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Activity along O'Connell Road heats up with $15 million affordable housing project


There are only two explanations for the large swaths of bare dirt at the former Farmland site at 23rd and O'Connell: The area is either preparing for future development, or I've been hired to do the area's landscaping. (This August has been an exception. I actually have a healthy, lush stand of green . . . weeds.)

The former Farmland Industries site, of course, is being prepared to become a new industrial park. We've reported on that several times. But prepare to see more action on the south side of the 23rd and O'Connell intersection as well.

The leader of the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has confirmed to me that it is moving forward with a new 128-unit affordable housing development on portions of the southwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell. Also, a private development group has filed plans at City Hall to rezone about 10 acres for a multifamily rental development near O'Connell Road and East 28th Street.

We've previously reported that the Housing Authority has been studying the feasibility of an affordable housing, rent-controlled project on the corner. But now the project has moved to a new level. Housing Authority Director Shannon Oury said her board has agreed to devote up to $1 million in reserve funds to help the project get started.

The authority is still partnering with a private development group led by Lawrence developer Bill Newsome. Newsome's company owns the land on the corner and has been working with the state to secure tax credits to help finance the project. Once the units are built, however, the Housing Authority will be responsible for renting the units and using proceeds from the rent to pay off the project. The project is expected to have a total price tag of about $15 million.

Oury said her organization is excited about the project, in part, because it will be a bit different than traditional affordable housing projects.

"We're really gearing this project toward the working class," Oury said.

Families and individuals with incomes that are 40 percent to 60 percent of the median in Douglas County will be eligible to rent at the project. According to a HUD Web site, the median family income in Douglas County is about $70,000, which means a family making 40 percent of that would check in around $28,000 while a family at 60 percent would be at about $42,000.

Oury said the timing seems to be right for the project because the housing market is starting to gain steam again, which often means higher prices and more difficulty for working families to find affordable housing.

"We want to make sure we keep affordable housing developing as all the other housing develops too," Oury said. "We don't want to create a situation that we've seen in other vibrant communities where they price moderate- to low-income people out of the market."

The project still has to win the necessary planning approvals from Lawrence City Hall. That process will provide more details about what the project will look like, although this post from January includes a rendering of a proposed design. Oury said she hopes to have units ready to rent by the first quarter of 2015.

Farther south on O'Connell Road, plans are in the works for an apartment complex. A group led by Lawrence builder Heath Seitz and real estate appraiser Jeff Hatfield have filed for annexation and rezoning of about 10 acres at 1338 E. 1600 Road. That is the vacant land that is just east of the roundabout at 28th and O'Connell.

I'm still waiting to get details from the development group about what type of apartment complex it's planning. The zoning request seeks RM-15 multifamily zoning. The request also notes that the city's Southeast Area Plan calls for the property to be developed with medium density residential uses.

"There is strong demand for affordable housing, especially as our community increases its efforts to market Lawrence as a retirement destination," the developers say in their application.

The RM-15 zoning will allow for a variety of development, everything from row houses to the more traditional two and three-story apartment buildings. The developers will be required to file more details about their plans for the property as the project moves through the approval process. And if I hear more from them, I'll pass it along.

But clearly, the O'Connell Road area is one to watch. Part of it is that developers are betting on the former Farmland Industries site becoming an area for new jobs. People like to live near their work. Another part is that there has been a lot of investment in recent years to get improved sewer service to the area, and developers want to put that investment to work. The infrastructure upgrade will continue in a big way. The city's new sewage treatment plant will be just a ways south of O'Connell Road. The plant will be on the south side of the Wakarusa River, basically at the point where O'Connell Road dead ends at the river.

But another factor that likely is playing into all of this is that the area along O'Connell Road is going to be a pretty handy place to live from a transportation standpoint. Remember that as part of the South Lawrence Trafficway project, 31st Street is going to be extended from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. That means the neighborhoods along O'Connell are going to have a major new thoroughfare that takes residents right onto South Iowa Street and the major shopping district. (If you see my wife scouting for property in the area, now you'll know why.)

In addition, the area will have very easy access onto the South Lawrence Trafficway itself. One of the few major interchanges for the trafficway will be less than two miles to the east, about where Noria Road currently intersects with K-10 Highway. The SLT will make the neighborhood an easy place for people who need to commute either to Kansas City or Topeka.

The next thing to watch is whether the increased residential development in the area will spur more commercial development at the southeast corner of 23rd and O'Connell. A development group led by Newsome owns that property as well. It already is zoned for retail development, but at the moment, only a Tractor Supply store has located in the development.

I know Newsome's No. 1 choice of a tenant would be a grocery store for the corner, but grocers usually like to see a certain amount of rooftop development before they commit to an area. How many rooftops it will take will be the big question for the future.

In the meantime, though, I may go out and support the Tractor Supply store this weekend. It is time to get back to landscaping, and Tractor Supply sells grass seed. It also sells chemicals to kill grass. Decisions, decisions.


larrylover 4 years, 8 months ago

Such a shame.

With the SLT being built, I'm sure there are plenty of K10 commuters who'd love to see some nice housing for the working class that's not rentals.

Does Lawrence really NEED any more rentals?

I was eyeing that area for purchase to ease the commute to Kansas City, but I have no interest in being around a bunch of rentals. No thanks.

Guess I'll keep looking.

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

Mixed housing is the key. You can't put too many rentals up in one spot.

John Kyle 4 years, 8 months ago

There are plenty of houses in Kansas City. That should cut your commute.

bad_dog 4 years, 8 months ago

Nice of you to think of the local economy first.

larrylover 4 years, 8 months ago

No, I think I'll say here. Just want to cut out driving THROUGH town. I'm perfectly happy with my highway miles. And I'm already pretty invested here, thanks.

sherbert 4 years, 8 months ago

"Once the units are built, however, the Housing Authority will be responsible for renting the units and using proceeds from the rent to pay off the project. The project is expected to have a total price tag of about $15 million."

So the Housing Authority will own the properties and pay Newsome for the land and to build them?

Bike 4 years, 8 months ago

"The authority is still partnering with a private development group led by Lawrence developer Bill Newsome. Newsome's company owns the land on the corner and has been working with the state to secure tax credits to help finance the project. Once the units are built, however, the Housing Authority will be responsible for renting the units and using proceeds from the rent to pay off the project. The project is expected to have a total price tag of about $15 million."

I think it means Bill will own it, receive $1 mil. from Authority, Federal tax credits which he will sell for profit, let the Authority manage, which means the rent payments are guaranteed, whether occupied or not. Welfare for the wealthy.

Jim Schilling 4 years, 8 months ago

Bill Newsome has already said that this project won't succeed unless it gets an approved property tax abatement of at least 10 years. This is why the original plan for the property changed from single family and townhouses to this plan. There were property tax troubles with the College Hill development in Topeka that Newsome did and a lawsuit by the bank who financed that project, although that suit was later dropped. I suspect that a HUD-financed, affordable housing project seemed like a good way to approach not having to pay property taxes on a residential only development if a city would agree to that. It was pretty clear when this project was first proposed in October of 2012 that it would mean all the necessary infrastructure upgrades at the site, including the surrounding intersections would need to be paid for by taxpayers rather than the development. That, of course, benefits his retail development plans for the area just to east of O'Connell. Also Newsome's organization, Southwind Capital, is the development arm of First Management so even though Doug Compton and First Management isn't a name you are hearing in this they will do the construction. One more tax break for the community to bear for that organization. There are many questions that need to be asked and answered about this. A couple of ones upfront are: 1. If this development doesn't pay taxes how does that affect the schools that will serve the kids? Kennedy and Prairie Park are both at/slightly beyond capacity and are both two of the highest economically disadvantaged already in the district. 2. Why talk about job development at Farmland and affordable (low-income) housing at the same time? Are we inviting potential employers to pay less intentionally so they can have a work-force living right across the street?

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

Seems to me that we already have plenty of subsidized/low cost housing right within walking distance of retail. Is the strip mall over on 19th and Haskell a paradise or what?

rtwngr 4 years, 8 months ago

Nice. We subsidize the project with tax abatements. We subsidize the rentals with tax dollars. Another 1600 Haskell on the east entrance to Lawrence. How does this attract retirees to Lawrence, again?

rlmtyco 4 years, 8 months ago

Not what I want to see when I arrive in Lawrence. They did alot to make the east side entrance look better now to do this. Bad decision.

rtwngr 4 years, 8 months ago

We're from the government and we're here to help. shudder

Bike 4 years, 8 months ago

They are only here to help the wealthy. This is not about low income housing, it is about profit out of taxpayer pockets. It is just the latest of taxpayer scams a couple groups have been getting away with for years in the name of development. And it will happen. How many recent developments do you think receive Federal tax credits, which are put on open market for cold cash.

tomatogrower 4 years, 8 months ago

Well, I sure don't see the private sector helping any. There are for rent signs everywhere, and at the beginning of a school year. That means we have a glut of apartments, but have any of them lowered their rent to find someone to move in? No. Supply and demand aren't working. What do you suggest? Maybe companies giving their workers a living wage, instead of keeping all the profits? Trickle down? Yeah, that's not working, is it?

Laundrytime 4 years, 8 months ago

I sure hope there will be serious consideration for retail commercial development

bevy 4 years, 8 months ago

It makes perfect sense that more affordable housing is needed. As corporations buy our government and unfettered wheeling and dealing on Wall Street and in real estate pushes home prices further and further away from what working families can afford, we will need places for people to live! Don't worry, I'm sure the rich landlords who don't have to pay income taxes on their LLC's will be sure to build some nice homes for the low-wage workers they will be exploiting in their other businesses. If they are feeling particularly friendly, they might even allow some of those politicians they bought to fund the SNAP program, so these folks and their kids can afford to eat. Don't worry about the price of gas, though. They won't need to drive, they can just walk to work over in the Toxic Chemical Industrial Park. Sounds like Utopia to me!

irvan moore 4 years, 8 months ago

I would prefer to see single family housing at affordable prices that are owner occupied but the profit potential for the developers isn't there, it doesn't sound like this will a benefit for the existing neighborhood and schools

tomatogrower 4 years, 8 months ago

Most working class people aren't in jail. People who go to jail usually can't get jobs.

waitjustaminute 4 years, 8 months ago

Another reason Lawrence is known as Berkley on the Kaw.

blindrabbit 4 years, 8 months ago

bevy: Ignorance comes to mind in naming Toxic Chemical Industrial Park. The only chemical issue was nitrogen contamination, hardly the "toxic" issue you and others have tried to play as if it were a real Superfund or NPL listing. Next time do a little research and less hysteria.

Clayton Kelly 4 years, 8 months ago

i live a block form prarie park... lets see here - county jail, homeless shelter, and now this.... i don't want to live in another version of edgewood so looks like it's time to put my house up for sale and move to KC...

Nikki May 4 years, 8 months ago

I didn't read comments, I have to go to work, I'll read later. But if we get all these homes out here, can we PLEASE get a grocery store. (I know North Lawrence wants one too, but PLEASE!)

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

If they put in a Trader Joes or Cosco, maybe they wouldn't need nearly as many subsidized apartments to house the workers. Those are stores known for paying decent wages, something we should start demanding of all our retail developers.

Jim Schilling 4 years, 8 months ago

Ask Bill Newsome what he was telling the surrounding neighborhood association leaders they should say to the City Commission in opposition to the homeless shelter being relocated by all of his undeveloped commercial property.
Ask him to explain how this type of development will not have a negative impact on the surrounding neighborhoods. This document http://www.kc.frb.org/publicat/reswkpap/pdf/rwp11-10.pdf shows the two sides of HUD-financed low income housing. Smaller developments and/or those that revitalize existing dilapidated structures provide a positive benefit to the community and surrounding neighborhood. Think Poheler Lofts as an example of where this works and succeeds. Large new developments, large being over 53 units in this study, have a negative impact on the neighborhood in both perception and measurable crime. The crime increase is not because of the individuals who live there necessarily, but as the paper says "The authors conclude that the crime impact occurs not because of a significant criminal element within the subsidized housing, but because the larger-scale housing provides a“pool of potential victims” and/or makes it “difficult for the neighborhood to maintain collective efficacy”" Combine that with the folks at the homeless shelter who have, believe it or not, increased loitering, littering, and inappropriate behaviors at the edge of the neighborhood this sets up a potential problem area for law enforcement right at O'Connell and E 25th Terr. At least the jail is only 2-3 blocks away.
Retail development is necessary to support the housing growth that is going to happen in the area no matter what type. What retailers will see potential in this neighborhood at that point to want to locate there?

kernal 4 years, 8 months ago

What meeting, where and when was it? I've received nothing about this alleged neighborhood association meeting by email or snail mail.

Jim Schilling 4 years, 8 months ago

Didn't say anything about a meeting. It was by telephone to registered contacts for neighborhood associations.

kernal 4 years, 8 months ago

Thank you for clarifying how Newsome made his suggestions.

Jim Schilling 4 years, 8 months ago

Absolutely agree with your last sentence. In addition to the jobs first let's not put an income-controlled development right across the street from land we are going to promote to potential job creating developments. If we insist, or even wish for, jobs that pay a real livable wage then that will price many of the low-income out of the game who would live right across the street.

John Yocum 4 years, 8 months ago

While I like the idea, I really do wish we could bring in more business and more jobs in that area. Our City Leaders continue to turn away business opportunities (Olive Garden on the abandoned and grafetti-covered Plum Tree), yet lets chain restaurants and such open up in New Lawrence.

Has anyone been in Ottawa lately? With their welcoming of several warehouse distribution plants and other businesses Lawrence turned down, their downtown is on the move again. New restaurants and other businesses, many locally owned. Plus, their personal property taxes, according to friends of ours, is going down. I appreciate the liveable wage housing plans, but this city needs more business and more tax base. Let's get some business out that way, too, and sooner, not later.

chootspa 4 years, 8 months ago

Olive Garden is a non-locally owned chain that pays low, part-time wages and would have been right next to an existing Italian restaurant. The city didn't say they couldn't build. They said no to the tax break. It was the right choice. Last I heard, the owners of that lot were working on building something else there with a different restaurant concept.

Jim Schilling 4 years, 8 months ago

Today's Town Talk http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/town_talk/2013/aug/12/town-talk-developer-files-plans-for-east/ provides an example of what needs to be happening for the growth of affordable housing. Smaller projects in areas that need development to replace blight work and are successful to address housing needs. Please do more of this.

Jim Schilling 4 years, 8 months ago

I see in the paper today that property taxes, to the tune of several hundred thousand, are due in full immediately for 2012 on said property and all surrounding property. Seems Newsome really struggles with paying taxes. No wonder this development will want tax exemptions. Ask why he is challenging his share of the O'Connell intersection stoplight upgrades. After all, it benefits his developments.

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