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A look at a unique eastside housing development and why the city may spend nearly $60K to save a tree in it

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UPDATE: An earlier version of this article incorrectly reported the City Commission took action on the purchase of the lot at its Tuesday meeting. The item was on the agenda for consideration but final action was deferred pending more research.

A new Lawrence housing development is going to have a very special tree. It has to be special. The city of Lawrence is considering spending nearly $60,000 to save it.

Forget the old question of “have you hugged a tree today?” The new question is whether you have talked to your banker about one?

But this tree may be worth the trouble. It is estimated to be about 100 years old and one of the largest bur oak trees in the entire state. Soon, one of Lawrence’s more unique housing developments will sprout up next to it.

The owners of Struct/Restruct, a Lawrence-based design and construction firm, will build eight new houses on the property just east of 12th Street and Haskell Avenue, on the site that used to house the salvage yard for the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center. Original plans called for the development to have nine houses, but city officials are considering buying one of the lots to save the big oak.

Owners of the Struct/Restruct property at 1146 Haskell Ave., which was once occupied by the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center, have sold for $58,000 a lot that contains one of the largest bur oak trees in the state.

Owners of the Struct/Restruct property at 1146 Haskell Ave., which was once occupied by the 12th and Haskell Recycling Center, have sold for $58,000 a lot that contains one of the largest bur oak trees in the state. by Nick Krug

Struct/Restruct owners Eric Jay and Matt Jones didn’t have plans to cut the tree down, but they did plan to build a house on the lot where the tree sits. City officials expressed concern that homebuilding on the lot may harm the tree’s root system or require some of its massive canopy to be disturbed.

Ultimately the city may decide the solution is to buy the lot to ensure a home would not be built on it. The city is considering to pay $58,000 for the lot, which is what a private appraiser pegged its value at. As part of the deal, the Struct/Restruct duo is donating an additional 2.3 acres of open space that is just north of the housing development. The property would have been difficult to develop, and Struct/Restruct hopes the city someday will use the property for a park.

To find out more about the tree, I’ve got a call in to a couple of Parks and Recreation officials, who I believe were instrumental in convincing the city to purchase the lot. In the information provided to commissioners, there wasn’t a whole lot of detail about the tree, other than it is estimated to be more than 100 years old and is a “majestic” and “large, towering specimen.”

Jay said he had heard that it was the second largest bur oak in the state, but I haven’t been able to confirm that. In case you are curious, the champion bur oak tree in Kansas is in Pottawatomie County and has a nearly 21-inch trunk, stands 93 feet tall and has a crown of nearly 90 feet, according to a recent publication from the Kansas Forestry Service. The second-place finisher is not published, but it seems like the Lawrence oak is in that ballpark.

Matt Jones, a founding partner of Struct/Restruct, looks out from the base of a bur oak tree near the eastern edge of a plot of land in East Lawrence at 12th Street and Haskell Avenue. Struct/Restruct, which owns the land, planned to sell the lot that contains the tree to the city of Lawrence for $58,000. The tree is believed to be one of the largest in the state.

Matt Jones, a founding partner of Struct/Restruct, looks out from the base of a bur oak tree near the eastern edge of a plot of land in East Lawrence at 12th Street and Haskell Avenue. Struct/Restruct, which owns the land, planned to sell the lot that contains the tree to the city of Lawrence for $58,000. The tree is believed to be one of the largest in the state. by Nick Krug

The tree, though, isn’t the only thing to watch for in that neighborhood. As I mentioned earlier, the housing development will be unique. Struct/Restruct builds modern homes, and a requirement for buying a lot in the development is that Struct/Restruct will be the builder and the design will have to meet certain guidelines established by the company.

The homes can be kind of tough to describe, as Jay struggled to put the design philosophy into words. I did an article on the company and its string of renovations in the 900 block of Delaware in 2012. Back then I described their designs as featuring unique peaks, sheets of glass, and nontraditional exteriors of concrete, stainless steel cables and distinctive timber.

Many of the homes often use timber that came from Lawrence trees or reuse items that have a history in the community, such as the roof sheathing that was removed as part of the renovation of the Poehler Lofts building in East Lawrence. It now serves as ceiling planks in one of the homes along Delaware Street.

Jay said interest in the housing development — which has land prices of about $70,000 per lot — is strong, with a few lots already having letters of intent signed.

“They range from a couple in their early 40s with no kids to a couple who are nearing retirement,” he said. “It is all over the board, really. I think people want to be closer to walkable stuff, including downtown.”

Jay said he thinks the entire Brook Creek Neighborhood is on the rise. The neighborhood is only a few blocks from the burgeoning Warehouse Arts District, which includes the Poehler Lofts and other new living units. Brook Creek also was the neighborhood where KU’s Studio 804 architecture class built its new concept house, which Jay said has been attracting strong interest from buyers.

“I think you are going to start seeing a lot more buying of properties in Brook Creek,” Jay said.

•••

Some of you may be wondering about what the city’s plans are for the lot it purchased and the more than two acres of open space that was donated. I haven’t seen any specific plans, and they likely will be a while in the making. The properties are adjacent to the city’s Brook Creek Park, so it would be natural for it to be an extension of that space.

Some of you may remember that there briefly was talk about using the 2-acre site to house a BMX bicycle track. Jones, one of the co-owners of Struct/Restruct, is a BMX fan. Back in 2013, I reported that he was considering using the 2-acre site to house a BMX pump track.

Jay said folks shouldn’t necessarily count on that happening. He said the city has been made aware that there is an interest in such a BMX track, but Jay said the city hasn’t made any commitment to use the land that way.

“I think they are probably skeptical from an accessibility standpoint, getting emergency vehicles in and out of there, plus other traffic issues,” Jay said.

Once the land is transferred to the city, it will be up to the city to decide what to do with it, and Jay said the deal wasn’t contingent on any BMX plans.

Comments

Deborah Snyder 2 months ago

Tha-a-a-ank you, Parks and Rec officials for a good job on saving this tree👍

It wasn't too long ago that another similarly large, old and historically significant oak was ripped out by (?) to build the strip mall at Harper and 23rd before anyone could stop him...

Don Brennaman 2 months ago

How about the city mows the lawn and spends no more money on it?

Carol Bowen 2 months ago

The neighbors would probably be fine with that. Rec centers are not a necessity.

Clark Coan 2 months ago

I tried to get them to save it years ago and add the land to Brook Creek Park. There was a companion tree which has died. I think it is actually over 150 years old.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 2 months ago

Good. Green space is important. They could add a couple of benches just for sitting and enjoying nature. The price isn't bad, and the extra donated 2 acres makes it even better.

David Teska 2 months ago

Shouldn't "I’ve got a call in to a couple of Parks and Recreation officials..." be "I have a call in..."? I think the late Tom Eblen would agree. Nit-picky, I know.

Carol Bowen 2 months ago

Calculating the height of the tree would be a fun math exercise. No need to wait for some publication. Maybe, some math teachers would arrange a field trip. Calculating the height of the tree would be more effective than a page of "real world" problems.

Danny Mantyla 2 months ago

There's a way to do this by taking two pictures with a camera a two separate, known distances. You'll need the top of the tree and something in front of the tree both in the frame of the pictures. Then you can use trigonometry (I think) to calculate the height of the tree by measuring the length of the top of the tree to the top of the thing in front of the tree (usually a person, house, etc) in both pics and use that info with the distance the camera was from the tree in the algorithm. You'll have to google search exactly what the algorithm is because I forgot

Carol Bowen 2 months ago

Yup. The old way was with a stick and a shadow. Similar triangles. Photos would be a nice update. I'd ask the students to make a diagram on their photos and explain using whatever terms they wanted to.

Danny Mantyla 2 months ago

This tree must be placed in the care of Parks and Rec department.

Oh and I like the idea of building a BMX track in lawrence but this is not the location for it.

Clark Coan 2 months ago

I believe it is larger than the following bur oak trees in Council Grove. They grow slowly, so it could date from around 1800.

Historic Bur Oak (1694) — Located at Baker’s Market at 115 E. Main in Council Grove. The original grove of trees for which the town was named was a mile in width and contained a variety of species.

Historic Bur Oak (1773) — Located east of the city park shelter houses in Council Grove.

Historic Bur Oak (1776) — Located in Custer Elm Park where George Armstrong Custer liked to camp. In 1869, he purchased 120 acres surrounding the park.

Carol Bowen 2 months ago

Now, we're talkin'. The "real world" problem woul be which tree is tallest. (Where I come from, we would be placing bets.)

Michelle Reynolds 2 months ago

If this tree was on the west side of town the city would have demanded the developer give the land to the city for free. Plus, carve out 10 lots to give to them for affordable housing. Then tell them to rebuild the aging street and sewer lines. All for free!

Thomas Sadler 2 months ago

Agreed! The Fritzels and Comptons of this town have been so mistreated that they cannot even afford to feed their zebra!

Tony Peterson 2 months ago

How long have you lived in Lawrence? There used to be big trees on the west side but they've all been bulldozed over the last 20 years by multiple developers to build those streets and sewer lines you cite.

David Holroyd 2 months ago

Who paid for the new sidewalks and curbing? Does the journal World know and how much? Would Chad inquire?

Louis Kannen 2 months ago

While at KU back in the 60's, many an hour spent roaming through that old Salvage Yard looking for parts for my '55 Chevy Bel Air. How gratifying to see for a change the further gentrification of the East Side by an Ethical Developer, and the unanticipated bonus of that incredible Bur Oak...

David Holroyd 2 months ago

So who paid for the sidewalks and curbing? Does Chad know? And if so, how much was the total cost?

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