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West Lawrence fun center plans on hold again as neighbors speak out; the big question looming for city's rental licensing program

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Mini-golf, mini-bowling, many concerns, it appears. As we've reported multiple times, plans have been filed for a "family fun center" on vacant ground near the southeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive in west Lawrence.

When we last reported on the project in February, it was scheduled to receive a key vote at the Lawrence-Doulgas County Planning Commission that evening. It didn't. Instead, it got deferred until March's meeting, which took place Monday. But again, no vote for the fun center. The issue was deferred before the meeting ever began.

I've got a message into the architect for the project to find out if the development group still plans to pursue the project. I haven't received any word back on that. (I also don't have a clear understanding of who the development group is behind the project.)

What is clear is that an organized opposition effort to the fun center is underway. Raintree Montessori School is among the leaders of that effort. In its newsletter to parents this month, Raintree takes a strong stand against the project

"We feel relocation to another property more suited for recreation would be the only acceptable compromise," it writes in the newsletter.

The fun center is proposed to have a variety of activities. They include:

— A two-story club house that would have private party rooms, arcade and snack areas on the ground floor. The second floor would include a bar that serves 3.2 beer and has a NASCAR driving experience arcade and miniature bowling.

— Outside, an 18-hole miniature golf course, six batting cages, a patio area and a children's "tot-lot" play area also are planned.

— A future second phase of the development proposes a 33,000 square-foot, outdoor go-kart track. The carts are proposed to be electric and produce little noise, according to information submitted by the developers.

A prevailing theme in the opposition to the fun center is that those type of uses aren't appropriate for an area that has so many schools nearby. Bishop Seabury, Raintree, Sunflower elementary, and Southwest middle school are all within walking distance of the site.

Raintree leaders mentioned that proximity as being a problem, and so too did an earlier letter from the Wimbledon Terrace Townhomes Association. It expressed concern about "hundreds of little children who might be intimidated by the large numbers of teenagers and young adults who would frequent the project."

I'm not sure how such intimidation exactly would play out, but it is worth noting that the city's planning staff is recommending approval of the project, in part, because it is a walkable destination for a variety of people. Creating walkable destinations has been a real catch phrase at City Hall in recent years. (No one has ever accused City Hall of having extraordinary catch phrases.)

There are other reasons, though, that neighbors have objected. In addition to the fun center, the development in recent weeks has added a request for two lots that could house drive-thru businesses, such as a fast-food establishment. The architect, Lawrence-based Paul Werner, has told me that he doesn't envision a traditional fast-food restaurant at the location. Instead, he thinks some type of coffee shop with a drive-thru would be more likely. But it sounds like several neighbors haven't liked the addition of drive-thrus.

"The roundabout on Inverness can barely handle the traffic now, but adding this type of use to the neighborhood will increase traffic exponentially," Raintree writes in its letter. "The availability of alcohol late at night in a high traffic area has the potential for causing serious problems, and the noise and lights from the center will disturb the sleep of countless residents nearby, not to mention the increased incidents of vandalism."

Raintree is sponsoring a petition drive against the project.

I suspect we'll find out in the coming days whether this project has any legs left to it. If it doesn't, it will be interesting to see what comes next for this area. It is a highly visible piece of vacant property on a major city street. It basically is surrounded by apartments. Neighbors already have strongly voiced their opposition to future apartment development.

In other news and notes from around town:

• There were times during the nearly four hours of discussion at City Hall last night about the rental registration program that I thought we perhaps were going to settle the issue with a game of mini-bowling or a putt-putt contest. (Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking on my part.)

But, instead, it was a night of back and forth between opponents and supporters of the program. As we reported, the program was approved on a 3-2 vote.

I left the meeting, though, with one big question about the program: Will it survive the next election?

One of the changes to the program last night was its start date. A divided commission pushed the start date back by six months to give the city more time to prepare for the program, although staff wasn't asking for more time to prepare for the program.

The new start date means the first inspections of multifamily rental units won't begin until July 2015. That means no inspections will have taken place prior to the next City Commission elections, which are in April 2015. (Unless state law changes on municipal elections.)

Politically, I'm not sure what the ramifications of that change will be. Originally, the program would have had four months of inspections under its belt before voters went to the polls in April. I think some city officials were hopeful those four months of inspections would have shown that the program will not be nearly as burdensome as many landlords believe. Now, there won't be any such chance to prove that before the elections.

Of course, you could also argue that if the city did inspections and they went poorly in those first four months, that may have been bad politically. I asked Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, who pushed for the delayed start date, whether he was concerned that a new commission could take office and end the program before it every really got started. (Registrations, but not inspections, will begin in January.) He said he wasn't. His belief is the timing won't affect the politics of this. He may be right.

But it is worth noting that two of the three commissioners who supported the rental inspection program have terms that are expiring in 2015: Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm. Mayor Mike Dever, who voted against the program, is the other commissioner who has a term expiring in 2015.

I don't know what will happen, but I think it will be very interesting to watch whether a slate of candidates committed to repealing the rental inspection program emerges by early 2015. As some of you may remember, Manhattan had a program for two years, but then a new slate of commissioners came into office and repealed it.

The plan commissioners approved on Tuesday was meant to be a compromise aimed at making landlords more comfortable with the program. It is questionable whether it accomplished that. Landlords came out in large numbers to oppose the plan, and some of them appeared to be well-funded. I counted at least four attorneys who rose to speak against the proposals.

That leaves me with just one more question: Are we absolutely sure mini-bowling can't solve this?

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  • Comments

    Adam Kasson 9 months ago

    With all the land out by K-10 and YSI why wouldn't that be a better area for this stuff?? Everytime I have visited a go kart- putt putt place most the time they are out in the middle of nowhere. What about the old sport2sport area where there was once ballfields?? That seems like it would be a perfect place for something like that.

    Arnie Bunkers 9 months ago

    "We feel relocation to another property more suited for recreation would be the only acceptable compromise," it writes in the newsletter.

    Ha. Its a field full of weeds!! Since none of those Montessori kids walk to school, it shouldnt be an issue unless thier parents or nannies somehow lose track of them between the school door and the door of their SUV.

    Bob DuPlenty 9 months ago

    To begin, your characterization is 100% false, but let's just go with it for a sec.

    Private school kids matter less than other kids?

    Drive along Clinton Pkwy any morning when the weather is decent. You will see A LOT of kids walking - to Raintree, to Seabury, to Sunflower and Southwest. But don't let that inform your snark!

    Infrastructure surrounding the location is insufficient. The fun center doesn't fit there.

    And while I care very little about how you feel about any of the schools mentioned, Raintree for one has been contributing in an amazingly positive way to Lawrence for about 25 years. I think they get a say.

    Cille King 9 months ago

    I agree that a family recreation center would be welcome in Lawrence - in a regional commercial zone, not in a neighbor zone. The text amendment proposed would allow very noisy, highly lighted, intense use activities in "neighborhood commercial centers" that are only meant to serve the "neighborhood" not the region. Current codes say recreational areas in these CN2 zones should be no larger than 50,000 square feet. This proposal would be more than 6 times that size - with outside lights, noise, drinking until midnight. Would you want that next to your home, elementary school, daycare center? Noisy, for-profit recreational centers are great. Just put it where it fits - perhaps close to Rock Chalk Park, or the regional commercial center on south Iowa. The new Menards that is going in east of Home Depot has several lots available that could be perfect.

    Alan Baker 9 months ago

    Jeremy Farmer is solely responsible for dividing the commission as well as dividing the community. The very souls he said he wanted to help will suffer the most.

    It was absolutely embarrassing to watch Dr. Riordan dribbled on and on about himself and Bob Schumm trying his best to bully other commissioners and the community.

    How do these kind of people get elected?

    Matthew Herbert 9 months ago

    typically, elections work by way of winning a plurality of the votes. So, how do they get elected you ask? The answer, more people vote for them than for the guy you voted for......that and an 8% voter turnout probably answer your question.

    Richard Heckler 9 months ago

    Shouldn’t “neighborhood single family dwellings” provide enough off street parking to meet demand? Shouldn't all multi family dwellings provide enough off street parking to meet demand? We know rental units can create monster parking problems.

    As I was listening to the City Commission it seemed to some they were looking for ways to not support Rental Registration much at all. No matter that registration fees fully supports the program and 5 inspectors. I say there are enough slum lords and and safety issues to keep this program alive as is done in neighboring counties.

    Lenexa,Overland Park,Leavenworth,Roeland Park, Prairie Village, Westwood, Merriam,Leawood and Kansas City have rental programs. Iowa City has had a program since 1970.

    Performance Audit: Rental Housing Licensing Program – February 2012 can be procured through City Hall. A ton of information.

    http://www.lawrenceks.org/assets/agendas/cc/2012/02-28-12/auditor_performance_audit_rental_housign_program.pdf

    Code Enforcemnet http://www.lawrenceks.org/pds/code_enforcement

    Retaining maximum market values for neighboring live in homeowners is at stake with out the rental registration. This is a huge issue. Ratty looking rentals nearby threaten owner occupied resident market values.

    Why should live in homeowners suffer market value loss?

    Neighbors deserve enforcement of the codes instead of being ignored as a means to protect their investments. YES!

    Wayne Kerr 9 months ago

    This sounds like a great location for a fun center. I don't see school kids being intimidated by a business of this sort at all. In fact, as a parent, the only problem I foresee is my kids begging me every weekend to take them out there to enjoy the arcade, go carts, and miniature golf. This would be a wonderful addition to our city. Sign me up, I like having fun.

    Greg DiVilbiss 9 months ago

    "We feel relocation to another property more suited for recreation would be the only acceptable compromise," it writes in the newsletter.

    Hahaha....I love their definition of compromise...it is one that seems to be prevalent here in this town.

    Compromise (Lawrence Definition) an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by one side making all of the demands and getting them.

    Compromise (Actual Definition) an agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions.

    I know in Wichita they have had a fun center near neighborhoods... I think if the noise of the gocarts is as they say, quiet, I would love to have a place the kids could walk to instead of having to hop in the car to the fringes of town.

    As far as the traffic argument....how about all of the traffic snarls created by the new Wal-Mart....(hint---they do not exist)

    Richard Heckler 9 months ago

    The final K-10 product may add a ton of traffic to that street. That other Wal-Mart is NOT doing the business that was expected.

    Kelly Anderson 9 months ago

    Seriously?...... We finally have the opportunity to have something for kids under the age of 21 and it is an issue because it is too near schools? Once again a product of overthinking. Good gosh Lawrence lighten up!

    Steve Jacob 9 months ago

    You are right Kelly. Lawrence loses millions of entertainment dollars to KC. Have you seen the new AMC Town Center 20? All leather recliners. Regal theaters here is so outdated. No mini golf, no go-karts.

    Richard Heckler 9 months ago

    "A two-story club house that would have private party rooms, arcade and snack areas on the ground floor. The second floor would include a bar that serves 3.2 beer"

    Could be another Cave? Better believe it.

    Without the alcohol revenue that place would go down in flames. I say that if mini golf was so popular the former mini golf owners at Iowa and 31st would have relocated.

    Nicholas Lindeman 9 months ago

    Are parents unable to keep their children from going? That's what Raintree makes it sound like.

    Tell your children they can't go. Some parents just don't want to be the "bad guy."

    Wayne Kerr 9 months ago

    That's not it exactly. Besides the increase in traffic, "Raintree leaders mentioned that proximity as being a problem, and so too did an earlier letter from the Wimbledon Terrace Townhomes Association. It expressed concern about "hundreds of little children who might be intimidated by the large numbers of teenagers and young adults who would frequent the project." This really makes little sense. At 8 am or 3 pm, when these kids would be walking to and from school I just don't see this being an issue. The fun center probably wouldn't even open until the afternoon and the place most likely wouldn't be terribly busy in the middle of the afternoon when people are at work and most teens and college kids are busy with school. It surprises me that anyone would be against a "fun" center and claiming that little kids are going to be intimidated by it is a really weak excuse to oppose it.

    Alan Baker 9 months ago

    Dr Rirodan mentioned a patient told him in his office while under his care that was living in a house in Lawrence without heat in January. He blamed it on her landlord.

    Chad could you follow up on this and find out exactly what Dr Rirodan did to help this women, his patient.

    What did Dr Rirodan really do?

    Jeff Cuttell 9 months ago

    We'll take it on the east side off of K-10. There is tons of room and it would be nice to get something on our side of town. Development there would be perfect to bring out of town business into Lawrence to spend money. Why does everyone think the West side is the only place for new things?

    Greg DiVilbiss 8 months, 4 weeks ago

    I would say it has to do with demographic information, while having closed schools in the east part of town they are redoing borders out west due to school overcrowding.....but development is clearly coming to east Lawrence sooner than later. Look at all of the prep work being done at O'Connell road.

    Adam Kasson 8 months, 2 weeks ago

    Just wait til hawkland builds the same thing on the other side of town where there is no schools or anything in the way. City commissioners i hope you know there is another joint venture getting ready to do the same thing off 31st.

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