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City Comission leftovers

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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][1] 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.][2]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. [1]: http://www2.ljworld.com/news/2008/oct... [2]: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&h...

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