Delaware tribal elections may change discussion on Lawrence property; city wins $15k school route grant; car dealers express concern over City Hall vehicle lease
Lawrence’s police headquarters plan isn’t the only project that has been complicated by recent election results. The Delaware Tribe of Indians held its elections last weekend, and now there is reason to question whether the tribe will be as aggressive in pursuing its plans to move to Lawrence.
So, what happened with the Delaware elections? Well, the same thing I tirelessly do every Saturday at my house: A complete housecleaning. (For the record, my wife is insisting on a retraction of that last statement, and is threatening to do terrible things to me with a feather duster.) Regardless, a housecleaning is one way to describe the Delaware elections. Every tribal council incumbent on the ballot was defeated in the election.
Chief Paula Pechonick was defeated by the tribe’s assistant chief Chester “Chet” Brooks. Three of the other six members on the tribal council also lost their seats, and since Brooks was a member of the council whose term hadn’t yet expired, the new majority on the council will get to appoint a member to his seat.
I obviously don’t closely follow Delaware Tribal politics, but I did talk with tribal council member Nate Young, who was one of the members not up for re-election this time. He left me with the impression that the new majority on the council may have different views about the future of the approximately 90 acres that the tribe purchased near the North Lawrence interchange on the Kansas Turnpike. I was left with the impression that they may be inclined to do less with the property, not more.
There has been all sort of discussion and speculation about what the tribe wants to do on the site. Originally there was concern among some residents that the tribe wanted to build a casino on the site. That talk has died down considerably. Instead, city, county and tribal officials have been meeting behind closed doors to talk about ideas for the property, which is the former Pine family sod farm. The latest idea to emerge is that the tribe would use about 30 acres for a tribal complex that would include offices for the tribal headquarters, classroom spaces, an area for a profit-generating “public interface,” and a kitchen to feed elderly tribal members. The other 60 acres would be devoted to agricultural uses that could include demonstration gardens, food hub distribution, a farm-to-plate restaurant and other such uses.
City, county and tribal officials had agreed to move into a new stage of discussions and host a design charrette to further refine the idea. Whether that happens now seems to be a bit of a question. Young didn’t get into details, but he said after speaking with the incoming chief, he was confident in saying that the new tribal council will consider different directions.
“I believe we may revisit some of the policies adopted by the previous council,” Young said.
What exactly that means, I don’t know. But in reading through some campaign literature from Delaware tribal candidates, I get the impression the purchase of the Lawrence property was an issue of contention in the election. Incoming Chief Brooks in a campaign advertisement expressed concern about spending $1.24 million to buy the Lawrence property. He said in the advertisement that it was done “without an appraisal and a proper resolution of the tribal council, only to learn later that 60 plus acres is in a floodplain and the rest has drainage problems which may prohibit its intended use.”
Bottomline: It looks like this is an issue worth watching because it appears the group dynamics are changing.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The city has received a $15,000 grant to study ways to make walking to school safer and more appealing.
The Kansas Department of Transportation has awarded the grant to the city through its Safe Routes to Schools program. The grant is considered a Phase I grant that will allow the city and various stakeholders to develop a safe route plan for each school in the community.
If the plan includes infrastructure improvements, such as new sidewalks, signals or other enhancements, the city would have to seek another grant or find other ways to pay for the improvements.
In a news release the city said the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department, USD 497, the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization, LiveWell Lawrence and the Lawrence Schools Foundation each have agreed to contribute funding, in-kind donations or staff time to develop the plan.
• We earlier reported on a plan for the city’s fire and medical department to lease seven Ford Explorers from Shawnee Mission Ford. Commissioners approved that lease agreement on Oct. 28, but now commissioners are being asked to rescind their approval. Staff members said they have since heard from some local auto dealers who said they were not aware the city was seeking bids for sport utility vehicles.
It appears what happened is that the city was using a previously bid procurement contract through the Kansas Department of Transportation to lease the vehicles. In other words, KDOT has a set price it can lease vehicles at, and KDOT allows other governments to use that contract. Upon further review, city staff members now are recommending that a more traditional bid process be used that opens the bidding up to any dealer who is interested. Commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting are expected to rescind their previous vote.
City staff recommends approval of reduced parking for apartments near KU; more details on Delaware Tribe proposal; part of New Hampshire may close for two years
Lawrence city commissioners at their Tuesday evening meeting will be a bit like me at a Western Sizzlin’ buffet. There are a lot of meaty issues to tackle. So let’s get right to it. Here’s a summary of what’s on tap:
• Apartment parking. The proposed $75 million, seven-story apartment/retail project slated for the area across the street from KU’s Memorial Stadium may be precedent-setting in more ways than one. The project likely already has helped open the door for future developers to ask for property tax rebates to build apartment projects. As we’ve previously reported, the city on a 3-2 vote has approved an 85 percent tax rebate for 10 years on the project. But now the apartment project, called HERE @ Kansas, also may set a precedent on reducing parking standards for apartment projects in the city.
As we’ve previously reported, the development is seeking a variance from the city’s parking code that will allow the 237-unit, 624-bedroom apartment complex to reduce its required parking by 100 space. The news out of City Hall is that the city’s planning staff is now recommending approval of the request. If approved, the project would have 461 parking spaces for its 624 bedrooms. The project also has about 13,000 square feet of retail space. The developers are proposing that all of the parking demand for the retail spaces be accommodated by on-street parking that will surround the project. That on-street parking is expected to total 107 spaces, but is subject to change as final design of the building progresses.
The memo from the city’s planning staff notes several concerns about reducing the parking standard for the apartment project, but then recommends approval. It does so largely based on one set of numbers it received from Kansas University parking officials.
The memo notes that 70 percent to 75 percent of sophomores through seniors at the Jayhawker Towers at 1603 W. 15th St. have parking permits, which the city is taking to mean that the other 25 percent or so do not have vehicles. If that percentage is the same for the proposed apartment development, then the 461 parking spaces would be pretty close to meeting the demand for parking. (It would meet it if the number is 70 percent. It wouldn’t quite meet it if the number is 75 percent.)
The percentage of residents with parking permits in other university-owned housing is even less, but the city believes the Jayhawker Towers is the best example to use from a demographic standpoint. There is another apartment complex, though, that may be even more similar to the HERE project. Naismith Hall at 1800 Naismith Drive is a privately owned residence hall right on the edge of campus. Some have argued that relying only on data from university-owned residence halls may under-report the demand for parking because many times the residents in those halls are among the students living on the tightest budgets. The HERE project has indicated that rents for a 4-bedroom apartment will be about $2,800 a month. The city examined the Naismith Hall property but wasn’t able to determine what the parking demand is for that project.
The parking issue brings up some interesting questions:
*— Will the city allow other apartment projects to provide fewer parking spaces? * It seems likely that other developers will ask for a similar deal. The question probably becomes what criteria does the city use to determine whether a reduction is prudent. Does it need to be within walking distance of KU, or does being on a KU bus route suffice? If a bus route suffices, that opens up large areas of town. If it needs to be within walking distance to KU, that opens up several neighborhoods surrounding KU, but Oread neighborhood would be most impacted. Perhaps the city will say that only mixed-use projects qualify for the reduction. But that may be a fairly low bar to reach. The building is proposed to be 445,000 square feet. It has 13,000 square feet, or about 3 percent of its space, devoted to retail.
— What will this do to parking in the Oread neighborhood? City staff notes that the amount of parking in the Oread neighborhood has not kept up with residential development in the neighborhood. The staff also notes the neighborhood is a popular place for people outside the immediate area to park because on street parking is free in the neighborhood, while parking on campus requires the purchase of a permit. If a precedent is set that future developments in the neighborhood require less parking, those issues likely are to become magnified. The Oread Residents Association already has come out against the proposed parking reduction. It will be interesting to see if this issue spurs more discussion about a permit parking system for the on-street spaces in Oread. The idea has come up at City Hall previously, but hasn’t gained much traction.
When commissioners discussed the proposed parking reduction last month, they were split on the issue. Mayor Mike Amyx and Commissioner Bob Schumm both expressed concern about the request. Commissioners Mike Dever, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan also expressed some concerns but said they wanted to study the feasibility of the request more. The commission doesn’t want to lose the project, and the Chicago-based development group has said it is having difficulty finding financing for the project. It is hopeful the reduced parking standard will help attract financing of the venture.
Commissioners meet at 6:35 p.m. on Tuesday.
• The Delaware Tribe of Indians. Commissioners will get an update on what type of development is being considered for North Lawrence property owned by the Delaware Tribe of Indians. The tribe owns approximately 90 acres just east of the Kansas Turnpike interchange in North Lawrence. The property is currently a sod farm, but commissioners are being told the tribe is interested in using the ground for its tribal headquarters and several other uses. They include:
— Offices for its tribal headquarters.
— Classroom space for the tribe, Haskell Indian Nations University, KU, Kansas State University and other educational partners to collaborate on the teaching of food production methods.
— Space for internships and job training.
— Space for profit-generating “public interface.” I’m not sure what that means, but it sounds like a space for some retail sales for the tribe.
— A kitchen to feed elderly tribal members.
— General meeting spaces.
— Areas to host classes in Native American culture.
Those uses above would be confined to the western 30 acres of the property. What isn’t spelled out is how large of a building would be needed. That could be an issue because neighbors in the area have expressed a lot of concern that construction on the site is going to create storm water flooding issues for the surrounding area. Neighbors and environmentalists have advocated for low-intensity development on the site.
The remaining 60 acres would be devoted to agricultural uses. Some of those ideas include a food hub distribution site; a food-based botanical garden; demonstration areas for agricultural methods; hoop houses, orchards and fruit stands, a holistic health center, and a farm-to-plate restaurant.
There are a lot of details to be worked out. A formal plan has not been filed with the city. Instead, the city, county, the tribe, Haskell, KU, the chamber of commerce and a few other organizations are being asked to sign an agreement that commits the parties to participate in a design charrette that will seek to create a more refined plan. City commissioners will vote on whether to enter that agreement at Tuesday’s meeting.
• Downtown Street closings. Developers of the property at Ninth and New Hampshire are asking for a good portion of the 800 block of New Hampshire Street to be closed to all traffic for up to 24 months. Lawrence-based First Management is making the request to accommodate the construction of a multistory apartment and office building at the northeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire streets.
The construction group is asking for the north and southbound lanes of New Hampshire Street to be closed between Ninth Street and the mid-block crosswalk that is in the 800 block of New Hampshire Street. In other words, from about where the hair salon is at Ninth and New Hampshire to where Cielito Lindo Mexican Restaurant is located in the mid-block of New Hampshire. The group wants the closure for 24 months or the length of building construction, whichever is shorter. (CORRECTION: The south-bound lane of traffic will be open during much of the project. There will be times when both the north and south-bound lanes will be closed, but not for the entirety of the project.)
Traffic on Ninth Street also would be impacted. Traffic would be open in both directions, but crews would shift all traffic to the south half of the street.
It also is important to note that a portion of the 900 block of New Hampshire Street already is reduced to southbound traffic only. That is to accommodate construction of a hotel/retail building on the southeast corner of Ninth and New Hampshire. The city is projecting that there will be a time period when traffic in both the 800 and 900 blocks of New Hampshire Street is impacted.
If approved at Tuesday’s meeting, the street closures on New Hampshire Street could begin later this month or in early November.
The odds that North Lawrence will be getting an Indian casino anytime soon may have decreased just a bit.
Ever since we reported in July that the Oklahoma-based Delaware Tribe of Indians purchased a prime piece of property along the interstate in North Lawrence, new information about the tribe's plans has been slow to materialize.
Well, new information is starting to churn, thanks to the tribe's quarterly newsletter, which came out today. In it, tribal officials made statements that indicate a casino really isn't in the tribe's immediate future.
"We are in the process of putting together the application for Land-in-Trust Non-Gaming," Chief Paula Pechonick wrote in the tribe's publication, the Delaware Indian News.
The trust application is a key piece of paperwork. The trust process is how the federal government recognizes land as "Indian land," which conveys a special status as owned by a sovereign, federally-recognized Indian tribe. As officials with the Bureau of Indian Affairs have explained to me, there are two types of trust applications — one that would allow an Indian casino to be located on the land and one that would not allow a casino.
News that the tribe is pursuing a non-gaming trust for the property, the longtime Pine Family Farms sod farm property just east of the Kansas Turnpike interchange in North Lawrence, is significant. Previously, tribal officials had refused to make any definitive statements about the issue of Indian gaming.
What the tribe told me in July is that its plans were likely to include housing, child care and a medical clinic to serve a portion of the state's American Indian population. But on the issue of whether a casino would be a part of the plans as well, tribal officials told me that was a subject they weren't yet prepared to discuss.
If tribal officials follow through and file a non-gaming application for the North Lawrence property, that would be the clearest indication yet that the tribe isn't planning on a casino — at least not for that particular piece of property.
The several articles in the newsletter about the tribe's Kansas land purchase make it clear there is a strong desire on the part of tribal leaders to establish at least the tribe's administrative headquarters on Kansas land. That would resolve a situation where the tribe currently is located on land controlled by the Cherokee Nation, which can make it difficult for the Delawares to receive direct grants and other financial payments from the federal government.
The newsletter also reports that Chief Pechonick and other tribal leaders met with Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback in late August to discuss the land purchase. According to the report, Brownback asked to tribe to consider holding a town hall meeting in Lawrence to spell out in more detail what the tribe hopes to do with the Lawrence property. The newsletter made no mention of a date being set yet for such a meeting.
It also is probably worth noting that the newsletter didn't have any articles or statements disavowing any future interest in a casino in the Lawrence area. Probably the key question, which I don't have the answer to, is whether an application to put this land into trust for non-gaming purposes forever closes the door on the property being used as a casino. Based on conversations I've had with a few people familiar with the issue, I don't think it does, but I'm still looking for someone to be more definitive on that point. I've chatted with several people about land in trust issues over the past couple of months, and all I'm really certain of at the moment is that it is complicated.
But it is worth remembering why the question of a casino arose in the first place. I'd say there are at least three big reasons:
• In 2000, the Delaware tribe publicly expressed strong interest in building a casino complex on 80 acres of North Lawrence property in the same vicinity.
• As we reported in August, the Delaware tribe is involved in a federal lawsuit in Oklahoma where court records indicate the tribe in 2011 entered into a development agreement with company that would be tasked with financing and building a casino for the tribe somewhere on the Kansas side of the greater Kansas City metro area.
• In March, the Leavenworth Times reported that Dee Ketchum, a former Delaware chief and a land consultant for the tribe, told the Leavenworth County Commission that the tribe was looking for property in the area for a headquarters, but acknowledged that gaming could be part of an economic development effort for the tribe, but said "that's not the whole reason for relocating."
I've got a call into Chief Pechonick, and a few other officials as well. Stay tuned for updates.