LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk

Plans filed for new assisted living facility in northwest Lawrence; City Hall still interested in buying streetlight system


Being the university community that it is, Lawrence is used to receiving a new senior class each year. But the idea of a senior class in Lawrence is starting to take on a new meaning. With this class, there are probably fewer keg stands, but I bet there are still some wicked pranks with Fixodent.

Surely you have heard the talk that Lawrence is trying to become more of a destination for retirees and seniors. Well, the assisted living industry is taking note. Plans for what likely will be a multimillion-dollar assisted living facility have been filed at City Hall for vacant ground in northwest Lawrence.

Officials with the Americare assisted living group have filed plans for a 46-unit complex at the southwest corner of Peterson Road and Monterey Way.

According to the documents, the project would include a single-story, 30-unit, general assisted living facility, plus a 16-unit, single-story building that will specialize in assisted living for people who need memory care services.

The plans also show a potential phase II including another 16 units of memory care and assisted living and a 22-unit "independent living cottage development." No timeline for phase II has been determined.

For those of you still trying to picture the site, the property is a bit west of the exclusive Fall Creek Farms neighborhood near Kasold and Peterson. The property is vacant, agricultural ground. The property is zoned to accommodate large-lot, single family homes. Americare officials want to have the ground changed to a medium-density apartment zoning (RM-12 zoning, if you have your zoning scorecard handy). But the developers are willing to place conditions on the zoning that would restrict traditional apartment style development.

The site is about 20 acres, but the development as proposed only would occupy about two thirds of the land. Plans for the remaining third haven't been determined, according to the City Hall filing.

As for Americare, it has a number of senior living facilities throughout the Midwest. According to its website, it has 15 facilities in Kansas, although it looks like Lawrence would be its largest market in the state. It looks like the nearest Americare facilities to Lawrence are in Osage City and Paola.

Based on the paperwork filed at City Hall, it looks like the company has its offices in Columbia, Mo. According to its website, Americare is the company that has developed the TigerPlace independent living complex near the University of Missouri. TigerPlace has an affiliation with the University of Missouri's Sinclair School of Nursing, and has been mentioned by Lawrence leaders as an example of what MU is doing to attract retired alumni back to Columbia.

The Lawrence project will need to win both Planning Commission and City Commission approval. Look for those hearings to happen in the next couple of months.

In other news and notes from around town:

• City commissioners at their meeting last night directed staff members to keep exploring the idea of buying the city's streetlight system from Westar Energy.

The city is paying about $600,000 per year for the 3,500 streetlights owned and maintained by Topeka-based Westar. City officials predict that the rates for the lights will go up by about another 10 percent once the Kansas Corporation Commission is finished with its latest Westar rate case.

Buying the system won't be cheap. For one thing, Westar hasn't said it is interested in selling it. But other communities such as Leawood, Overland Park, Lenexa and a few other Kansas City-area communities have bought streetlight systems from Kansas City Power & Light. City Auditor Michael Eglinski estimated that those communities paid about $800 to $1,000 per pole to buy their systems, although prices vary widely based on condition. That would equate to about $2.8 million to $3.5 million for the Lawrence system.

Eglinski also estimates that those cities are saving about 40 percent on their annual costs by owning their own lights. The cities still have to buy electricity from the utility, but they don't have to pay the maintenance and lease fees for the poles and equipment.

City commissioners on Tuesday said they were interested in the idea, in part because owning the system would allow the city to make the system more environmentally friendly. Specifically, it may allow the city to more easily change the system to LED bulbs, which use a lot less energy than traditional streetlights.

Currently, making the switch to LED lights is tough to do with Westar, City Hall staff members told commissioners. That's because Westar requires that a meter be installed for streetlights that have an LED light bulb. Westar charges a significant monthly fee for every meter and city officials said that often offsets the cost savings associated with the LED's lower energy usage.

The city would like Westar to adopt a policy where it estimates the energy use of a typical LED streetlight and uses that to bill the city each month. That's the system used with traditional streetlights. My understanding is that Westar has an LED pilot project in a few communities, including Tonganoxie. No word on when Westar may bring LEDs to Lawrence.

It didn't take much reading of the tea leaves last night to see that several city commissioners aren't real happy with Westar and how they treat the streetlight system. (Westar officials weren't at Tuesday's meeting, by the way.) Eglinski provided a report in 2009 that raised questions about whether Westar was overbilling the city in some instances for streetlights. Westar officials disagreed with several of the findings in that report, but did acknowledge that it is operating some pretty old lighting technology in parts of the city. It appears some commissioners haven't forgotten that.

"If we buy the system maybe we could strike a deal where we take the fixtures off the poles and give them back to Westar and they can use them on some other city that they want to stick it to," Mayor Mike Dever said during the meeting. "We don't want those old things."

As I said, the tea leaves weren't hard to read. It will be interesting to see where they lead.


Use the comment form below to begin a discussion about this content.

Commenting has been disabled for this item.