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City renews threat of eminent domain at dilapidated East Lawrence property

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All we need is Donald Trump and his mop of hair to make this real estate deal more interesting.

City commissioners find themselves in the middle of a unique real estate transaction that is focused on 1106 Rhode Island St. in East Lawrence. As we've previously reported, commissioners have become concerned about the dilapidated condition of the old house and barn on the property, which is just east of the Judicial and Law Enforcement Center.

Members of the Barland family own the property. They've cleaned up much of the yard, including holding a much-publicized auction of old Packard automobiles that had accumulated at the site.

But the condition of the vacant house and barn is still in rough shape. The city has said the Barland family needs to either fix it, sell it to someone who will or — here's where it gets pretty unique — the city will use eminent domain to take over ownership of the property.

The city started the eminent domain process in February, but hasn't yet taken the next step in the process. In the meantime, at least one buyer — and perhaps up to three — have emerged for the property.

Lawrence architect Stan Hernly has confirmed that he's put together an investment group to buy the property and rehabilitate the house and barn. The house would become a 3-bedroom, 2-bath rental house, and an addition would allow for a 1-bedroom, 1-bath apartment. The barn would be converted into about 2,700 square feet of professional office space.

But Hernly and the Barland family haven't yet agreed on a price. City commissioners at their meeting this week pulled out their eminent domain hammer to try to move the process along. Commissioners gave the Barland family three weeks to either accept or reject Hernly's offer. If a deal for the property isn't struck in the three-week period, city commissioners all agreed that they'll take the next step in the eminent domain process.

But members of the Barland family said they also are negotiating with two other parties. Brian Barland said said those deals may not produce the same type of development as Hernly's proposal, but the buyers appear willing to best Hernly's offer for the property. (Details about the other potential developments or about Hernly's offer for the property haven't been disclosed.)

Barland said his family is working through the process of evaluating what is best for the property and what is best for their financial interests. Whether that process will be completed in three weeks remains to be seen.

Brian Barland did remind commissioners that the condition of this property didn't happen overnight. The decline of the property occurred over several decades, mainly under the watch of Barland's late father. The city has codes and a fine structure to address such neglect of property, but it is not clear how much the city ever pursued that path.

"It took 50 years to get to this point," Barland said. "It is not going to take 50 years to make a deal happen. But it does take some time to come up with a fair price for the property."

The conversation rankled City Commissioner Terry Riordan, who has restored several homes and lives in an Oread house that is on the National Register of Historic Places.

"We now have someone who wants to save this house, and now we're arguing about money," Riordan said to Barland. "Doesn't it bother you some that you caused this? Isn't there any interest in trying to save that house? What we really should be talking about is preservation."

It also remains to be seen whether Hernly's project will have everything it needs to proceed, even if it does secure the property. Hernly provided information to the city indicating that he would be seeking an approximately $40,000 "development grant" from the city to make the proposed $800,000 project pencil out.

Commissioners this week gave no indication whether they would support such a grant request.

There's also still the possibility that the Barland family may choose to take its chances with the eminent domain process. That process will require the city to pay for the property. The price would be determined by Douglas County District Court, which reviews a set of appraisals to make its determination.

If the city ends up with the property, it plans to take proposals and sell the property to a party interested in restoring the structures.

In case you are wondering why the city doesn't just take the more traditional route of declaring the structure unsafe and ordering it repaired or either demolished, the house and barn do have some interesting history behind them that would cause historic preservationists to balk at their demolition. The house dates back to 1871 and the barn was also constructed near then. Both served as the headquarters for the city's largest dray wagon business, which was run by a colorful Irish man named Rhody Delahunty.

The house and barn already are included in a broader historic district that includes the area just east of the Douglas County Courthouse. So, if the city allowed the structures to be torn down, it would be doing exactly what it says it doesn't want people to do in historic areas.

As I said, the only thing that would make this deal more interesting is Donald Trump. Maybe he can lend us one of his celebrity apprentices. Perhaps Dennis Rodman to the rescue?

Comments

patkindle 8 months, 3 weeks ago

the family should simply tell the city how long they need to find a home for the property,..... or I guess how much longer...... they have had more than a few months, and should be ready to move on

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consumer1 8 months, 3 weeks ago

The real problem as I see it is, the city administrators/commissoner's cowtow to special interest groups, while letting Joe Blow pay the bill for their special interest. Much like the very expensive renovation of the Sante Fe Railroad building on 8th street.

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Slowponder 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Luny, you meant finite, not infinite, wisdom.

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lunatic 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Gosh you people are smart. You seem to know every motivation of everyone in town. Amazing! Maybe YOU should run for office and give us the benefit of your infinite wisdom.

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jhawk1998 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Enforce the code violations if any and let that dictate the process. Eminent domain I not appropriate here.

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Matthew Herbert 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Kelo v. New London enabled this fiasco to happen. Blane the Supreme Court which has flatly ruled that eminent domain's 'public use' language simply means 'that which improves a city in any way'. Property rights are stripped from homeowners by over anxious Commissioners like Terry Riordan.

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bearded_gnome 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Lawrence architect Stan Hernly has confirmed that he's put together an investment group to buy the property and rehabilitate the house and barn. The house would become a 3-bedroom, 2-bath rental house, and an addition would allow for a 1-bedroom, 1-bath apartment. The barn would be converted into about 2,700 square feet of professional office space.

---is nobody asking this: that barn becomes "professional office space???!???" really? cost to do that and make actually suitable "professional office space" you might as well raze that barn and buil that "professional office space" from the ground up!

historic restoration has its place but that part looks just silly.

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swampyankee 8 months, 3 weeks ago

loan the family money to repair it instead of giving money to the fat cats to build their stuff

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roadwarrior 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I can't believe that Riordan has never slowed preservation over cost before.

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Garth Atchison 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Taking someones property seems extreme. Doesn't Lawrence have any laws that allow you to fine property owners for neglect?

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consumer1 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I still contend they are trying to grab it for tenents to homeowners.

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Beer Guy 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Another case of eminent domain abuse. They dont plan on keeping it for public use, they want to sell it. Just like how in Florida its ok for cities to steal your old beach house and sell it to condo developers. Most of those condos sit empty now. And whats up with this grant for a commercial money making property? Heck I need a grant for my business to make more money, gimme gimme gimme.

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leftylucky 8 months, 3 weeks ago

When the city jail was on the second floor of the judicial and law enforcement center, no one cared about that house. The families of inmates would park in front of that house,get out and yell up into the jail . That area of the jail had windows that opened outside the cells. Was it a bother to the city then? No. Leave the owners alone. They cleaned up the property at the request of the city. The house is for sale , if the price is right. What would be the cause for the taking of the property? A legal cesspool. Threats that are unreasonable from our elected officials. " shame shame shame

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jane_doe 8 months, 3 weeks ago

I'm betting that there are more issues within the family agreeing on what to do with the property. I doubt it comes down to just preservation v. price.

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Keith 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Bulldoze it and build another hotel, downtown needs more hotels.

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akuna 8 months, 3 weeks ago

For Brain Barland to claim that their family is concerned about the fate of the preservation of the house is a joke. If they cared about the preservation of the house, they would have not let it deteriorate to the condition that it is in. The family is trying to milk the prospective buyers for all the money they can get. The family needs to sell it to the highest bidder and let the new owners deal with the preservation of the house. It is time to move on.

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newtongirl 8 months, 3 weeks ago

Not to place all the blame on the city, but this is exactly what happens when the city gets complacent and doesn't enforce code on a property for years and years and years. They don't find it somewhat funny business that this happened clearly and right under their "nose" (so to speak) and they're trying to be all high and mighty about it now? We REALLY need new city officials. Lawrence is falling behind Manhattan, everyone.

I don't like HOA's and the like, but when the city lets a property sit delapidated for decades, something is wrong when they all of a sudden start completely looking down their nose when the issue finally crops up. Lawrence is in extreme danger of going from being a community to just another suburban-type business.

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consumer1 8 months, 3 weeks ago

There are plenty of other places in east Law that are at least as delapidated and probably some worse. To me, this is the result of "some neighborhood" group complaining to the city, because they want that space to build a couple of new houses for tenents to homeowners. This group which claims to support those in need are heavy handing the city to remove this structure for their own self riotous pat on the back. Look at us!! Aren't we special. Pick on someone else or someone else property that is worse off than this place. This place needs to be put on the historical register.

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