that creates some options in terms of incentives that weren’t on the table before. So, we’ll get to see what everybody’s comfort level is with that.
There could be some costs involved with that type of incentive for the city. The big cost at the Farmland site is providing infrastructure — roads, stop lights, improved water service and such — to the property. The city’s plan to pay for that infrastructure is to place special assessments on the various lots at Farmland. As the lots sell, the new businesses would start paying the special assessments to reimburse the city for the infrastructure costs. So, we’ll have to see how any deal is structured as it relates to who would pay those special assessments in the future.
Of course, there are still several steps left before any deal is reached. Crum-Cano said it is possible the company may choose to apply for the job creation grant, but not pursue the idea of a new office at this time.
Any set of incentives will have to first get a recommendation from the city’s Public Incentives Review Committee, and then will have to be voted on by the City Commission. Crum-Cano said she anticipates the incentive requests will be heard by PIRC sometime in February.
As I get more details on the project, I’ll pass them along.
Four more candidates file for Lawrence City Commission seats ahead of today’s deadline; field set at 11 candidates
Voters, get your memory caps out. Lawrence residents will have 11 different candidates to choose from during the upcoming City Commission elections.
The filing deadline was at noon today, and four more candidates threw their names into the ring.
Two of the candidates — Judy Bellome, the retired CEO of Lawrence’s Visiting Nurses Association, and Leslie Soden, a former president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association and owner of a pet care business — are candidates we told you to expect in yesterday’s edition of Town Talk.
But two more candidates came in just under the deadline.
William R. Olson and Nicholas E. Marlo both filed the necessary paperwork late this morning. I haven’t yet talked to either of them, but their filings give some information about both. The form asks for any place of employment during the last year, and Olson lists a management position with the R Bar & Patio in Lawrence. Marlo lists a position with Boston Financial Data Services, which folks in town may previously have known as DST Systems, the financial services company in the former Sallie Mae building near Sixth and Iowa.
I’m working to get in touch with both of the new candidates, and will add an update here when I do.
As for the rest of the field, here are the seven candidates who filed prior to today:
• City Commissioner Mike Amyx, a downtown barber shop owner;
• Rob Chestnut, a former Lawrence city commissioner and a CFO for a Topeka-based publishing company;
• Scott Criqui, a Lawrence human relations commissioner and an executive with a Lawrence-based home health care company;
• Jeremy Farmer, executive director of the Lawrence-based food bank Just Food;
• Reese Hays, chief litigation counsel for the Kansas Board of Healing Arts in Topeka;
• Terry Riordan, a Lawrence physician and former Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioner;
• Michael Rost, an attorney for a Topeka insurance company.
As expected, City Commissioners Aron Cromwell and Hugh Carter did not seek re-election.
With 11 candidates, this will be one of the larger fields in recent memory. It is far different from two years ago when only five candidates ran for three seats. It will be interesting to see if the larger field means candidates have some burning issues they want to talk about. The election two years ago didn’t have many hot-button issues.
Voters will narrow the field down to six candidates in a Feb. 26 primary. Voters then will elect three commissioners during the April 2 general election.
UPDATE: I’ve gotten in touch with Nicholas Marlo this afternoon. Marlo is a 23-year old recent graduate of Kansas University, and he said he’ll try to bring up issues important to younger voters.
“It seemed like it would be a fun thing to do,” Marlo said of his decision to enter the race. “I felt like maybe it would be good to have a larger youth voice.”
Marlo said one issue he wants to explore is having more late-night public transportation available in the city. He said late-night public transportation service might improve safety in the community by cutting down on the number of people who are driving after going to a bar.
Marlo works for Boston Financial Data Services in Lawrence, where he is a mutual fund representative in the company.
I’m still looking to get in touch with Olson.
A fellow can see lots of unusual things in downtown Lawrence: A honk for hemp guy; a gauntlet of street musicians of varying skill levels; and occasionally — thankfully — a man who walks around in nothing but a full-body suit of Spandex. (Please tell me I’m not the only person who has seen that.)
But have you seen the new downtown machine that can light up 400, incandescent 100-watt light bulbs all at once? Chances are you haven’t, unless for some reason you spend time on the roofs of downtown businesses. As we previously reported, downtown landlords David and Susan Millstein had a plan to put solar panels on their Liberty Hall and Sunflower Outdoor buildings in downtown.
Well, that plan has materialized. There are now about 200 solar panels on the roof of Liberty Hall, 644 Massachusetts St., and about 65 on the roof of Sunflower, 804 Massachusetts St. Look if you want, but the panels aren’t visible from the street. If all goes well, the solar panels are scheduled to start producing electricity today.
The folks at Lawrence-based Cromwell Environmental helped with the installation. Chris Rogge, director of solar design for Cromwell, said one way to look at the installation is that the system will generate enough power to light about 400, 100-watt incandescent light bulbs. (But, of course, you would have to be some sort of environmental heretic if you are still using incandescent light bulbs, right?)
Another way to look at it, though, is that the system will produce about $5,000 worth of electricity per year, Rogge said. And that’s based on the price of electricity today. Each year, the value of that electricity is going to increase. (Unless you think the power companies are suddenly going to lower their rates, in which case, you’ve perhaps stuck your finger in the light socket one too many times.)
Kansas now has a law stating that businesses or residents can install solar panel systems, and the electric provider in the region must buy back the electricity it produces. In other words, your monthly utility bill is offset by the amount of electricity the solar panel system produces.
Lawrence has become a bit of a hotspot for solar projects. The Poehler Lofts building near Eighth and Pennsylvania streets has an entire roof full of the panels, and the new Hy-Vee convenience store along Clinton Parkway also has solar panels on its roof.
But this project is a first for downtown Lawrence. I haven’t yet talked to the Millsteins to find out whether their experience with it leads them to believe that other landlords may follow their lead.
I know the Bowersock hydroelectric power plant expansion on the northern edge of downtown has caused some people to think about how Lawrence can better promote itself as a standout in the green energy field. Having Massachusetts Street lined with solar panels may be part of a strategy.
Or we could all just start wearing green, full-body Spandex suits.
UPDATE: I chatted today with David Millstein about the installation of the solar panels. He's estimating that the system will break even in about seven years. He's hoping that the system will reduce his energy bills by 20 percent to 30 percent.
He also hopes that in a few years he'll be able to report some success back to other downtown landlords who then will give the solar systems a try. Millstein said he's been looking at the idea of solar energy since at least the mid-1990s.
"Back then the price was so prohibitive," Millstein said. "It was like a 29-year payback, and the panel only lasted like 20 years."
But as technology has improved and prices have dropped, Millstein said he started looking at the project again because the environmental appeal of solar power has always stuck with him.
"Essentially, if you scratch an old hippie, there is a solar panel under there somewhere," he said.
I wonder if Lawrence businessman Doug Compton is becoming the E.F. Hutton of downtown Lawrence.
Oh, what’s that? You don’t remember popular television commercials from the 1970s? (My understanding is that there are large swaths of Lawrence’s population who lived through the 1970s but for some reason don’t remember them.)
Anyway, E.F. Hutton was a prominent investment firm that ran television commercials with the tag line: “When E.F. Hutton talks, people listen.”
Given that Compton, and groups that he leads, are spending tens of millions of dollars to remake the intersection of Ninth and New Hampshire with multi-story buildings, it is feasible to think that when Doug Compton talks about downtown, people are listening.
If so, here’s a statement you may want to take notice of: “It would be great to have a convention center in downtown Lawrence,” Compton said. “I would love to see that.”
Compton last week was answering a question as part of a panel hosted by the Lawrence commercial real estate office of Colliers International. Compton was answering a question about what he would like to see in downtown Lawrence in the future.
He didn’t go into any detail about a downtown convention center, such as how large it should be or where it should be located. There are no Lawrence convention center plans on the front burner at Lawrence City Hall that I’m aware of, but it is easy to see how the idea could get some discussion in the foreseeable future. When Compton’s group completes his Marriott hotel project at Ninth and New Hampshire streets, there will be three, full-service, upscale hotels in downtown: The Eldridge; SpringHill Suites by Marriott; and the new extended stay Marriott that Compton’s project will build. Plus, The Eldridge also operates an extended stay hotel project at Eighth and Vermont streets, and has a vacant lot next to The Eldridge that it has talked about expanding into. All of those projects would be within walking distance of a downtown convention center.
It also is worth noting that Compton is a part of the group that recently took over the long-term lease for the city-owned Abe & Jake’s building. Downtown nightclub owner Mike Logan will run the day-to-operations of that facility, and he has told me that one of the goals is to get more weekday, daytime meeting business into the unique building along the Kansas River. It might be a bit of a stretch to call the building — which can accommodate around 700 people — a convention center, but it certainly will give the group a taste of what it takes to attract large meetings, trade shows and such to the city.
Lawrence architect Mike Treanor — who has been a partner with Compton on several projects — echoed Compton’s sentiments about a convention center.
“A convention center is a terrific idea,” Treanor said.
But he also reminded the crowd that convention centers are they type of project that require some public investment. The city recently has shown willingness to invest in downtown through use of tax increment financing and a special transportation development district that will allow future tax dollars to help pay for infrastructure related to the Ninth and New Hampshire projects.
“To do infrastructure in downtown is so much more expensive than to do it on a greenfield site on the edge of town,” Treanor said. “But Lawrence has a good attitude right now about those type of tools.”
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think Compton and Treanor were really trying to lay the groundwork for some sort of convention center proposal in the near future. I think they were just asked a question and answered it, and maybe there was a little bit of seed planing going on as well. Regardless, it is interesting to think about.
The question of downtown’s future needs also drew an interesting response from Downtown Lawrence Inc. director Cathy Hamilton. She told the crowd that Downtown Lawrence Inc. would love to see a dedicated downtown Lawrence visitors center.
The association currently has a second-story office in downtown, but Hamilton believes a full-fledged visitors center with maps, brochures and friendly people to help point visitors in the right direction could be a real asset to downtown tourism.
“Something on the ground level where people can find a human point of contact,” Hamilton said. “It is our dream at this point, but it is something we’re working on.”
For what it is worth, Compton also used the forum to chime in on the proposed recreation center and sports park near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway. He made it clear that he didn’t think the sports park and the associated development that may occur around it would hurt downtown Lawrence. In fact, he thinks the edge-of-town development ultimately will help downtown.
“I think it will be a big asset to downtown,” Compton said. “It will bring more people to town who wouldn’t be here otherwise.
“Obviously, we’re getting ready to invest $17 million or $18 million in a Marriott, so we are excited about having more people come and stay in hotel rooms. Whenever people come to Lawrence, they always end up in downtown. I don’t think that is going to change.”
Compton — who also runs Lawrence’s First Management Construction Co. — didn’t get into any other details of the project, including what he thinks of a proposal that would allow Lawrence businessman and fellow construction executive Thomas Fritzel to match any construction bids received for the proposed recreation center.
It would be interesting to hear thoughts on that subject, but so far no area construction company has publicly chimed in on the topic.
Just as well, I’ve been busy recently sending off my investment checks to E.F. Hutton. What’s that? Son of . . . No, I hadn’t heard that E.F. Hutton is dead.
Speculation that retired health care executive and Lawrence neighborhood leader both will enter race for Lawrence City Commission
We’re dismissing questions about the upcoming Lawrence City Commission election like my wife dismisses my request to have access to our ATM PIN number.
First was whether the Lawrence City Commission race would have enough candidates for a primary? Yep. As we reported last week, there are now seven candidates in the race, which triggers a Feb. 26 primary to cut the field to six.
Next is whether any female candidates will enter the race? I’ve been told the answer soon will be yep and yep. I’ve been told to expect two female candidates to file before tomorrow’s noon deadline.
Leslie Soden, a former president of the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association and a founder of the Madre Lawrence group, confirmed to me that she will file her paperwork tomorrow morning.
Multiple sources also have told me that Judy Bellome, the recently retired chief executive officer of the Lawrence-based Visiting Nurses Association, plans to file for a seat on the commission.
Soden has contemplated making a run for the City Commission for the last several months, but a few weeks ago she told me she had decided against it. She said she was going to focus on her duties as a member of the newly created Joint Economic Development Council for Lawrence and Douglas County.
But she also told me at that time she was conflicted because she really does think there needs to be more diversity in the field of candidates.
Soden will bring a definite neighborhood perspective to the City Commission race. She has been deeply involved in neighborhood association issues over the last several years. She became more well-known in City Hall circles by serving as one of the main voices of opposition to the proposed multistory hotel/retail building at the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
I haven’t yet talked to Soden in enough detail to know her positions on several of the big issues, but the Lawrence Association of Neighborhoods, which Soden has been active in, has taken positions on a couple of the larger issues: the proposed $25 million recreation center and the expansion of the city’s rental registration and licensing program.
LAN took a position expressing concern about the proposed bidding procedures and other parts of the process related to the regional recreation center project. The association also came out in support of a major expansion of the city’s rental registration and licensing process for apartments. Don’t sleep on that issue. It will be a big one for apartment owners and real executives, who historically have been good at raising money for City Commission races.
As I noted last week, it will be interesting to see how large of an issue the recreation center project becomes in the race. It is very possible the current City Commission will make a commitment on the recreation center project in mid-February, a few days before the primary election.
But a couple of candidates — Mike Amyx and Reese Hays last week — both expressed concern about portions of the recreation center proposal during their campaign announcements. Will it be an issue for Soden? I don’t know. Perhaps the biggest question left in this race, other than who is going to win, is whether there are candidates who think this recreation center business is a political haymaker with voters. I’ve heard some people suggest this election could end up being an unofficial referendum on the recreation center project. I’ve heard others say that because the decision already will have been made that it is unlikely. We’ll see.
As for Bellome, I haven’t yet gotten in touch with her to confirm her plans. But she is well-known in the social service and health care arenas in the community, and has gotten to know many community leaders who have served on the board and volunteered for Visiting Nurses Association.
We’ll see if anybody else gets into the field before tomorrow’s filing deadline. The last election two years ago produced only five candidates, so already the interest level is quite a bit higher, for whatever reason. The general election is set for April 2.
Rock Chalk Park project likely to ask for property tax abatement from City Hall; questions about for-profit ownership emerge
New details keep emerging about Thomas Fritzel and Kansas University’s proposed Rock Chalk Park sports complex in northwest Lawrence.
The newest one is that the developers of the project will be asking for a 10-year property tax abatement from the city. City commissioners also will be asked to provide up to $40 million in city-issued industrial revenue bonds for the project.
That request for industrial revenue bonds hasn’t particularly been talked about a lot so far, but it didn’t come up entirely out of the blue. Kansas University Endowment briefly mentioned the need for industrial revenue bonds in an Oct. 2 letter, and City Manager David Corliss recently reminded city commissioners that such a request may be coming forward. (A quick note on industrial revenue bonds. Technically the bonds are issued by the city, but they are not the responsibility of the city to pay. The city's full faith and credit are not pledged to the bonds. What City Hall ramifications there would be if there was a default on $40 million worth of industrial revenue bonds is an interesting question, but legally, the city would not be obligated to pay the debt.)
The request for a property tax abatement, however, is a new arrival on the public scene. City staff members reported in a recent memo that the current understanding is that the ownership structure of the proposed Rock Chalk Park now may preclude the project from receiving an automatic property tax exemption from the state of Kansas. If that’s the case, then the city will be asked to use its powers to grant a property tax abatement.
From a dollars and cents standpoint, I’m not sure this changes much with the project. I think there had been an assumption that the facilities at Rock Chalk Park wouldn’t pay property taxes. For example, Allen Fieldhouse and Memorial Stadium don’t pay property taxes. Thus a KU track and field stadium, soccer field and softball stadium wouldn’t need to pay property taxes either.
But this latest twist highlights that there is a difference between the ownership structure of KU’s traditional sports venues and what’s proposed at Rock Chalk Park. It essentially can be summed up in two words: For profit.
The ownership of Allen Fieldhouse, for example, isn’t controlled by a for-profit entity. As currently proposed, though, the facilities at Rock Chalk Park—we’re not talking about the city’s recreation center at the moment—would be owned by a for-profit entity, controlled by developer Fritzel.
As we previously reported, the plan is for Bliss Sports — a for-profit, limited liability company controlled by Fritzel — to own the facilities for the first 30 years and lease them back to KU. That in and of itself creates a problem with the project’s ability to get an automatic property tax exemption from the state.
But there is now another question about the ownership interest of the project. It previously has been said that KU Endowment will own the land that the facilities sit upon. Well, a land transfer of the property occurred just prior to the New Year, and the KU Endowment Association does not show up as the owner of the property. Instead, a for-profit entity, called RCP LLC, is now listed as owner. The company is so newly formed that records showing the members of that company don’t yet exist at the Kansas Secretary of State’s office.
But I did get in touch this morning with Dale Seuferling, president of the KU Endowment Association. He assured me that KU Endowment Association is the sole member of the for-profit company. He said the new entity was formed because there obviously will be a lot of activity at the site, and the association felt for liability reasons it would be appropriate to have the land owned by its own entity. He said the association has used such a structure for other active pieces of property it owns.
It is worth noting, however, that the creation of this for-profit entity to own the land is different than what had previously been communicated. An Oct. 2 letter to city officials stated “KU Endowment will purchase the tract of land.” Maybe this is a distinction without a difference. I don’t know.
I think the need for the project to receive a property tax abatement, though, will raise the level of understanding in the community that this project has a significant, private, for-profit element to it. The facilities will be owned by a for-profit company, and technically, so will the land.
Now, the question is whether there is any expectation that a for-profit entity — Bliss Sports would be the leading candidate — will be allowed to conduct activities at the property that generates revenue and profit? In chatting with Seuferling this morning, I’m still not clear on that question. But I’ll keep asking around about it, and report what I learn.
Another interesting issue is the long-term situation with property taxes at this site. A city-issued tax abatement for the property only will be good for 10 years. As proposed, Fritzel’s for-profit entity is scheduled to own the facilities for 30 years.
Will the project have to pay property taxes in years 11 through 30? It has been estimated the KU portion of the project will have a market value of about $50 million. The property taxes on that will be substantial. I asked Seuferling, and he said he didn’t know the answer to that question. He said he hadn’t specifically discussed that issue with anyone.
I’ve heard elsewhere, though, that the project — during the next decade — may seek a special piece of legislation from the Kansas Statehouse that would create a specific property tax exemption for Rock Chalk Park, even though the facilities would be owned by a private company.
I hope to get some answers, and when I do, I’ll pass them along.
City gets proposals for citywide, curbside recycling; proposed rates come in between $2 and $5 per month
The idea of adding citywide, curbside recycling service in Lawrence may get its biggest boost yet on Tuesday night.
City commissioners will get their first glimpse at proposed rates to run a curbside recycling service, and the potential increase to monthly city utility bills is coming in below the $5 range that city officials had once projected.
Depending on how you structure the service, the city has bids that would increase the monthly trash rate of residents by about $2 per month for every-other-week service to a little less than $5 per month for weekly service.
As we previously reported, the city received bids from four entities, but if the issue is based just on rates, it looks like two providers will get the most attention: Deffenbaugh Industries out of Kansas City, and a proposal from the city’s Public Works Department for city crews to provide the service.
Here’s a look at some of the proposed pricing for residential customers:
• Deffenbaugh Industries: $2.15 to $2.80 per month to run bi-weekly service; $3.51 to $4.45 to run weekly service. Under this proposal Deffenbaugh would do all collection and processing of recycled materials.
• City of Lawrence: $2.19 to $2.64 per month to run bi-weekly service; $3.50 to $3.94 per month to run weekly service. Under this proposal, city crews would do all collection, but Deffenbaugh Industries would process the recycled materials at its facility in Kansas City. The city also received proposals from Waste Management and Hamm Companies to process the materials, but those bids generally were higher than Deffenbaugh’s proposal.
• Waste Management: $2.68 to $4.01 per month for bi-weekly service; $4.94 to $5.97 per month for weekly service. Under this proposal crews from Waste Management would handle both collection and processing of the materials. Waste Management recently opened a recycling processing center in Topeka.
City officials will have a lot of information to wade through in evaluating the proposals. In addition to the current bids, the city asked each company to provide an estimate of how large of an annual increase in rates each provider would expect. In that category, Waste Management provided the best option. It estimates annual increases at 3 percent per year. Deffenbaugh estimates 3.58 percent per year, and the city estimates 4.15 percent per year.
The city also will have to determine whether there is value in having a recycling processing center close to Lawrence. If that is the case, Hamm Companies has the best proposal. Hamm is proposing to build a new recycling collection center near the intersection of U.S.. Highway 24-40 and Kansas Highway 32 on property northeast of Lawrence.
Another issue city commissioners will have to grapple with is whether the service ought to be weekly or every two weeks. Somewhat surprisingly, the city’s Public Works Department leaders are recommending every-other-week service. Most of the discussion during the city’s Solid Waste Task Force deliberations focused on weekly service. But the Public Works Department notes the every-other-week service would produce a lower cost to the customer, would require fewer miles to be driven by trash trucks and would have less impact on the environment because it would produce fewer vehicle emissions.
Concerns, however, have been expressed that people may not remember which week is recycling week, if the city goes with every-other-week service. The city also is estimating that every-other-week service would require households to have a 95-gallon cart to handle recyclables. That’s a larger cart than the city’s standard 65-gallon cart.
But make no mistake, with whatever curbside recycling option is chosen, residents are going to have another city-issued cart to care for. All the proposals are based on the use of semi-automated or fully automated trucks, which means carts would be mandatory.
All of the proposals also are based on the idea that every household in the city would have the recycling fee added to their monthly bills, regardless of whether they use the service.
And here’s another big consideration for commissioners: Glass, as in glass beer bottles and such. As I read the proposals, Waste Management and its new processing center is the only one of the proposals that is ready to handle glass. Deffenbaugh’s center does not process glass. Hamm Companies did not include glass processing in its proposal to the city, but it said it could provide an alternate proposal if the city wishes to include glass as part of the service.
It will be interesting to see whether Lawrence residents come out strongly one way or the other on whether glass should be part of the city’s curbside recycling program. Currently, there are several glass drop-off stations in the city.
Commissioners will review the proposals at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday. How quickly commissioners act on the curbside recycling idea also will be interesting to watch. An odd state law requires the city to wait until at least June 2014 to begin the service. But the city would need to make the commitment to create the service well before then. It seems very possible that the current group of city commissioners will want to make the decision before the City Commission general election in April.