Apartments winning out over single-family homes, report shows; city delays vote on HERE proposal; another project to reduce traffic flow on Iowa Street

I thought this year was going to be the year. (No, not the year that the Coach purse store released the lien from the house. A snazzy red “fall” purse ended that dream recently.) I’m talking about the year that Lawrence builders actually build more single-family homes than apartments. It still may happen, but the latest building permit report from the city shows single-family home builders now have some catching up to do.

City officials have released building permit totals through August, and they show that the pace of multifamily construction now has pulled ahead of single-family home construction. Through August, the city has issued permits for 83 apartment units while issuing permits for 55 single-family homes.

This should not come as a shock. The last time Lawrence builders constructed more single-family homes than apartments was all the way back in 2007. Since 2007, the score is this: 2,104 apartment units versus 933 single-family home units. I think even Charlie Weis and Turner Gill are blushing just a bit at that score.

I’m not saying that the trend toward more apartment construction is bad. I’m just saying if it continues for the long term, it certainly will change the demographics of the community. The 2010 Census found that 53.3 percent of all housing units in Lawrence were occupied by renters. If we continue to see apartment construction occur at twice the rate of single-family home construction, I suspect that number will grow. Other impacts likely will be a greater concentration of ownership of residential property in the community, and I’m guessing a greater percentage of out-of-town owners. I’m just guessing, but I believe the rate of out-of-town owners for apartment complexes is greater than the rate of out-of-town owners for single-family homes. Again, I’m not saying that is bad, but rather just different.

What we are seeing now with apartment construction is not unprecedented. Looking back at past building permit totals, there actually was an entire decade where apartment construction exceeded single-family construction. From 1963 to 1973, builders each year constructed more apartments than they did single-family homes. During that 10-year period, builders constructed 3,351 units of apartments and 1,646 single-family homes.

So maybe what is happening now is a new wave of construction to replace those large number of units that have hit the 40- or 50-year mark. But that leaves a big question: What happens to those old apartments? Thus far, most of the new apartment development has not been tearing down and replacing older units. (The HERE proposal near Memorial Stadium is proposing to do that.) I continue to believe one of the more important development questions for Lawrence over the next 10 to 15 years will be how those old apartment complexes are redeveloped. That’s what has made the HERE proposal interesting. It has needed a 10-year, 85 percent property tax rebate to make the project feasible. Will that be the case for other apartment redevelopment in the future?

As for the other numbers in the August building permit report:

• The city has issued a total of 66 single family and duplex permits through the first eight months of the year. That’s down from 121 during the same time period in 2013. The 66 permits represent the smallest number of single-family and duplex permits in at least the last five years.

• The city has issued permits for $61.4 million worth of construction through August. That’s down from $148 million during the same period a year ago. The $61 million total is the lowest since 2009.

The two largest projects in August were both apartment projects. The city issued a building permit for $4.4 million worth of construction for the 9 Del Lofts project at 900 Delaware St. That is the project by developer Tony Krsnich that will be adjacent to his popular Poehler Lofts building in East Lawrence. This also is the project that city, county and the school district are in the process of providing a 15-year, 95 percent property tax rebate for the new construction. So, if you are keeping track on your calendar, the project is unusual in that the building permit for the project had already been issued prior to city commissioners hearing the request for incentives. Usually, that process is vice versa because developers say incentives play a large role in whether a project is feasible. This project, which will have 43 units, never was in much doubt of receiving city incentives, though. The city has been supportive of the project from the beginning, in part because it is in an area of town the city is hoping to spur investment, and also because the large majority of the apartment units are rent-controlled and will be available only to low-to-moderate income tenants.

City officials also issued permits for $2.2 million worth of construction for two additional apartment buildings at the Apartments at Frontier complex, 542 Frontier Road. Lawrence architect Paul Werner is designing that project, and he told me more expansion is likely on the way for the complex, which is on the site where the Boardwalk Apartments used to be located. (That’s another example of a recent apartment project that redeveloped on the site of an existing complex.) Werner said that plans call for three more buildings to be constructed in the near future. When completed, the project will have 192 units. Werner said the project, which began in 2009, has been popular with tenants. The units are designed to be ultra energy-efficient, and the three-story buildings include a rarity in Lawrence apartment units: elevators to cut down on the amount of trips up and down the stairs.

In other news and notes from around town:

• This information is just in from City Hall this morning: Commissioners at their meeting tonight will not debate a request from the Chicago-based development group HERE, LLC to receive a parking reduction for its planned apartment complex near Memorial Stadium. A notice from City Hall says the issue now is scheduled to be heard on Oct. 21. No word yet on why the issue is being delayed.

• I know you are sad that the construction work at 23rd and Iowa Street may soon be over. I’m now hearing that the intersection will be fully open by the first of November. But don’t cry in your Halloween candy just yet. There is another project in the works that will reduce traffic flow on Iowa Street, although it won’t be near the production 23rd and Iowa Street has been.

Kansas University officials are asking the city to reduce traffic on Iowa Street to one lane in each direction near the Irving Hill Road overpass. That is in between 15th and 19th streets. Work won’t actually be taking place on Iowa Street, but rather on the bridge above. The project includes widening the bridge to include better sidewalks. KU officials want to reduce traffic to one lane in each direction underneath the bridge to make for a safer work area. KU leaders, however, said the lane reductions could be limited to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., which will mean the street will be fully open during the rush hour periods. KU also is committing to have the street fully open during holidays, KU football games and KU basketball games.

Work on the project won’t begin until the 23rd and Iowa Street intersection is fully open. Once work begins, the project is expected to take up to 12 weeks to complete. City commissioners will hear the request from KU at their meeting tonight.