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Planning Commission to debate Menards project Monday amid signs momentum may be turning


Strap on your tool belt, it is time to talk again about Menards’ proposal to build a big box store just east of Home Depot near 31st and Iowa streets.

The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will debate the project again at its Monday evening meeting. The Planning Commission debated it last month and failed to reach consensus on whether the plan should be recommended for approval by the City Commission. I know that left some of you feeling like I feel after completing an electrical-oriented home improvement project — a bit dazed. (My wife promised me she had turned off the circuit breaker. She never said she wouldn’t turn it back on, though.)

If you remember, the Menards project hit a snag, even though there was no groundswell of opposition from neighbors in the area. Instead, it was the city’s planning staff that expressed concern about changing a portion of the city’s comprehensive plan, known as Horizon 2020, to accommodate the project.

There have been some new developments on that front. The city’s planning staff hasn’t officially changed its recommendation for denial, but it has created a new staff report that provides a clear set of reasons Planning Commissioners can use to approve the project, if they so choose.

That may prove to be important. For what it is worth, I felt like the Planning Commission last month was interested in recommending the project for approval, but was reluctant to do so because they hold the planning staff’s professional opinion in high regard.

The new memo from the planning staff, however, makes it clear that there is a reasonable argument to be made for why Horizon 2020 could be changed to accommodate the project. The main point of contention here is that Horizon 2020 calls for the proposed Menards site, the former Gaslight Mobile Home Village, to be used for apartment development in the future. A map in Horizon 2020 needs to be changed to show the property is slated for commercial development.

The memo lists the following reasons why a change could be prudent:

• It is now clear the eastern leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway will be completed, which will alleviate the need for traffic to travel through neighborhoods to reach the new commercial area.

• Public testimony from neighbors has indicated that there is a significant number of residents who may prefer retail development at the site rather than a large apartment complex.

• Even though the city has other retail zoned areas in the city, sites that can accommodate big-box development remain limited.

Planning staff members also are pointing out that it is unlikely that commercial development would extend all the way down the north side of 31st Street to Louisiana Street, if Menards is approved. Staff members confirmed the city is close to finalizing a deal to purchase the nearly six acres of property near the northwest corner of 31st and Louisiana streets. The city needs the property for a new utility pump station. City ownership means the corner wouldn’t ever develop as a retail site.

So we’ll see what planning commissioners do on Monday. That meeting is set for 6:30 p.m. at City Hall.

But remember, planning commissioners only recommend things. It will be up to the City Commission to make a final decision on the project. It still is too early to tell how city commissioners may vote on this project, but there are indications Menards has a fighting chance.

When I was speaking recently with City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer about economic matters, he brought up the need for the city to really update its comprehensive plan. He pointed to the Menards project as an example. Farmer said much of the underlying work to create the city’s comprehensive plan was done more than 20 years ago, and it probably is time to recognize that several factors in the city have changed since then.

“Menards is a great example of that,” Farmer says. “Our comprehensive plan says no, and the community seems to be saying it doesn’t want more housing there.

“I look at that and say ‘gosh, a Menards would be great in bringing some commercial taxes to a community that is going to have shrinking property tax revenues.'”

So, while Farmer stopped short of saying he would vote for the specific proposal Menards currently has brought forward, it sounds like he’ll have an open mind.

Privately, I have heard one other commissioners indicate he is going to give strong consideration to approving the project as well. It will be interesting to watch. Probably the biggest factor will be whether residents in the Indian Hills Neighborhood continue to either support the project or at least not vigorously oppose it. A large number of neighbors opposing the project could change things.

At the moment though, it is safe to assume the Menards project won’t be dead on arrival when it comes to the City Commission. Which, that reminds me: I still have to rewire the kitchen light. Oh, boy.


Larrytown 4 years, 11 months ago

Thanks for the link.

I've never been thrilled about companies pushing their politics onto their employees. Let alone politics that I disagree with. Makes it an easy choice for me to never set foot in Menards.

Thanks again...

Rich Noever 4 years, 11 months ago

And yet you probably have no problem with labor unions pushing their membership to vote and donate to the Democratic Party. It sounds hypocritical to me.

Larrytown 4 years, 11 months ago

I have no idea what you are talking about.

coebam 4 years, 11 months ago

What exactly is wrong with a smaller government and lower taxes?

Bike 4 years, 11 months ago

The people pushing for it are really just interested in lowering their taxes, raising others. They want less Government some places and more in others. Watch the Kansas model. Taxes will go up for most, sales, property, etc.

skinny 4 years, 11 months ago

Build it! The city needs to stop running off the businesses - jobs!!

parrothead8 4 years, 11 months ago

Just because Menards would employ people doesn't make it a good idea. We need jobs that create long-term stability for people more than we need another store that provides low-wage jobs and cheap, poorly-made junk to the populace.

flloyd 4 years, 11 months ago

"poorly-made junk to the populace" as in poorly made junk made in China with zero concern about our environment.

optimist 4 years, 11 months ago

We also need options for consumers that will keep as many dollars in our community as possible. Having only one option with limited product availability in the city has driven out a significant amount of retail spend and consequently tax revenue. And while the city should not give incentives to retail those jobs will be invaluable to those that are fortunate to obtain them.

Dan Dimmitt 4 years, 11 months ago

we need more big chain stores to finish off what is left of local retail, or is it the attraction of low wage jobs that seems irresistable?

Rich Noever 4 years, 11 months ago

A low wage job? You think our local retail pays more? I don't think so.

chootspa 4 years, 11 months ago

Local retail has local owners. The money the business makes stays in the community.

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 11 months ago

some managers at Home Depot make more than some teachers in the Lawrence public school district. Just FYI.

CalitoNY 4 years, 11 months ago

SHAMEFUL!!! Our teachers are abused everyday and make peanuts!!

average 4 years, 11 months ago

“I look at that and say ‘gosh, a Menards would be great in bringing some commercial taxes to a community that is going to have shrinking property tax revenues.'” - Farmer

That is, of course, until three months after the rezoning, when Menard's comes in for an abatement on their property tax on the land too. Oh, and redirect some of the sales taxes while we're at it. Which Farmer, Dever, and the crew won't hesitate for a second to bend over for. "That's just how things are done in the new economy... can't lose ground to Lenexa".

average 4 years, 11 months ago

Just so you don't think I'm conjuring this out of nothing, Google "menards tif" and "menards abatement". Enough articles in just the last two years, in enough other cities, that it's a modus operandi. I'd be shocked if it didn't happen.

Catalano 4 years, 11 months ago

I don't think Kansas law approves tax abatement for retail/commercial enterprises.

No idea how a TIF would have to be structured for something like Menards...I don't think we've done anything like that for a similar type of operation in the past.

Paging Chad....

deec 4 years, 11 months ago

I'm pretty sure the Legends/Nascar/etc complex got star bonds,, tifs and abatements.

Bike 4 years, 11 months ago

What about the Oread & Development South of FreeState high? New hotel 9th & New Hampshire?

LogicMan 4 years, 11 months ago

That's potentially great news about Menards!

BTW, in their most recent ad there's $700.00 of materials I'd buy today if I could. No, Home Depot doesn't stock it.

Any interest in Home Depot expanding their store? To the east is the easiest, but if Best Buy goes down, then to the west works well too. Right now they could easily and quickly move their rentals department to the vacant building in front.

Larrytown 4 years, 11 months ago

Out of curiousity....what materials that add up to $700? I realize that Lawrence (just like other communities its size)...don't have all the shopping needs. I'm just trying to understand what materials that you can't obtain in Lawrence store.

LogicMan 4 years, 11 months ago

A fairly basic but specific style and brand of building material, to match existing. Menards stocks it in Topeka, and wholesalers in Kansas City have it. But not any Home Depot.

Matthew Herbert 4 years, 11 months ago

I realize these are just a few novelty items, but HVAC air filters are typically 1/2 price or less at Menards versus Home Depot. That is a product that EVERY house with a furnace or A/C requires changed routinely.

As a house painter, I also love using Menard's paintable caulking. I pay .99 a tube at Menards versus $2-3 a tube at HD.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 4 years, 11 months ago

"“Menards is a great example of that,” Farmer says. “Our comprehensive plan says no, and the community seems to be saying it doesn’t want more housing there.

“I look at that and say ‘gosh, a Menards would be great in bringing some commercial taxes to a community that is going to have shrinking property tax revenues.'”"

There's no real reason to believe that this will lead to any new commercial taxes collected (see Average's post above with regards to property taxes, and there will likely be little in the way of increased sales taxes.)

These sound to me like weasel words that really mean there will be no updated comprehensive plan, and H2020 will just be amended willy-nilly however commissioners see fit at any given moment.

true_patriot 4 years, 11 months ago

they've always gutted H2020 whenever necessary - I'm not sure why we even have a controlled growth plan ...

LogicMan 4 years, 11 months ago

By the way, Home Depot carries many brands that Menards doesn't. So I'd continue making purchases there too, both small and large.

irony401 4 years, 11 months ago


workinghard 4 years, 11 months ago

Wait, you mean people from KC area might drive to Lawrence to shop at Menard's? Hey, it could happen if they advertised in the KC Star.

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