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LJWorld.com weblogs Town Talk

Chinese restaurant opens in East Lawrence; Rock Chalk Park lighting debate stirs up emotions

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I have an announcement to make: I'm not declaring for the NBA Draft. After Joel Embiid's announcement yesterday, I thought you could use a dose of good news. Only time will tell if I made the right decision. I was leaning in the other direction for quite some time, but a fortune cookie at a relatively new Chinese restaurant convinced me to stay.

The new restaurant is the Oriental Pearl, and it is in the shopping center at 19h and Haskell. Matt and Rachel Tindell are the owners, and they are hoping to bring a slightly different take on Chinese food to the community. In addition to the standard Chinese menu offerings, they are going to have some dishes — think stuffed pork buns — that are from the northern region of China, which I'm told is not the standard fare.

The menu also includes several cross-over dishes. For example: Coke wings, which are barbecue chicken wings cooked in Coca-Cola. Also on the menu: Tomato Fish Fillets, which are fried fish battered with tomato sauce and served with diced green peppers, red onions and mushrooms; Cucumber Salad; House Cold Noodles with a fried egg; and Chinese Fried Sauce Noodles. That involves thick noodles topped with a mixture of ground pork, stir-fried with fried sauce. Fried sauce: For some reason, that concept just gives me a warm feeling inside. (Or perhaps I need to see the cardiologist again.) The restaurant also has a tea menu, with about a dozen different varieties.

Matt said his wife, Rachel, is Chinese and formerly managed a Chinese restaurant in Hays. When they moved back to this area, Matt said, they were looking to open a "locally oriented" restaurant. The space in the 19th and Haskell shopping center was budget-friendly, and they feel like the East Lawrence area is under-served.

"There are not a lot of restaurants in East Lawrence, especially restaurants that you can walk to," Matt said.

The restaurant does not offer a buffet, but does offer a $4.99 express menu, in addition to traditional, family-style Chinese dining. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

In other news and notes from around town:

• When you are dealing with Chinese food, there are two inevitable outcomes: some type of injury caused by chop sticks, and leftovers. So, in the spirit of leftovers, here's an issue I didn't get to fully report on from Tuesday's City Commission meeting because of time and space constraints.

As we reported, the city approved a temporary occupancy permit to allow the Kansas Relays to be held at Rock Chalk Park, although the complex isn't quite complete. That permit included the approval of a lighting plan for the complex, something that was supposed to have been done before construction but was missed in the permitting process, city officials have acknowledged.

The lighting conversation got a bit tense at times. Jack Graham — the nearest neighbor to the complex, at the moment — has said he doesn't object to Rock Chalk Park but said he is concerned the city hasn't followed the proper process as it relates to lighting and wants to make sure the city does all it can to minimize the impact of the lighting.

Graham's attorney, Rick Hird, told commissioners he thought the private engineering analysis the city ordered for the project was lacking because it measured only light spillage but not the amount of light glare. It seems there is a significant difference between the two. Hird asked the city to consider three things: restrictions on the number of times per year the lights could be used; or a 10:30 p.m. cutoff for the lights rather than the 11:30 cutoff that is in the current permit; or higher-tech light hoods that could be installed around the lamps that light the track and field, softball and soccer stadiums. Commissioners didn't approve any of those requests.

Instead, City Commissioner Jeremy Farmer got some feelings off his chest about the project.

"I am beside myself, frankly, at all of this," Farmer said.

He said much of what he had heard about Rock Chalk Park recently has been "nonsensical opposition" to a project that he is sure everyone in the community is eventually going to be proud of. He acknowledged that the Rock Chalk Park project has gone through a process that has been different than others — about $12 million worth of infrastructure work was awarded without going through a bidding process. But he said he hopes the community is ready to move on and "shouldn't continue to gripe about what happened in the past. I hope we can move past this and not keep finding ways to nitpick and gripe and raise conflict."

I got a chance to catch up with Hird today, and he said he didn't have any comment about what further options his client may be considering on the lighting issue. Hird said the amount of light from Rock Chalk at Graham's property is enough that "he can do shadow puppets on his bedroom wall."

Hird said he was very disappointed in Farmer's comments.

"It was disappointing that Commissioner Farmer characterized our participation as griping," Hird said. "It was a public hearing. To be accused of griping was very disappointing. This whole process was botched from the beginning."

One side note to all of this is that at the moment Graham's property is the closest to the lights. But based on approved plans for the Mercato development just south of Rock Chalk Park, there is planned to be large numbers of apartments and other residences just about 800 to 900 feet away from the lights — which is much closer than Graham's property. Interestingly, though, representatives of Mercato, which is being developed by a Duane Schwada led group, never spoke about the lighting issue. I've heard several people say that the lighting issue — combined with a few other Rock Chalk Park issues — will give that group all the ammunition it needs to come in and request a rezoning of the residential property to commercial uses. We'll see if that develops.

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