I’m still waiting for the boom to come. Yes, those were the last words I remember saying before waking up on July 5 with a head bandage and a patriotic ringing of the ears. But what I’m talking about this morning is a Lawrence boom in single-family housing construction.
New numbers are out for home construction in Lawrence, and they show that the Lawrence home-building scene is quite a bit different from what is happening in the Kansas City market. Through July, Lawrence builders have received permits to build 105 single-family or duplex homes in 2016. That’s a good number compared with the post-recession doldrums of 2009-2012. But the number is not so good compared with last year. Thus far in 2016, single-family and duplex construction is off 30 percent compared with the same period a year ago.
What’s more interesting is what is going on in Kansas City. Single-family home construction in Kansas City actually is booming. The Home Builders Association of Greater Kansas City hasn’t yet released its July report, but through June the numbers are impressive. Single-family construction in the KC metro is up 29 percent compared with the same period a year ago. (If you are wanting to compare apples to apples, Lawrence single-family home construction at the June mark was down about 34 percent.)
Home building is an important economic activity in Lawrence, but for whatever reason it has had a hard time sustaining any momentum recently. Compare that with the Kansas City market, which is in its fifth straight year of increases for single-family home construction.
Perhaps the most interesting difference between the Lawrence and Kansas City markets has to do with apartments. The construction of apartments in Lawrence has been much more robust than single-family construction. In fact, it has become almost routine for the number of apartment units built in Lawrence to exceed the number of single-family and duplex units built in the city. That didn’t used to be the case, but now the numbers most years aren’t even close.
It is not hard to find national stories about how more Americans are choosing to live in apartments rather than single-family homes. There is a generation of Americans who don’t like the idea of owning and maintaining a property as much as their parents did. Plus, as the number of retirees rise, more of them are seeking to get away from some of the responsibilities of home ownership. But the trend is particularly pronounced in Lawrence.
Since 2009, Lawrence every single year has built more apartment units than single-family or duplex units. Contrast that to Kansas City: In the eight-county area that comprises the KC metro market, single-family home construction has exceeded apartment construction every single year.
Here are some numbers to put in perspective just how different the Lawrence market has become: From 2009 through June of 2016, about 33 percent of all new residential construction in Lawrence was single-family or duplex homes, while 67 percent was apartments or other multifamily units. During the same time period in the KC metro, 61 percent of all residential construction was single-family, while 39 percent was apartments.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying what is happening in Lawrence is bad. More apartment construction theoretically means we’re becoming a denser community, which is one of the strategies to fight urban sprawl. But since apartments are generally always rentals, it also means that the ownership of our community is becoming more concentrated too. That probably has implications.
Regardless, we long have said Lawrence should be different from Kansas City. These numbers show that’s the case. Kansas City residents are the ones with yards.
Here’s a look at other numbers from Lawrence’s July building permit report:
• Thus far in 2016, the city has issued permits for 105 single-family or duplex homes. That’s down from 152 units in 2015, but is still better than the seven-year average of 86 units.
• The city year-to-date has issued permits for 377 apartment units. That’s down from 431 units in 2015. But don’t kid yourself, this is still a very good year for apartment construction. The seven-year average is 188 units.
• The city thus far has issued permits for $126.8 million worth of construction in Lawrence. That’s down from $167.6 million at this point in 2015. But remember, 2015 went on to be a record-setting year. The seven-year average is about $78 million.
A look at the city’s gravel road that runs by millions of dollars in new homes; work begins on west Lawrence apartment project
Every queen hides something, and west Lawrence’s queen is no different. Whoa, whoa, before you start dishing on that soccer mom with the bedazzled sweatshirt, know that I’m talking about Queens Road. It is time for an update on that area of the world, as a major apartment complex has started construction along the road, at the same time that city commissioners are considering backing away from one of their commitments to the growing area.
So, what’s Queens Road hiding? Well, to the passerby on Sixth Street, Queens Road — which is the second road west of Wakarusa Drive — looks decent enough. The portion that connects with Sixth Street is paved and looks about like most other city streets that are in fair condition. But drive just a short two-tenths of a mile to the north, over the hill, and you see that Queens Road is actually a mishmash of broken asphalt, gravel and ruts that may appeal to Bubbas on ATVs, but not to many other drivers.
Here’s a look at some portions of the road.
As you can see, there is some building underway right next to Queens Road. That’s part of a 172-unit apartment complex named West End Apartments being developed by local businessman Tim Stultz. We had reported that plans had been filed for that complex, but now construction is well underway. (I’ll provide you more of an update on that project in just a moment.)
Just a bit farther to the north is the site for a long talked about apartment development that will be built around a small nine-hole golf course. The city has approved plans for approximately 600 apartment units in the first phase of the development and about 400 in the second phase. The development stretches from Queens Road to George Williams Way, just east of Rock Chalk Park. Most of the development will be concentrated along the end of the property closest to Queens Road. The project has been on the drawing board for years, but it sure looks like it actually is going to happen this time. There are pallets of pipe sitting on the property, which I assume are for the project.
What may not move ahead, however, is the reconstruction of Queens Road. The city tentatively has about $1.75 million in its capital improvement budget to pay for its share of the reconstruction costs of Queens Road (developers would pay a share as well). But now the city is contemplating pulling that funding from the budget and transferring it over to the much-debated proposal to rebuild a portion of East Ninth Street into an arts corridor. City officials have said that could delay Queens Road reconstruction all the way to 2019 or beyond.
Stultz, the developer of the West End apartment complex, said that doesn’t seem fair.
“Improving that road has been talked about for at least five years,” Stultz said. “To cut it out now would be pretty ridiculous. The road is in terrible shape. It is a washboard. It needs constant improvement. We keep hearing that next year will be the year.”
I’ll leave it to others to determine what is fair, but it certainly is an interesting situation. One point to remember is that developers are ready to pay for a large portion of the road. Developers on the west side of Queens Road have signed agreements not to protest a benefit district to pay for the road. A special assessment would be added to their property tax bills to pay for about half the road’s estimated cost, which is about $3.5 million.
Even more interesting is that technically the city has it set up in a way that it wouldn’t have to use any general tax dollars to pay for the construction of the road. Developers on the east side of Queens Road also signed agreements not to protest the creation of a benefit district. The east side of the road already is heavily developed with a single-family neighborhood. Those agreements not to protest run with the land, so the people who bought those homes agreed to not protest a benefit district too.
The city could assess the entire $3.5 million worth of costs to all the surrounding property/home owners, and add a special assessment onto their property tax bills. I wrote about that possibility all the way back in 2009, and the article highlighted that many of the single-family homeowners weren’t aware of that their homes could be subject to such a special assessment. Subsequently, City Hall leaders took the position that the city at-large would pick up the costs for the homeowners. The developers on the west side of the road would still be expected to pay special assessments, but the unwitting homeowners would be spared the special assessment.
Seven years later, that’s still where the situation stands. Queens Road has been planned to be reconstructed several times, but it has always gotten pushed off the planning list for one reason or another.
All that history is noteworthy, but the current situation is what likely will cause some to scratch their heads. Look at those photos of Queens Road again. With just the two projects mentioned above, the city has signed off on approximately $100 million worth of new development that will take access off Queens Road.
Now, it is important to note that there are other access points that serve this area too. People who live in these new developments could drive another quarter-mile to the west and use Stoneridge Drive, which is a good city street. So, the world won’t stop spinning if Queens Road isn’t improved, but it is likely to create questions about the city’s development process. How is it that the city approves $100 million worth of construction along what is essentially a poorly maintained gravel road, developers have agreed to pay their share of the reconstruction costs, and yet the city isn’t able to complete the project in a timely manner?
Obviously the East Ninth Street arts corridor project comes with potential benefits too. I’m not trying to gloss over those, nor am I suggesting the only choice is Queens Road or East Ninth. But it could end up that way, and if the city has brand new development right next to a road that is poor even by middle-of-nowhere, farm-road standards, it will send a message to others who may be thinking of investing in Lawrence.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Now for the update on the apartment project. Plans for the West End Apartments call for 172 apartments, with about half of them being one-bedroom units and half being two-bedroom units. All of the apartments will come with a one-car garage, Stultz said.
All of the apartments will be “garden-style” units that allow residents to walk up to their front doors rather than having entrance inside a larger apartment building.
Stultz has developed apartment projects in Lawrence for years, and he said demand for new apartments continues to be strong. He said much of the demand is coming from people who previously would be looking to own homes, but instead are delaying or foregoing that option.
“We keep filling all of our nicer apartments,” Stultz said. “We have waiting lists. It seems like a good time to keep going with this “move up” trend in apartments. We have very few students in our apartments these days. That market is being met by others.”
Stultz said he hopes to have all the apartments finished by August 2017, but said some may be available as early as May 2017.
Plans filed for nearly 2,000 new apartments near South Lawrence Trafficway; several hundred single-family homes may follow
West Lawrence soon may have a new meaning. Plans have been filed for the first major neighborhood to be built west of the South Lawrence Trafficway, and, if approved, it likely won't be the last.
Plans have been filed at City Hall for annexation and rezoning of about 160 acres of property southwest of the new Bob Billings Parkway and South Lawrence Trafficway interchange. The development in the near term could add about 2,000 apartment units, and in future phases could add about 600 single-family homes.
“It is an area that is ideally situated for residential development, and it is consistent with the community’s plans for the area as well,” said Lawrence attorney Dan Watkins, who is representing the ownership group, which is led by longtime Douglas County landowner Don Hazlett.
The map below shows a proposed master plan for the development, which is being dubbed Clinton Farms. The ownership group is seeking rezoning only for the apartment part of the development currently. Those show up as the dark brown and and orange units that are on the right-hand side of the map. The two shades of yellow are the proposed single-family development, which would be built in a future phase and would need to receive separate zoning approvals from the City Commission. The yellow areas also aren’t included in the current annexation request.
Here’s a look at what is proposed in the first phase:
— 416 units of apartments in four-story buildings spread out over 16 acres. That is the area labeled No. 18 on the map.
— 804 units of apartments in three-story buildings spread out over 30 acres. That area is labeled No. 17 on the map.
— A retirement campus that would include skilled nursing, assisted living, memory care services and independent living facilities. In total 270 units would be spread out over 18 acres. That area is labeled No. 16 on the map.
— 44 units of townhomes on 6 acres. That’s No. 15 on the map.
— 120 apartment units in two-story buildings spread out over 8 acres. That’s No. 14 on the map.
— 210 apartment units in two-story buildings spread out over 14 acres. That’s No. 13 on the map.
— 120 units of townhomes on 14 acres. That’s No. 12 on the map.
Here’s a look at what is proposed for a future phase of development:
— 219 low density single-family homes on 49 acres. That’s No. 10 on the map.
— 233 low density single-family homes on 47 acres. That’s No. 9 on the map.
— 34 very low density single-family homes on 18 acres. That’s No. 8 on the map.
— 92 very low density single-family homes on 29 acres. That’s No. 7 on the map.
— 40 apartment units in two-story buildings on 3 acres. That’s No. 11 on the map.
One thing to keep in mind is that the drawing above is a proposed master plan, which is subject to change. What the landowners really are seeking approval for is to convert two pieces of property from agricultural zoning to multifamily development zoning. One request is for about 53 acres for RM32 zoning, and another is for about 80 acres of RM15 zoning. Both of those zoning designations would allow for a variety of apartment and multifamily development.
Another thing to keep in mind is that this development will take some time. Watkins didn’t have a specific timeline, but he agreed that it would take multiple years to build out the project. But Watkins said he is convinced there is significant demand for new apartments in Lawrence.
“The market for multifamily housing in Lawrence is strong,” Watkins said. “Younger and older people both are trending toward leased property instead of owning it. And the studies we see show the absorption rate of new apartments over the last five years has kept pace with construction. Vacancy rates are pretty constant, and rents are rising.”
The issue of how many apartments the city needs is one that comes up at City Hall. I would suspect that it will get some discussion as part of this development request.
Another issue that sometimes comes up at City Hall is the idea of urban sprawl and whether the city can afford to extend infrastructure to new developments on the outer edge of town. That’s a complicated issue for sure, but sometimes it is overlooked that many of the traditional infrastructure costs are paid for by the private development group. In general, private developers pay for pretty much all streets, unless they are wide thoroughfares that are more than 31 feet across. In those cases, the developers pay to construct the street to a standard residential size, and the city pays for the portion of costs associated with widening it to a thoroughfare. The same concept applies to waterlines. The developers pay for water line construction, unless the waterline is a large main meant to serve a larger role in the city’s overall water distribution system. Sewer line extensions also are paid for by the private developer. Don't get me wrong, there are also costs that the city bears when a large new area develops, either directly or indirectly. But there's also significant new property tax revenue that comes with such development, especially if the project doesn't seek any financial incentives from the city.
Watkins said the ownership group doesn’t plan to ask for any special incentives from the city to help pay for the development.
Probably the bigger question to watch for is: What type of growth mindset does the City Commission have these days? This commission is serving in interesting times. The complete South Lawrence Trafficway is actually going to open to traffic this year. It is a more than $190 million investment in infrastructure by the state, and, not surprisingly, it has created development pressure along the SLT. Simply put, we’re in a period where the iron is hot, and some developers are looking to strike.
As we have reported, this City Commission already has turned down one major project that wanted to jump the South Lawrence Trafficway. That was a retail project that wanted to go south of the SLT at the Iowa Street interchange. The city is getting sued over that denial.
What will this commission think about going west of the trafficway? The idea certainly shouldn’t catch anybody by surprise. The school district already owns land in the area that was bought for a future school site. The city has a planning document called the West of K-10 Plan that envisions this property developing with a mix of high density and medium density residential uses. Take a look at the map below to see just how much new housing is envisioned for the area west of the SLT in the decades to come.
And there is another important fact about this property: Unlike the area near Rock Chalk Park at Sixth and the SLT, this property is largely flat and is in the Lawrence school district. That last reason has caused many in the development industry to speculate that this area will be the one that will really take off as the next new major housing area for Lawrence.
The question now seems to be how soon that will happen. City commissioners are getting closer to answering that question.
Look for this development to go to the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission in June or July and to the City Commission at some point after that.
New apartment complex slated for Sixth and Folks Road area; Topeka ENT moving into West Lawrence space; world champion Clydesdale team coming for St. Patty’s parade
The latest thing slated to grow in West Lawrence’s Bauer Farm development is a new apartment complex. Plans have been filed for a 145-unit apartment development near Sixth Street and Folks Road.
According to plans filed at the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, the apartment complex wouldn’t be right on the corner of Sixth and Folks, but just west of it. Look for six apartment buildings that will house a mix of studio, one-bedroom, two-bedroom and three-bedroom apartments. The plans also call for a nearly 12,000-square-foot clubhouse and a full-length outdoor basketball court.
A big part of the development is finishing Bauer Farm Drive. That is the east-west road immediately north of Sixth Street. The road is only about three-quarters completed. A large gap prevents motorists from taking it all the way from Wakarusa Drive to Folks Road. (Well, prevent may be too strong of a word, but you’ll want to have your shocks adjusted just right and the proper amount of bail money in the glove box.) The plans call for that final stretch of Bauer Farm to be completed, which may spur other development.
The development still has a few lots along Sixth Street to fill, but development is certainly on the upswing with the project. Sprouts, the natural foods grocery store, is under construction. Officials with the chain have said they plan to open the Lawrence store, at Wakarusa and Overland, in the second quarter of this year. There also will be several other retail spaces available next to the grocery store. I haven’t yet heard of deals signed, but I believe interest has been strong.
I’m also hearing a medical-related user also has plans for another portion of the Bauer Farm development. So keep your eyes open for news on that in the future.
As for the apartment development, the property is owned by a group led by Lawrence businessmen Mike Treanor and Doug Compton, but information on the plans indicate the apartment complex will be developed by a Colorado-based group Wakarusa Investors, LLC, led by David Geist.
The property already has the necessary zoning for apartment development, so it just needs to win some technical approvals from City Hall. It seems likely that it will have the necessary permits to begin construction this summer.
In other news and notes from around town:
• While we’re in the neighborhood of Sixth and Folks, it looks like a new medical office also is coming to that intersection. For months you perhaps have noticed advertisements that say Topeka Ear Nose and Throat — or Topeka ENT — is coming to Lawrence. Well, now we know where. The company has signed a lease to go into the new office building that houses Capital City Bank at the southwest corner of Sixth and Folks, according to information provided by the broker on the deal, Allison Vance Moore of the local Colliers International office. No word yet on when the office plans to open.
• There will be a world champion in Tuesday’s Lawrence St. Patrick’s Day Parade — six of them actually — and I dare you to give them a hard time about not being green enough. The Express Clydesdales, a team of six black and white Clydesdales that have been in parades and competitions throughout North America, have been added to the parade’s roster.
In addition, Lawrence residents will have a chance to see the horses up close. The team will be providing wagon rides from noon to 4 p.m. Monday at the Pine Landscape Center, 1783 E. 1500 Road in North Lawrence. The wagon rides are free, although donations will be taken to benefit the Children’s Miracle Network.
The horses then will be part of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which begins at 1 p.m. Tuesday and runs through downtown and North Lawrence.
The team, sponsored by the personnel services firm Express Employment Professionals, won the Six-Horse Hitch World Championships at the Calgary Stampede in 2013, and have won several other international competitions. Admittedly, the team isn’t as famous as the Budweiser Clydesdales, but they’re plenty big, just like the Budweiser animals.
“It is hard to appreciate just how big they are until you see them in person,” said Barry Kingery, a co-owner of the local Expres Employment Professionals office. “Just try to throw your arm around one of them, and you’ll se how big they really are.”
According to the horses’ website (don’t ask me how they type HTML code with those big hoofs), each horse is about 6 feet tall at the shoulder, weighs between 1,700 and 2,300 pounds, eats about 12 pounds of food and 15 pounds of hay per day, and drinks about 30 gallons of water daily. As for the size of those hoofs, the website simply says: “Size of dinner plates.”
The horses are participating in the Chicago St. Patrick’s Day parade this weekend and are stopping in Lawrence as they make their way to their home base near Oklahoma City.
Proposed apartment building near KU seeks another parking exemption from City Hall; WOW in negotiations to keep Discovery Channel; city to host food/toy drive Monday
I saw you this morning, with your blinker on and a railroad tie attached to your front bumper, as you tried to find a parking space on this Black Friday. So perhaps today isn’t the best day to report on a new plan to reduce the amount of parking for a proposed apartment/retail project near KU’s Memorial Stadium. But there is a new plan out there, and now KU officials are working to help the developer convince city officials to reduce their parking standards.
City commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will consider allowing a Chicago-based development group to eliminate 100 parking spaces from its plan to build a new apartment project that would have 624 bedrooms at 1101 and 1115 Indiana St.
Commissioners already have rejected one such request, citing concerns that allowing the project to be built with the less-than-required amount of parking spaces would put too much pressure on the adjacent Oread neighborhood. But as I reported a few days ago, I had heard that the development group had a new plan for reducing the parking spots. Now, we know it involves a partnership with KU.
The development group said it has reached preliminary agreement with KU that would allow tenants of the apartment complex to park in KU parking lots, with the proper university-issued permits. Specifically, HERE officials are promising city leaders that all the vehicle-owning tenants of their apartment complex would either have a permit to park in the private parking garage that is part of the development or would have a university permit to park in a KU parking lot. Tenants would be required to have one of the two permits in order to maintain their leases. HERE officials said they have reached an agreement with KU parking officials that will allow HERE to verify that their tenants have a KU parking permit (KU will release the information as long as the tenants sign a release form.) HERE officials once a year would share that documentation with the city to prove that the tenants have arranged for parking.
The city’s planning staff is recommending approval of the proposed agreement, although it's doing so with some hesitancy. A memo from the planning staff notes enforcing the parking provisions could be challenging because it will involve “high levels of coordination” between KU, the developer and the city. But the bigger issue mentioned in the memo is the prospect that this arrangement could create a precedent for other such developments. The Oread neighborhood certainly has other areas that may redevelop with apartment uses, and those areas also are near university parking lots. Planning staff members said if the request is approved, they would want it made clear that other developers should not see this as a precedent. It will be interesting to see if developers agree.
To be clear, the agreement HERE has with KU parking officials doesn’t reserve any spaces for an apartment tenant to park in a KU parking lot. Tenants simply would have a parking pass and could hunt for a spot like anybody else with a permit. A key piece of information I haven’t seen yet is an analysis of the parking demands in the KU lots near the project. If the lots already are full on a consistent basis, it seems possible that some parking will be displaced into the neighborhood when more permits are issued for those lots.
HERE officials, though, have argued that a large number of their tenants won’t have cars. Because of its location right next to campus, HERE leaders believe, many tenants will rely on bikes and public transportation. City officials and several Oread neighborhood residents have disagreed with that assessment.
One other piece of information that wasn’t clear to me on Friday morning was whether the large KU parking garage adjacent to the proposed apartment site would be of any benefit to the project. My recollection is that garage is entirely a pay-by-the-hour facility. There is no university permit that allows you to just park there. I may be wrong on that. I’m sure we have some readers out there who know the situation well.
The information provided to the city doesn’t spell out what will happen on KU game days. Most KU parking lots are closed to permit holders on game days.
It will be interesting to see how it all plays out on Tuesday. A big question is whether the development group will build the project if it is required to build the full amount of parking required by city code. The lead developer for the project has confirmed the project has had difficulty getting financing. The reduction in parking is expected to save the project several million dollars in construction costs.
In other news and notes:
• This could be dangerous. There is an outside chance that I may have to start busting myths rather than simply relying on the television program "Myth Busters" to do the work for me. (I think on Thanksgiving I busted a myth about elastic waistbands, or perhaps I just busted an elastic waistband.)
What I’m talking about is the cable television channel Discovery — which hosts "Myth Busters" and others — and how there is a chance Lawrence’s largest cable system may be without the channel for awhile. I don’t know if that is a very likely possibility, but officials have posted a public notice that alerts viewers that WOW’s contract with Discovery expires on Dec. 31.
“Although we are working to negotiate a fair price for these networks after Dec. 31, Discovery may turn off their networks or require us to remove all their channels until a new agreement is secured,” the notice states.
Several networks could be in jeopardy, if the contract is not renewed. Discovery also owns TLC, Animal Planet, Destination America and several other channels.
I put a call into a WOW official to get an update on negotiations, but haven’t heard back yet. If you’re a TV fan, it may be an issue worth watching. These negotiations with cable networks go a long way in determining how much your cable bill may have to increase in the future.
• Circle your calendars for an easy way to donate some food or toys to a local charities. Employees in the city’s solid waste division will be sponsoring a unique food drive on Monday and Dec. 8. Crews on the city’s trash trucks will pick up any nonperishable food items or any new toys that are left at the curb on those two days. Simply set the items out at the same time you would set out your yard waste, which also will be collected on Monday.
This is the second year members of the solid waste crews have taken it upon themselves to organize the food/toy drive drive. On Monday, city trash trucks already drive by every home in the city to pick up yard waste. So last year, division employee Duane LaFrenz and some others thought it would be cool if they allowed households to set out some food or a toy, in addition to their yard waste.
The food goes to the local food bank Just Food, and the toys go to the Blue Santa Program, which helps area families in need during the holiday season.
Large apartment building near KU’s Memorial Stadium, family fun center in West Lawrence face key votes tonight
From a big apartment building to miniature golf, the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is set to provide recommendations tonight on several million dollars worth of proposed development.
Here's a look:
• As we reported in December, plans have been filed for a five-story apartment building and retail development at 1101 Indiana St., which is basically across the street from KU's Memorial Stadium.
Well, the project is facing its first key review tonight, and thus far the early indications are that there is smooth sailing ahead for the project, which is being proposed by a Chicago-based student housing developer.
The city's planning staff is recommending approval of the project. If it comes to be, KU football fans will notice a major new addition to the stadium area by 2016. The project will include space for at least one, but possibly more restaurants or retail shops on the ground floor of the building. The plans call for about 11,000 square feet of retail or restaurant uses.
But the bulk of the project is driven by apartments — a lot of apartments in a relatively small space. The development is proposing 171 to 176 apartment units, depending on the mix of two-bedroom or four-bedroom units. Either way, the development would have 592 bedrooms. The entire project is proposed to sit on just 2.39 acres. That's about 74 dwelling units per acre, which is a lot more than the 24 to 32 units per acre seen in many traditional apartment developments in Lawrence. But unlike most other apartment buildings in Lawrence, this one will be about 80 feet tall, which allows you to create more density per acre. For years, city officials have said more density is needed in projects in order to cut down on the amount of urban sprawl in the community.
This project will test that notion. The development group, Chicago-based HERE, LLC, is asking for a bonus density that city commissioners have the discretion to grant as part of the relatively new mixed-use zoning district. Commissioners can allow a 25 percent increase in density over and above the normal maximum, if commissioners determine "such an increase is warranted to support the public benefit likely to result from the proposed development."
City commissioners will have to decide what that nebulous phrase means, but the project definitely will have a unique element to it that could end up being a benefit for the cramped Oread neighborhood. It will be the first development in the city to use an "automated, robotic parking garage system." The 592-space parking garage would be on three levels and partially underground.
The system involves the motorist pulling into a large elevator-like box and exiting the vehicle. The garage then uses an elevator system to place the vehicle on the appropriate floor, and a lift-and-track system that moves the vehicle to the right space.
A representative with the development group told me in December that the garage will use about 40 percent less space than a traditional parking garage because it doesn't have to use entrance and exit ramps.
It will be interesting to see how the project is received by the commission tonight. Thus far, I haven't heard of any real opposition to the large development from the Oread neighborhood. That, of course, can change, but it probably is worth noting the development would be replacing a fairly old apartment complex, Berkeley Flats, that is in need of some attention.
If this project happens, it could be a real game-changer for Mississippi Street, and the northern gateway into the university. Look at the map below to see exactly where this project would be. Then look at some of the properties on either side of it. A lot of them are starting to show some age. If this project happens, how much redevelopment pressure will it create on the entire area?
Maybe that will be the big question over the next few years: What is going to improve first: the KU football team or the area next to its stadium?
• As we reported in December, plans for a family fun center — think minigolf, batting cages and possibly go-karts — have been filed for vacant ground near the corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive. Well, that project also faces its first key vote tonight. We'll see how that goes, but sometimes at Lawrence City Hall, our idea of fun is to fight over how vacant ground that is next to a neighborhood should be developed. There are some indications that is the type of situation that is brewing. All this may still get worked out, but the Wimbledon Terrace Townhomes Association, which is across Clinton Parkway from the project, has sent a letter to city officials to "strongly object" to the proposed fun center.
Among the reasons cited in the letter are bright lights, increased traffic and the fact that the project — which, I remind you, proposes go-karts, batting cages, minigolf, an arcade and other such games — is located just a few blocks from four schools in the area. (Bishop Seabury, Raintree Montessori, Sunflower elementary and Southwest Middle School, if you are scoring along at home.)
The letter notes there may be "hundreds of little children who might be intimidated by the large numbers of teenagers and young adults who would frequent the project." The letters suggests it would be more appropriate for the center to be built in a more commercial area or on the edge of the city, "such as was done for the youth soccer complex south of town and the new recreation center to the west."
The project, however, has received a recommendation for approval from the city's planning staff. One of the reasons cited is because it would create an amenity that residents of the neighborhood could walk to. It is isn't clear how neighbors on the south side of Clinton Parkway feel about the project though. They have long fought to stop the vacant ground from housing more apartments. This project would accomplish that.
Regardless, a few more details are available about the project than when first reported in December. They include:
— The southeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness is planned to become the site of a dining establishment with a drive-thru lane. The zoning that is being asked for would allow for a fast-food restaurant, but planners don't think a high-volume fast-food restaurant would fit in well with the adjacent neighborhoods. The architect for the project, Lawrence-based Paul Werner architects, also has said the site isn't the type to attract interest from a fast-food restaurant anyway. Instead, the development group is more interested in a coffee shop with a drive-thru or some other similar use. A tenant, however, hasn't been found. It will be interesting to see if planning commissioners come up with some way to zone the property so that a coffee shop could be allowed, for instance, but a fast-food restaurant could not.
— The first phase of the family fun center development would include a two-story club house that would have private party rooms, arcade and snack area 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.
— Also in the first phase is an 18-hole, outdoor miniature golf course, six batting cages, a patio area and a children's "tot lot" play area.
— A second phase of the development is proposed to have a 33,000 square-foot, outdoor go-kart track. The carts are proposed to be electric, which the manufacturer says produces about as much noise as an automobile traveling 20 to 30 miles per hour down a street. No information has been provided on when the second phase of the development may be built.
— Hours of operation are proposed for 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Wednesday; 11 a.m. to midnight on Thursday and Friday; 10 a.m. to midnight on Saturday; and noon to 9 p.m. on Sunday. City planners are recommending that outdoor lighting be shut off by 10:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday and by 11:30 p.m. Thursday through Sunday.
Planning commissioners meet at 6:30 tonight at City Hall.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Here's a chance to play with the crayons in your desk drawer. Take out your Brick Red (or, heck, even your Razzmatazz or Razzle Dazzle Rose) and circle all the Lawrence neighborhoods that will have easy access to Johnson County, Topeka and the South Iowa Street shopping district once the South Lawrence Trafficway is completed.
There will be several areas circled, but none should be circled more brightly than the Prairie Park neighborhood in southeast Lawrence. We're already getting a glimpse of the changes a completed SLT may bring to the area.
If you remember, we reported in August that a pair of Lawrence businessmen had filed preliminary plans for a new multifamily complex near 28th Street and O'Connell Road in the Prairie Park neighborhood.
Well, those plans have advanced and are now up for a round of approval at Lawrence City Hall tonight. City commissioners are set to approve an annexation of about 11 acres of ground just north and east of the roundabout at 28th and O'Connell. Commissioners also are set to approve a request to rezone the property to RM-15 multifamily zoning.
Jeff Hatfield and Heath Seitz are the developers of the new project, and Hatfield recently gave me some details. Plans call for the project to be built in two phases. Phase one would start work soon on building 38 to 40 one-bedroom apartments on the site. Phase 2 would come later and would accommodate about 60 to 65 additional apartments on the site. Whether they would be one-, two- or three-bedroom units hasn't yet been determined.
Not surprisingly, the completion of the South Lawrence Trafficway in the next couple of years is one of the factors Hatfield is citing in moving forward with the project. The eastern interchange for the South Lawrence Trafficway will be just a minute or two east of the 23rd and O'Connell intersection. Once the trafficway is built, Prairie Park suddenly becomes a convenient home for commuters not only to Johnson County, but also to Topeka. As part of the South Lawrence Trafficway project, the city also is extending 31st Street from Haskell Avenue to O'Connell Road. That means Prairie Park residents will have an easy new route into the South Iowa Street retail district as well.
But Prairie Park also has another factor going for it. It is the closest neighborhood to the former Farmland Industries fertilizer plant, which is being converted into Lawrence VenturePark, the city's next big business park. Developers are betting that new companies will locate in that park, and workers at the companies will jump at the chance to live in a neighborhood that is just a stone's throw from the office.
Hatfield, who is a real estate appraiser and a veteran in the local housing and apartment markets, envisions a gradual 10-year transformation of the area out there.
"I think what really will control the growth out there is the number of new businesses that locate in the business park," Hatfield said. "If we get some employers out there, then the rooftops will follow, and then I'm really hopeful a grocery store will say this is where we need to be."
Property at the southeast corner of 23rd and O'Connell already is zoned for retail uses, including a grocery store, but a company hasn't yet stepped forward.
As for the apartment development, Hatfield and Seitz have drawn up a plan that uses single-story four-plex units that are designed to look more like houses than an apartment complex. Hatfield said the design is trying to create an "Aspen craftsman" type of look that features lots of stone, exposed wooden beams and rough-sawn lumber. As currently designed, about half the units will come with garages. You can see one of the proposed renderings below.
Hatfield said he expects the development's target market to be either young couples who don't yet need a larger unit, or single professionals who either are working in the area or want a convenient home to commute to either Kansas City or Topeka.
As we have previously reported, look for other activity in the area as well. The Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority has partnered with a private development group led by Lawrence businessman Bill Newsome to develop about 125 rent-controlled apartment units near the southwest corner of 23rd and O'Connell Road.
So, you may want to keep those crayons out. There may be more to circle in this area in the future. Now, where did I put my Fuzzy Wuzzy Brown and my Mango Tango? I've got serious work to do.
More LJWorld City Coverage
The buzz you've been hearing around Lawrence perhaps has been the hum of a power saw or the steady pounding of a hammer.
With half a year in the books, one of the emerging stories of the Lawrence economy is the solid year local builders are putting together. New numbers from City Hall show builders have started more single-family and duplex homes in 2013 than at any point since the recession. And when it comes to apartment construction, they're more than doubling their previous pace.
Here's a quick look at totals through June for three key metrics.
The total value of projects under construction in Lawrence through June is up 52 percent compared to the same period a year ago and up 94 percent compared to the low point of 2009.
• 2013: $75.1 million • 2012: $49.3 million • 2011: $49.8 million • 2010: $47.6 million • 2009: $38.7 million
Single family and duplex building permits are up 33 percent from the same time period a year ago and are up nearly 128 percent from their low point in 2009:
• 2013: 87 • 2012: 65 • 2011: 59 • 2010: 75 • 2009: 38
Apartment construction, which historically has been up and down, is going through a boom period. The number of apartment units under construction in the first half of 2013 is up 103 percent from the same time period a year ago:
• 2013: 374 • 2012: 184 • 2011: 63 • 2010: 0 • 2009: 172
I've already got my boots off, so let me do this math for you. If I've counted all my fingers and toes properly, the number of apartments built in the last five years has outnumbered the number of houses/duplexes built by 793 to 324.
Since we're doing math, here's another interesting number: Lawrence's population as of July 1, 2012, was 89,512. As of July 1, 2008, it was 90,520. (Confession: I cheated and used Census Bureau figures here. My wife and kids wouldn't take their shoes off.) That's 1,008 fewer people, but during that time we've added 419 new apartment units and 237 new houses/duplexes. City officials, however, have taken exception to these Census Bureau population estimates because they think the city's population has been undercounted. The city contends that population has grown slightly during the time period.
Either way, it sure seems that apartment construction, in particular, is outpacing the growth of new residents. If that's true, it would be interesting to see the vacancy rates of some of the older, less maintained apartment complexes in the city. It doesn't get much discussion at City Hall, but it is plausible to think that one of the larger issues of the next decade is how those old apartment complexes get redeveloped in the future.
Whether you leave your shoes on or off, that is likely to involve some pretty complex ciphering.
Maybe 13 is a lucky number in this case. Lawrence home sales for the 13th month in a row have posted year-over-year gains, but the more striking fact is the improvement in almost every category real estate observers care about.
According to the new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors, agents sold 102 Lawrence homes in April, a 45 percent increase over April 2012.
In a departure from past months, even newly constructed homes sold well. Builders sold 13 new homes, compared to just four in April 2012. To put the number in perspective, Lawrence builders had sold only 13 homes in the previous three months of 2013 combined.
The April numbers continue what has been a good start to 2013. For the year, 261 homes have been sold in Lawrence, up about 32 percent from 2012 totals and up 45 percent from same period in 2011. The number of newly built homes sold checks in at 26, up from 17 at this time in 2012 and 18 in 2011.
Sales of newly built homes will be a number to really keep an eye on. New home construction has more potential to boost the Lawrence economy than people simply buying and selling existing homes. That’s obviously because new construction involves employing people to build and houses and develop neighborhoods.
A couple of numbers that builders will keep an eye on are the number of days a house stays on the market before it sells, and the number of homes actively listed. Both numbers showed some bullish signs in the last month.
The median days on market for a home is now at 66, down from 88 in April 2012. The number of homes on the market also has fallen to 419, down nearly 32 percent from the 613 listed in April 2012. The number of newly built homes on the market is at 29, down from 56 in April 2012 and from 63 in April 2011.
As the market has picked up, there are signs that prices have too. The median selling price on homes in 2013 stands at $167,000, up 7.8 percent from the same period in 2012. It is always tough to gauge pricing trends just from this report, but at this time last year, the Lawrence real estate market was showing signs of a real price correction. Last year, at the end of April, the median home price was down about 10.2 percent.
The new numbers certainly have put new bounce in the step of local real estate agents.
“These recent statistics reflect a dramatic shift in our local market,” said John Esau, president of the Lawrence Board of Realtors.
Esau, in fact, went so far as to say he believe the market now has shifted from a buyer’s market to a seller’s market.
We’ll see what May brings: Perhaps lucky 14.
••• There’s another report out that shows Lawrence home builders are slowly starting to ramp up their production. According to a new report from the city, 17 building permits were issued in April for single-family and duplex homes.
That’s the highest April number in at least five years. For all of 2013, the city has issued 59 single-family and duplex permits, which is 20 more than it issued during the same time period in 2012.
Other items from the April report include:
• For the year, the city has issued permits for $54.8 million worth of projects, up 63 percent from the same period a year ago. The $54.8 million is by far the best showing of the last five years. The average since 2009 has been about $27.5 million worth of projects.
• Apartment construction continues to be strong in Lawrence. The city has issued permits for 374 apartment units thus far in 2013. That’s the highest total of the last five years. Since 2009, the average has been about 105 units.
• Apartment construction was a big part of the $19.8 million worth of permits issued in April. Camson South — one of two apartment projects just west of Wal-Mart on Sixth Street — pulled permits for a $5.5 million project that includes 88 apartments and a clubhouse. Other large projects include phase I of the Rock Chalk Park project, including construction of the track and field stadium. Lawrence-based DFC Company pulled $6 million in permits for that project. Discount Tire also pulled a $1 million permit for work on its new store at 4741 Bauer Farm Drive, just west of the new Starbucks in that area. Several of you have asked about the timeline for the new Discount Tire location, and I do have a call into the company. I’ll let you know when I hear more.
Lawrence home builders have best first quarter since 2010, according to new report; Hallmark undertakes another $3.3 million in construction
Shine that hammer and sharpen that saw. There are signs that the Lawrence homebuilding industry is getting busier.
According to a new report released by City Hall, builders started 23 new single-family or duplex homes in Lawrence during March. That brings the total number of single-family and duplex permits to 42, which is the highest first-quarter total since 2010.
For decades, single-family home construction has been the bread and butter of the Lawrence construction industry, and a major driver in the overall Lawrence economy. But the industry has hit hard times. In 2011, only 95 single family building permits were issued for the entire year, snapping a 55-year streak of the city issuing at least 100 new single-family building permits annually.
Since then, the industry has been creeping back. But this latest report is the best sign yet that the industry is getting a new footing. The first-quarter single-family and duplex numbers are 40 percent higher than the 2012 first-quarter numbers and are double the 2011 first-quarter totals.
The latest report also had strong numbers for several other parts of the local construction industry. Here’s a look at other figures from the March report:
• The city issued permits for $12.1 million worth of projects in March, the highest March total since 2009.
• For the year, the city has issued permits for $34.9 million worth of projects, the highest first-quarter total in the past five years.
• As we’ve previously reported, Hallmark Cards is moving all of its U.S. greeting card production to its Lawrence plant as part of a reorganization. That project is continuing to pay dividends for the local construction industry. Hallmark took out a $3.3 million building permit to make interior renovations to the plant. That’s in addition to $1.2 million worth of permits Hallmark already had received for the project earlier this year. If your abacus is a bit rusty, that means Hallmark now has undertaken $4.5 million worth of work at the plant during the first three months of the year.
• The city didn’t issue any permits for new apartment construction in March, but for the first quarter, that sector has been busy. Through the first three months of the year, the city has issued permits for 286 apartment units, the highest first-quarter total of the past five years.