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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.”

A preliminary rendering of what a proposed rent-controlled apartment complex near 23rd and O'Connell may look like.

A preliminary rendering of what a proposed rent-controlled apartment complex near 23rd and O'Connell may look like. by Chad Lawhorn


skull 5 years, 3 months ago

Yeah, more townhomes and apartments!!!!

lunacydetector 5 years, 3 months ago

when are they going to finish east 23rd street where the bridge was replaced? that thing was under construction before Manti Te'o went cyberspacing for his imaginary lover.

flyin_squirrel 5 years, 3 months ago

They should remove the traffic light on the Southwest Trafficway at the Youth Sports Complex and replace that with an overpass. With increased traffic coming to the Southwest Trafficway, that is going to become an even bigger death trap intersection. And you would have an extra traffic light for future use!

Jim Schilling 5 years, 3 months ago

I feel it is important to talk about the housing project and the effect it has on the surrounding neighborhood. This study http://www.kansascityfed.org/publicat/reswkpap/pdf/rwp11-10.pdf published in December 2011 shows that this type of tax credit development, more than 50 units of newly constructed apartments, is detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood it is built in to. The study also shows that redevelopment of properties like the Poehler building through tax credit development is a good thing and actually improves neighborhoods. While affordable housing remains a need I don't know if this is the best way to address it. I know that the developer of the project is also the developer for the surrounding commercial land and has multiple interests invovled but how much of this housing project would involve tax payer funded infrastructure upgrades to the intersection and surrounding area that would benefit future commerical projects that then do not have to pay for it?

Catalano 5 years, 3 months ago

Would these be the same tax credits used for the Poehler Building? That developer didn't team up with the Housing Authority.

Enlightenment 5 years, 3 months ago

claimin, thanks for the link to the study, but the conclusions in the research indicate that it DOES NOT negatively impact the neighborhood. See quote below:

"But the massing of public or otherwise subsidized housing in disadvantaged neighborhoods has given rise to concerns that “public housing” has led to decay of these communities. This paper asks whether this conventional wisdom is true and finds that, in general, the answer is “no.” Indeed, LIHTC developments positively influence property upkeep nearby in many cases. Specifically, if LIHTC developments consist of large acquisition and rehabilitation projects or small new developments, the result is likely to be a moderate boost to surrounding property conditions, all else equal."

Jim Schilling 5 years, 3 months ago

That was what I found interesting, the research does appear to show that in general there is not a negative effect. Where it does show a negative impact is in units that are considered large, over 53 units according to the study, and that are a concentrated development, like apartments. "However, extended analysis that separates LIHTC developments by type and size suggests that only small new construction developments and large rehab developments impact neighborhood property conditions. Further analysis reveals that when the model does not control for crime, the effect of proximity to LIHTC developments on property conditions is negative." And part of the conclusion "Specifically, if LIHTC developments consist of large acquisition and rehabilitation projects or small new developments, the result is likely to be a moderate boost to surrounding property conditions, all else equal. Nevertheless, extended results suggest that crime rates associated with proximity to LIHTC developments may erode these benefits and leave a net negative impact." The Poehler project is an example of this type of housing project that appears to positively affect its surrounding neighborhood based on the study, a 100 unit apartment complex, at least as I read it, appears to fit the mold of what the study says is a project that has a negative impact.
I did find it interesting the research showing that vouchers for subsidized housing seemed to work well as the tenants who used them were able to move to neighborhoods and people generally had no idea they were subsidized.
I'll grant that they study focuses on areas that are all larger than Lawrence and that probably affects the results, I just worry that this concept fits right into what this study says mostly doesn't work.

Enlightenment 5 years, 3 months ago

Housing Choice Vouchers, in most instances, are a good tool, but that is another whole issue. The vouchers are in high demand and waiting lists for them are typically 1-3 yrs long throughout the US. Demand is so great that many housing authorities have closed their waiting lists that may be as long as a 5 yr wait. Also, the landlords of market rate developments have the option to accept vouchers. In high cost areas, voucher holders are forced into substandard apts because the "nice" or "good" apartment rents exceed the payment standard for the area. So ultimately, affordable housing demand and success varies significantly from market to market and the impact of subsidized developments may be very minimal or widespread.

Enlightenment 5 years, 3 months ago

Although the study was interesting, there are many flaws. The most blaring issue I have is that the study focus is on LIHTC developments and the impact on surrounding properties. However, the study does not control for the fact that similar results would likely occur if that LIHTC development was substituted with a market rate multifamily development. So, any impact a LIHTC development may have in certain locations would likely also be experienced by a market rate multifamily development.

In addition, there are significant locational differences between Lawrence and KC, especially the location of the LIHTC developments in KC.

Jim Schilling 5 years, 3 months ago

That's a fair point, it may be that new housing that is similar to the existing townhomes and single-family homes has a similar impact. I just wonder what the goal is, not that there is some evil intention on anyone's part. If I remember the presentation Newsome made to the LDCHA in October about this correctly, infrastucture upgrades would be the taxpayer burden, not the developer, for the area since this would be a rent-controlled project that is ultimately owned by the LDCHA but developed and built by his group. I don't think that would be the case for single family homes and commercial development of the type that he is aiming for in the area. I don't know though what level of upgrades need done to accomodate that construction so that may be completely wrong on my part to wonder about.

Jim Schilling 5 years, 3 months ago

A 128 unit rent-controlled apartment complex is far from a mix of duplexes and single family homes. The latest plan allows for the developer to request that all infrastructure upgrades to the area be made by the taxpayer which benefits his future commercial development. There are no jobs coming to Lawrence at the former Farmland site for many many years regardless of what anyone says. Who can prove otherwise?

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Tenants to Homeowners does an excellent good job for low income clients.

There are 20,720 occupied rental properties in Lawrence,Kansas. This market is saturated. I'm guessing Lawrence likely has about 23,000 - 25,000 rental units. With that many units every vacancy in Lawrence COULD be significantly reduced to meet the low income guidelines.

This market should be declared a renters market meaning tenants set the rates. A vacant rental unit within the maze of apartment complexes can found any day of the week in Lawrence,Kansas.

There are no jobs in Lawrence so why do we need more low income residents coming to Lawrence? Brownback is cutting Social Services big time. Gasoline is too expensive to commute on a low income wage.

There must be great tax advantages through the IRS for further saturating a rental housing market.

Manhattan has an estimated 12,172 units

Larger cities have the following. Topeka - 23,593 Overland Park - 23,990 Wichita - 55,556 and is at least 4 times the population Kansas City -18,482

Plus there are rental units on campus.

These new rental units I assume will be built low quality and WILL WANT TAX DOLLAR INCENTIVES to help the wealthy investors make a profit. When it comes to making profit these wealthy investors cannot seem to figure it out..... so they claim.

Providing more residential than there is demand = potential profit loss = it's not the taxpayers responsibility to make reckless investments see a profit. I say the potential low income tenants might be an illusion.

Jim Schilling 5 years, 3 months ago

I believe that Newsome said in his presentation to the LDCHA that the project would have to get property tax exemption to be able to succeed and move forward.

Nikki May 5 years, 3 months ago

I'd like to have a Costco or something over on the east side near O'Connell too. Since we are spending money and stuff. Wish list item. (I just want Costco because you can get fuel points for QuikTrip and well, I like QT. But Dillons or HyVee would be fine, too.)

bearded_gnome 5 years, 3 months ago

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.)

---Chad, you really should've included a sentence spelling out the difference between RS-7 and RS-5.
does an RS-7 home imply larger plt of land, larger home, larger runoff footprint, larger dog you can have, BBQ pit in the backyard? where RS-5 means homes are shoulder-to-shoulder and neighbors' kitchen windows practically look into neihbors' bedroom windows, you can only have an ankle-biter dog and forget about a BBQ pit, etc.?!

bearded_gnome 5 years, 3 months ago

so is merrill's info here as reliable as his fake info on how our retail is over built and we're saturaturated?

I pity anybody who believes any of his drivel.

our apartment rental market is far more complex.

Sharon Nottingham 5 years, 3 months ago

What Chad failed to mention....the $200,000 homes one block south of proposed low income apt complex. I own one of them. How can the city support the lost taxes when my home value bombs? My home was only built 7 yrs ago and does not need anything to improve that area, other than a grocery store. What about cost of infrastructure, additional police, fire, medical services, maintenance, uptick in crime? A ten year tax abatement was discussed at the housing authority meeting I attended. Mr. Bill even suggested pushing the apt proposal thru before anyone could get to the the city commission. He mentioned ridiculous idea of using neighborhood revitalization act...how can that be used on vacant land? Also, a member of the committee said making them all HUD units was easier, administratively speaking. How can Prairie Park add several hundred students, they are busting at the seems. It makes more sense to build closer to Walmart, next to Home Depot. Many low income people have no vehicle. Bill should excuse himself from this proposal. The city wasn't even looking to buy this land, and thks whole idea sounds like spot zoning to me.

Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

Forget more tax dollar incentives.

If these are low income housing units then Section 8 housing assistance is all the tax dollar incentives this project should get.

Also keep this in mind.

"Free Lunch: How the Wealthiest Locally Politically Connected Americans Enrich Themselves at Government Expense (And Stick You with the Bill)." Johnston reveals how government subsidies and new regulations have quietly funneled money from the local poor and the local middle class to the rich politically connected.



Richard Heckler 5 years, 3 months ago

"I believe that Newsome said in his presentation to the LDCHA that the project would have to get property tax exemption to be able to succeed and move forward."

The answer should be no or downsize to the point the business can be managed properly by the owners. It is not the taxpayers responsibility to make the project a success.

Consider this also.

Lawrence developers for a project to revitalize central Topeka's College Hill business district are in breach of their contract with the city because they failed to pay Shawnee County $130,196.77 plus interest for property taxes due May 10.

"First, the developer is currently in default under its loan obligations in excess of $16 million to the private bank group led by CoreFirst," he wrote. "In the event default of the loans is not remedied, the private bank group may move to foreclose on the property or appoint a receiver."

Topeka's city council voted in 2006 to provide about $5 million in tax-increment financing for a $30 million project in which Washburn-Lane Parkway Renovation built 183 apartments and 24,000 square feet of retail space on property it had acquired in the College Hill district, just northeast of Washburn University.

Link to the article: http://cjonline.com/news/2010-10-28/college_hill_taxes_go_unpaid

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