Entries from blogs tagged with “Town Talk”
Nationally, November housing starts fell to their lowest level in at least 50 years, the U.S. Commerce Department reported Thursday. New numbers from the city’s Neighborhood Resources division show that Lawrence did its part to drive the numbers down. Builders in the city started just three new homes and two new duplexes in the month. Through the first 11 months of the year, builders have started 97 single family homes and 12 duplexes. Those numbers are about 70 percent below traditional numbers. Apartment construction, though, has boomed this year. Building permits for 550 apartment units have been pulled through November. November, though, did produce some business construction. Here’s a look: • Bo Harris’ Hobbs Taylor Loft building is getting a major new tenant. Harris pulled a $200,000 building permit to renovate space in the building for Marche Design, a Lawrence-based company that designs a host of products for manufacturers. For example, its web site lists products such as a Coleman camp oven, wireless speakers by Hammacher Schlemmer, and a digital photo frame and weather station by Moie as products the company has designed. Attempts to reach the company to determine whether the new office space means that the company is adding jobs, was unsuccessful. • Work has begun to convert the former Pizzeria Uno at 3333 Iowa Street into a Mexican restaurant. According to a sign in front of the building, the building is set to become a Casa Agave restaurant, a Mexican restaurant and cantina. • Budget Rent A Car has started work to renovate space in the Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana for a new location. • A new auto accessory business called Car Toys also is renovating space in the Malls Shopping Center.
The controversial improvements near Lawrence High School have another small hurdle to clear at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission next week. Planning commissioners will be considering the preliminary plat and a variance request for the portions of the improvements near the former Centennial School building at 2145 La. The Planning Commission will meet at 6:30 p.m. on Monday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets. Preliminary plats normally are routinely approved, because they largely show just technical details such as lot lines and location of easements and rights-of-way. School district leaders, however, are requesting variance from the city’s right-of-way standards. Instead of providing a full 50-foot right-of-way along Louisiana Street, the school district is proposing to provide a 40-foot right -of-way and a 10-foot pedestrian and utility easement. The variance is needed to keep the current school building in compliance with proper setback standards. Staff members are recommending approval of the variance, in part, because it accomplishes the intent of the right-of-way requirement. In other business, the Planning Commission will consider changes to the Douglas County zoning code. The changes involve major updates of terms and categories. The updates also include more language making it clearer that farmers have several rights to do agritourism ventures and value-added agriculture ventures as part of their agriculturally zoned property.
Here’s a name to keep an eye on as you to try to handicap the upcoming City Commission elections — IMpac. No, it not the name of some exotic candidate. It’s the name of a new organization that plans to become Lawrence’s newest political action committee. Jacob Beaumont, a 24-year old political science graduate and organizer for the Democratic party, has begun sending out letters and e-mails seeking donations for the new organization, which goes by the full name of Independent Moderate Political Action Committee. The goal of the group is to support “moderate and progressive candidates that will move Lawrence and Douglas County forward in a responsible manner, independent of special interests and personal agendas.” But what constitutes a moderate when it comes to Lawrence city politics? Does a moderate support public transportation? Does a moderate support new sales taxes for streets and infrastructure? Does a moderate support tax abatements for new businesses? Beaumont, who grew up in Lawrence, didn’t have a lot of specifics to offer on what defines a moderate in Lawrence. Instead, he said it will become more obvious as the PAC assembles a slate of candidates it plans to support. Beaumont said he hopes to find three candidates to run for the three seats up for election on the five-member commission. The PAC then would do what PACs do — it would start spending money on behalf of those candidates. The goal that he has stated in fundraising letters sent out to Lawrence political types is to have $5,000 in the bank before the Jan. 27 filing deadline for the City Commission race. Beaumont, though, conceded in an interview that the new effort isn’t yet rolling in the dough. “It is the holiday season,” Beaumont said. “I’m sure it will start opening up more after the holidays.” Currently, the effort is just Beaumont and a few friends who help him stuff envelopes. The new group hasn’t yet registered as an official PAC with the Kansas Governmental Ethics Commission. The group will have to do so before it starts spending money on behalf of candidates. All this activity comes several months before voters will be asked to choose commissioners. The general election will be on April 7. A primary — if needed — will be on March 3. If nothing else, all this election talk serves two purposes: It reminds us that Spring is around the corner, and it keeps the rumor mill churning. Which brings me to the question that any good rumor connoisseur asks: What have you heard?
If you look really hard, there might be a little bit of good news in the county’s November real estate report. According to information compiled by the Douglas County Appraiser’s office, the number of home sales in November were down by 5 percent, compared to November 2007. That decline is far less than what’s been posted in other months. For the year, the number of home sales in Lawrence and Douglas County is down by 31 percent.But real estate watchers would caution that November sales typically don’t amount to much, and probably aren’t much of a bellwether. As I said, you have to look hard. The slowdown in demand in 2008 has led to a drop in home prices, particularly since July. Based on earlier numbers, Douglas County Appraiser Marion Johnson estimated most homes in the county would see a decline in value of 2 percent to 5 percent in 2009. He’s now revised that estimate slightly and now he's predicting most properties will see a decline in value of 1 percent to 4 percent, depending on the neighborhood. Other numbers from the report:
The national headlines in September and October were full of gloom and doom about the economy, but they apparently didn’t slow shoppers much in Lawrence. The city’s most recent sales tax report showed that sales tax collections in late September and early October — right in the depths of the financial crisis — actually were 5 percent higher than for the same period a year ago. The most recent numbers continue a yearlong trend of collections beating the city’s projections. For the year, the city has collected $19.4 million in sales taxes, which is about $700,000 more than was collected during the same time period a year ago. The most recent monthly report showed that in late September and early October, the city collected $1.67 million in sales taxes, up from $1.58 million during the same period in 2007.
With the national economy seemingly getting softer by the day, one Lawrence-based company believes it has found a solid product to rest upon — concrete floors. Prosoco — which has its headquarters and manufacturing plant in the East Hills Business Park — has begun a $300,000 remodeling of its plant to give it more capacity to produce products for finished concrete floors. Among the several products Prosoco produces are stains, finishes and hardeners for concrete floors. In a down economy, that has ended up being a product line with an upside, said Gary Henry, a spokesman for the company. “In a contracting economy when everybody is looking at every conceivable way to save a buck, finished concrete flooring is looking better and better,” Henry said. Almost all commercial buildings have concrete floors, but in the past, office buildings, churches and other types of large users have usually covered the concrete with carpet, tile or wood flooring. Now, builders are realizing there are cost savings to be had by simply finishing the concrete with a colorful stain and a high sheen gloss. The remodeling project at Prosoco will increase the company’s warehouse capacity for the concrete finishing products by about 65 percent. The work also will include the construction of a new loading dock to allow the necessary raw materials to manufacture the products to be shipped in more easily. The project has had a small impact on jobs. The company in the last month added two new employees to its Lawrence operations to help keep up with increased demand. The company now employs 65 people at its Lawrence plant and headquarters facility.
The work to build businesses along the new - but not yet completed - route for U.S. Highway 59 has begun. Lawrence-Douglas County planning commissioners at their meeting Monday tonight will consider a request for a four-lot business development at what will be the new intersection of U.S. Highways 59 and 56. Joseph Daniels Jr. is seeking approval of a preliminary plat for an 18-acre subdivision that would allow up to four new business buildings to be built just east of the new intersection. The new intersection will be about three miles west of Baldwin City. No word yet on what businesses are planned for the development, but the zoning allows for gas stations, auto sales, restaurants, retail stores and even a hotel. The zoning generally doesn't allow for manufacturing or warehousing uses. Planning commissioners will consider the preliminary plat as part of their meeting that begins at 6:30 p.m. Monday at City Hall, Sixth and Massachusetts streets. In other planning commission news, neighbors of a Douglas County rock quarry may soon learn that just because it is written doesn't mean it is so. Planning commissioners are being asked to consider an expansion of the Big Springs Quarry, [2 N 1700 Road,] despite the fact that the conditional use permit for the property specifically says that the operators of the quarry are barred from ever seeking an expansion of the quarry. Planning commissioners first heard the request, which would increase the size of the quarry by about 150 acres, in September. But commissioners asked for a legal opinion on whether they could even consider the request since the current permit says "no additional requests . . . to expand the size of the quarry site" can be made by the operator. The Douglas County counselor, though, has told planning commissioners that they should feel free to consider the request. Although the intent of the condition was to prevent future commissions from considering an expansion, County Counselor Evan Ice said the law generally doesn't allow one commission to stop a future commission from doing something. So, in other words: Nice try, but no dice. The plan, which also includes a request to extend the operational permit for the quarry until 2030, will be heard by planning commissioners at their 6:30 p.m. meeting on Wednesday at City Hall. For a complete look at items on the Planning Commission's upcoming agendas, [click here.] : http://www.mapquest.com/maps?city=Lecompton&state=KS&address=2+N+1700th+Rd&zipcode=66050-4100&country=US&latitude=38.98584&longitude=-95.500839&geocode=ADDRESS#a/maps/l::2+N+1700th+Rd:Lecompton:KS:66050-4100:US:38.98584:-95.500839:address::1/m:hyb:12:38.98584:-95.500839:0:::::/io:0:::::f:EN:M:/e : http://www.lawrenceplanning.org/documents/pcagendaNov08.pdf
Workers driving into downtown each morning may soon have one less excuse not to bring donuts to the office. Plans are in the works to build a new Dunkin' Donuts at the corner of Sixth and Michigan streets, said Sonny Patel, the owner of Lawrence's lone Dunkin' Donuts at 521 W. 23rd St. The store on 23rd Street will remain open. Patel said he's wanted to expand for years in Lawrence, but had to await corporate approval. "We have a lot of customers bugging us for a new location," Patel said. "They tell me that they have to drive all the way across town for their coffee."The new store - which would be on the northwest corner of the intersection - will include a drive-through lane. The store will be housed in a new 2,400-square-foot building that will replace the current building on the corner, which used to house a medical supply and equipment store. Patel said he believes the location will be a good one because it is along a main route to downtown and to Lawrence Memorial Hospital. The project currently is seeking site plan approval from city planners. Patel said he hopes to start construction in February and have the new store open in July. Perhaps the only downside: The site previously had been approved to house a Church's Chicken store, which would be the first in the city. That deal fell through. No official word on whether Church's is still looking for a site in the city, although there will be several restaurant sites available near the intersection of Sixth and Wakarusa as development progresses there. ¢ As bloggers on this site previously speculated, it is an O'Reilly Auto Parts Store that has started construction on a vacant lot east of Checkers on 23rd Street. O'Reilly spokesman Mark Merz said the new store is part of a company-wide plan to build new prototype stores in several markets. The new stores typically are larger than existing stores and feature wider aisles and more "retail showroom" space.The site - which fronts 23rd Street - previously had been proposed for apartments. Merz said the new store likely will open in about six months. The current O'Reilly store at 1008 W. 23rd St. will remain open while the new store is being constructed. But eventually that store will be remodeled for a new retailer, said local commercial real estate agent Paul Cromer. He said he has signed a tenant for the space, but said he could not yet reveal the identity of the business.
Maybe it is like a kid getting too excited too early about what will be under the Christmas tree.But, with just two months left, Lawrence city government is still in line to receive an end-of-the-year gift from sales tax collections.[Through October,] the city remains on pace to collect more in sales tax revenue than in it did in 2007, and, more importantly, more than it budgeted for in 2008.Specifically, the first 10 months of the year have produced $17.7 million in sales tax collections for the city. That's up 3.4 percent from the same period a year ago. If the city remains on that pace, it will collect about $21.1 million in 2008. That's about $700,000 more than it budgeted to collect for the year.In other words, a windfall in an otherwise windless economy.But, as city leaders have been saying all year, they won't believe it for sure until they actually see the check.The October numbers - which are from sales made from mid-August to mid-September - do show some signs of cracking. The city collected about $240,000 less in October 2008 than it did in October 2007. That represented a significant drop of 11.5 percent. It also ended a three month streak of increasing collections. One-month drops aren't unusual, but given the national economic news, the sales tax checks the city receives in November and December also may be off significantly from a year ago. Those final two disbursements will represent sales made from late September through mid-November.Already, on a national level, retailers have reported October sales were one of the worst on record. : http://www.lawrenceks.org/web_based_agendas/2008/11-04-08/11-04-08h/cm_report_sales_tax_distribution.html
Imagine this. A major manufacturer has chosen Lawrence as the site for a new $50 million plant that would employ 500 people and pay average salaries of $44,000 per year. City commissioners would march down Massachusetts Street singing a chorus of Hallelujah! Struggling real estate agents and merchants would join arms and dance a jig of jubilation on sidewalks across the city. The Kaw would once again flow with milk and honey. Not so fast. Come to find out, that company wouldn't be eligible for the 80 percent tax abatement that it expects. At least not under a new method that staff members are developing to measure the cost and benefits of tax abatements. In fact, the project wouldn't even come close to qualifying. The city's current tax abatement policy requires that any company requesting a tax abatement show that it would produce at least $1.25 cents in general benefits to the economy for every $1 in property tax that it has abated. In the past, a project with 500 new jobs and average wages of $44,000 normally would have no problem meeting that standard. But under the new measuring method being developed at City Hall, the hypothetical project only scored a 1.10 benefit-to-cost ratio, well short of the required 1.25 score. So, what's up? Well, the new tax abatement scoring model - which commissioners will consider in December - is significantly different from the current model that is maintained by economists at Kansas University. Here are a few ways it differs:¢ The proposed model assumes the company actually would come to Lawrence even if the tax abatement was not offered. The current model assumes the exact opposite. The assumption makes a big difference because under the proposed model all tax abatements are counted as a cost. For example, in this hypothetical example, the company would get a $12 million tax break over 10 years. With the proposed model, that $12 million gets counted as a cost to the city and the county. That makes it more difficult for the benefits to outweigh the costs. ¢ The proposed model assumes that quite a few new people would be living in the city as a result of the new company. At first glance, that would seem to be good. But when it comes to models, that isn't always the case. The proposed model assumes that there will be 411 new households in the city and county as a result of the new company. Some of the households will be people who are working at the new plant. Others, though, will be people who are in service jobs supporting the new plant and the new people who live here. Those folks may be making significantly less in wages than the plant workers. If a person makes a lot less, it may be that they'll add more costs to government than they'll generate in revenue. The bottom line is, the proposed model counts more of those type of people than the current model does. Again, that makes it harder for the benefits to outweigh the costs. ¢ The proposed model, in this case, assumes all the costs associated with the new project should be entirely accounted for by the new business. For example, if the new manufacturer required an upgrade in the roads around the plant site, all those public costs should be attributed to the project, even though other non-plant related traffic would benefit from the upgrades as well. That's different from how the current model accounts for costs. But the biggest factor in all this may be the specific site where the company is locating. The model assumes that it is the 87-acre farm field just east of the East Hills Business Park. The site currently is the only industrially zoned property in the city more than 50 acres in size. (A 155-acre tract along the Farmers Turnpike was recently zoned industrial, but it is now tied up in a lawsuit filed by upset neighbors.) The 87-acre site, though, may be an expensive one to develop. Economic development leaders have asked the city and county to spend about $2 million to add seven feet of fill dirt to the site. Without raising the elevation of the site, it likely is not marketable, eco devo leaders have said. In addition, city staff members assumed that there would be another $2.5 million to $7 million in off-site infrastructure costs related to the project. Although the city could require the developer to pay for those costs, this model assumed that wouldn't be a likely scenario. It counted those costs as a cost for city and county government to pick up. What all these numbers add up to, likely, is a lot of food for thought for city commissioners. Is it worth investing money into the 87-acre site? Would this new way of measuring tax abatements make it too difficult for companies to qualify? Does the current tax abatement model too often leave the city and county holding the bag? Answers should be forthcoming. In the meantime, the sidewalks will be jig-free zones.
The Lawrence Board of Realtors has endorsed Jim Flory and David L. Brown in the two Douglas County Commission races in Tuesday's election.The board announced this week it was endorsing county commission candidates for the first time in its 83-year history.The board's leadership interviewed all four candidates before making a selection. President Thomas Howe said board leaders chose Brown and Flory based on their commitment to supporting economic development and job growth opportunities."Over the next few years, Douglas County will be forced to deal with an increasing number of difficult decisions surrounding economic development and land use," Howe said.Flory, a Republican and former Douglas County district attorney, faces Ken Grotewiel, a Democrat and retired Kansas Water Office official, in the 3rd District race. Brown, a Republican and retired Douglas County Sheriff's officer and farmer and rancher, will face Nancy Thellman, a Democrat and ordained Presbyterian minister, in the 2nd District race.
Stop signs, stop signs, or perhaps a stop light. Lawrence's Traffic Safety Commission is preparing for a discussion of all the above. Here's a look at some issues the advisory board is scheduled to debate at its 7 p.m. meeting on Nov. 3 at City Hall. ¢ A request for a pedestrian-activated signal at the intersection of Arrowhead Drive and Peterson Road. About 100 residents have signed a petition urging for an improvement at the intersection, which they contend is very difficult for pedestrians to cross. The city's traffic engineer said the intersection doesn't meet the traffic levels to warrant a signal, but he also noted that the City Commission recently has approved pedestrian crossings for other parts of town that have not met the recommended levels. ¢ Kansas University leaders have learned to love a set of stop signs that were recently installed to help with traffic concerns related to construction of The Oread, a hotel development at 12th and Indiana. KU is now asking that the temporary multi-way stop signs at the intersection of 11th and Louisiana and 11th and Mississippi streets be kept permanently. One of the reasons the university wants to keep the stop signs is because they believe they make the intersections more pedestrian friendly. So, that brings me to a question. What intersection or street do you think is the most difficult to cross? There are a few more issues that traffic safety commissioners will consider at next week's meeting. To see the complete agenda, click [here.] And just a reminder, all Traffic Safety Commission actions are just recommendations. The City Commission will make the final decisions at a later date. : http://www.lawrenceks.org/advisory_boards/tsc/agendas/2008/11/03
Who knows if it will be as accurate as a crystal ball, but an unscientific survey by the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce shows support for all three sales tax questions on Tuesday's ballot. The chamber Friday morning reported that 75.8 percent of its members who responded to an e-mail survey supported a three-tenths of a percent sales tax to provide funding for city infrastructure. 24.2 percent opposed the tax.Support for the two transit related sales taxes were less clear cut. A total of 58 percent supported Question No. 2, which would create a two-tenths of a percent sales tax to fund basic transit operations. And 42 percent were opposed. On Question No. 3 - a five-hundredths of a percent sales tax to provide enhanced transit operations - 52.2 percent supported the measure, while 47.8 opposed it. The survey is based on 157 responses, or about 15 percent response rate from the chamber's membership. The chamber sent out the survey earlier this month to help the organization's board of directors decide whether to endorse any of the ballot questions. The chamber said in a press release Friday morning that the board had decided to endorse Question No. 1 - the infrastructure measure - but did not reach consensus on support for Questions No. 2 and 3. The chamber said its board did reach consensus on the need for public transportation in the community, but could not agree that a sales tax was the best way to fund a system.
This and that from the Lawrence development scene. ¢ Expect to see some construction work at the Kwik Shop store at the corner of 19th and Massachusetts streets. The company plans to give its existing store a major overhaul and new look, according to a site plan filed with the city's planning department. The company also plans to convert much of a vacant grass lot to the east of the store into additional parking. ¢ Kwik Shop's corporate cousin - Dillons - also plans to get out the hammer and saw at its store at 3000 W. Sixth Street. According to a site plan, the company wants to add a drive-through pharmacy lane to the store. The drive-through would be near the southeast corner of the building. ¢ Keep an eye on the intersection of Peterson Road and Monterey Way. A recent application for preliminary plat for 3901 Peterson Road proposed a large multi-family development that targeted retirees. But now, planners say the developers have requested a deferral of the plat, and it is uncertain when the project may move forward. ¢ People who live near Eldridge Lane and Overland Drive may be getting some new neighbors. A request to rezone and plat about 10 acres at 4145 Seele Way has been received by city planners. The request seeks to rezone the property from traditional single-family lots to a mix of duplex and small-lot single family development. Specifically, the rezoning would allow for 44 duplex living units and 19 single-family homes. Previously, the land had been zoned to allow for 41 single family homes.
The national restaurant chain Noodles & Company is interested in locating in downtown Lawrence. The company has filed a site plan to locate at 8 W. Eighth St., the longtime home of Palace Cards and Gifts. Greg Guenther, who owns both the card shop and the building, characterized the project as being in its preliminary stages. He said the restaurant company would have to meet several conditions before the deal moves forward. He said a final decision on whether to close the card and gift shop to make way for the restaurant likely would not be made until January or February. Noodle & Company serves a variety of noodle dishes, ranging from Asian fare like Bangkok curry to American dishes like macaroni and cheese or chicken and noodles. According to the company's [Web site,] the restaurant has Kansas locations in Olathe and Overland Park. Guenther said if the restaurant deal does move forward, he has not decided whether to reopen the card and gift shop at a new location. : http://www.noodles.com/
There are no plans to rename Ice Field - the venerable baseball venue at Holcom Park - T-Mobile Field. But the wireless phone company does want to have a presence at the ballpark. The company is working to win approval to place a 120 foot wireless phone tower in the park. Thus far, leaders with the Lawrence Parks and Recreation Department are fine with the idea. That's because the company is proposing to put up a "stealth" pole. [The plan] calls for removing the 90 foot left field light pole at Ice Field and replacing it with the 120 foot telephone pole. The lights will be reattached at the proper height, and the telephone equipment will be attached at the top. There also will be a small building at the base for a generator and other equipment. T-Mobile would pay the city a monthly fee for use of the ground, which will continue to be owned by the city. A lease amount hasn't been determined yet, said Ernie Shaw, the city's acting director of Parks and Recreation. But typically, such leases net the city several thousand dollars per year. The plan has received the necessary approvals from Parks and Recreation officials and from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, which provided money to help establish the park in the 1970s. But the plan still must win all the normal planning approvals from city planners and the Planning Commission. Shaw said the company wants to install the pole as soon as possible. : http://www.lawrenceks.org/web_based_agendas/2008/10-14-08/10-14-08h/cm_report.html
When you vote on Nov. 4, you'll be faced with three questions about whether the city should increase its sales tax rate.But you may have several questions running through your head. I'd like to hear them. Between now and the election, I'll be writing two question and answer stories regarding the sales tax issues - one on the sales tax for infrastructure, and one on the two sales tax questions for public transit. What questions would you like to see us address in those stories? Use the reader comment section below to post your questions, and we'll do our best to find answers.
The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce may soon weigh in on the city's proposed sales tax increase. The chamber on Wednesday afternoon sent out an e-mail to its members asking them to participate in a survey asking whether they support the three sales tax questions that will be on the Nov. 4 ballot. The message says the chamber's board of directors will meet next week to decide whether to take an official position on the three sales tax questions. Previously, chamber leaders had said they were not sure whether the organization would make an endorsement in the election. As a reminder, voters will be asked to decide three sales tax questions:¢ Question No. 1: A 0.30 percent sales tax for streets and infrastructure. ¢ Question No. 2: A 0.20 percent sales tax for transit operations. ¢ Question No. 3: A 0.05 percent sales tax for expanded transit services and new transit equipment.
Leftovers from a late Tuesday night City Commission meeting:¢ City Commissioner Boog Highberger ultimately ended up voting against a request that would allow developers to charge an extra 1 percent sales tax on purchases at a proposed shopping area on the northeast corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. [A day earlier, Highberger had expressed some support] for the concept. Highberger said he was torn on the issue, but ultimately voted against the special tax because he thought it would set a bad precedent. "I just don't want this to turn into a stealth tax," Highberger said. Highberger said he was concerned that if commissioners approved this request, every future retail development in the city would ask for the special taxing power. The special taxing authority is part of what is called a Transportation Development District. The city charges the extra sales tax, and developers get to use the proceeds to pay for up to $5 million worth of public streets and other public infrastructure that is needed to support the development. None of the money can be used for private construction, like for retail buildings. Highberger said he could envision approving the special tax for retail districts in the future, but only if they presented extraordinary reasons. Developers of this project - dubbed Bauer Farms - thought they met that bill. The project will intersperse commercial and residential development on the approximately 40 acre site that stretches all the way to Sixth and Folks Road. The project also includes space for a three-story community building that has been mentioned as a possible new home for the Lawrence Community Theatre. As we reported last night, commissioners ultimately sided with the development group. Commissioners approved the new 1 percent sales tax on a 3-1 vote. The new tax will start being charged on April 1, assuming that stores in the new development are open by then. ¢ Neighbors near the Jayhawk Bookstore - yes, the one at the top of Naismith Hill - showed up in numbers to urge commissioners to be cautious in approving a rezoning for the book store. Commissioners ultimately agreed to rezone the longtime business to a new zoning category called "mixed use." The zoning designation in the future would allow the property to be many other things besides a bookstore, including a restaurant, apartments or a mixture of several uses. Neighbors said they were concerned that they would get left out in the cold if the property is ever redeveloped. That's because the city's relatively new Development Code allows site plans for new projects to be approved administratively by the city's director of planning. Before, site plans went before the City Commission for approval. A site plan is the document that actually shows what type of new buildings, parking and other structures will be part of a redevelopment. The code allows neighbors that live directly next to the development to appeal site plan decisions to the City Commission. The area's neighborhood association also can appeal a site plan decision to the City Commission. But if you are neighbor who lives a few houses away from the development, you don't have any automatic right to appeal. That irked most of the neighbors in attendance. Commissioners ultimately placed a special condition on the property saying that if the use ever changes on the property, that the site plan has to be reviewed by the City Commission. Commissioner Rob Chestnut said he wasn't overly thrilled with that condition because he fears it could become standard operating practice to have site plans come back to the commission for review. The point of having them administratively reviewed was to streamline the development process, which often has been criticized as being too lengthy. The whole discussion may be for naught. The owners of the bookstore said they don't have any plans to redevelop the property. Instead, they just wanted the zoning of their property to actually match the use that is already there. Until last night's action, the property was zoned for fraternity and sorority uses. That made the store a non-conforming use, which increases the amount of insurance the business must pay, and makes it more difficult to obtain bank loans. ¢ Commissioners, without any fanfare, approved a special use permit for a new Alzheimer's treatment facility at [1216 Biltmore Drive in West Lawrence.]The permit would allow for a new 28-bed bed Alzheimer's treatment facility to be built on the property, and also allows for a six bed expansion to be undertaken at a later date. Look for more details on that later. : http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/oct... : http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&h...
News and notes from the Lawrence real estate scene: ¢ A national chain is entering the fitness and health club market in Lawrence. Anytime Fitness plans to open its first Lawrence location next week. The club is under construction in the shopping center next to the Hy-Vee Food and Drug Store on Clinton Parkway. The club's big selling point is that it is open 24/7, and if you join the Lawrence club you have free access to all Anytime Fitness clubs across the country. The company's Web site says it has about 700 clubs nationwide. The Lawrence operation is owned by Doug Carstens and Jason Kapke. Carstens owns an Anytime Fitness franchise in Gardner, and Kapke owns one in Columbus, Neb. Carstens said Lawrence's high number of young professionals got the pair interested in opening a Lawrence location. ¢ Motorists on the southern portion of Haskell Avenue should be noticing a change to the skyline.Construction work is entering the final phases of a new 56,000 square feet building that will house Westar Energy's Operations Center. The building is about a block west of the 27th and Haskell intersection. The center will be home to Westar's maintenance crews that respond to power outages and other issues dealing with the area's electrical system. The company has had its operations center at the site for several years, but the new building will nearly triple the size of the facility, said Westar architect Pat Tryon.Tryon said the company is building the facility to handle the maintenance needs of the area for the next 10 to 15 years. Currently, about 40 employees work out of the building, he said. Crews with Lawrence-based B.A. Green Construction plan to complete the work on the building by the end of the year. ¢ The cluster of shops in the parking lot area of Home Depot and Best Buy at 31st and Iowa, will soon have a new tenant. Construction work is underway on Your Style, a new hair care business.If you know of a new business that is opening up, or want to give us the heads up about a real estate deal that you think is newsworthy, drop me a line at the link below.