Commercial development, duplex plans filed for property near Clinton Parkway and Inverness; city’s Parks and Recreation Department finalist for national award
Perhaps you remember back in late 2013 when a business group filed plans to build a “family fun center” with go-karts, batting cages, mini bowling and other such items near the corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive. Perhaps you also remember that neighborhood opposition killed the project, leaving several of us not nearly enough opportunities to wear our midriff bowling shirts in public. (Everything in mini bowling has to be smaller, right?)
Well, development interest for that same piece of vacant west Lawrence property is heating up again. But this time the type of business that may locate there is a mystery.
Plans have been filed at City Hall to rezone about seven acres of vacant property near the corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive to accommodate “neighborhood commercial” development. Currently the property is zoned for a mixture of residential and office uses.
To add to the mystery, it sure looks the ownership group of the property includes some of the same players who were interested in the fun center project. The property is owned by RPI, LLC. The secretary of state’s office doesn’t technically have an ownership listing for RPI, LLC, but does have one for R.P.I. LLC. Indeed, its former name used to be Kansas Fun Center, LLC, and it is represented by Lawrence attorney Mike Riling. Riling is the attorney who is representing the company on this current rezoning matter.
I asked Riling if he could provide any more details about what the owners want to do with the property. He said he couldn’t at the moment, but was checking with the ownership group to determine what it wants to share about its plans for the property.
I don’t have any inside knowledge that the group wants to make another effort to locate a family fun center on the site. It would seem unlikely given its past rejection. The requested CN2 zoning would allow for a lot of uses. Think drug stores, restaurants, dry cleaners and numerous other possibilities. An area plan approved by the city has recommended CN2 zoning for the property. The neighborhood has not liked the idea of additional apartments being built on the corner, so planners recommended neighborhood commercial. It may be that the developers are just trying to bring the property into compliance with what is recommended by the area plan. It also is worth noting that the fun center idea — if it included outdoor uses like the go-karts — would require a special use permit. The group has not filed for any such permit.
Like I said, I really don’t know that the fun center is in play, but it has been my understanding that the fun center developers have been looking around town for a location for their project. If you remember, the company publicly disclosed it was interested in locating next to a new police headquarters project when it was proposed for a site near McDonald Drive and the Kansas Turnpike. But voters didn’t find much fun in the proposed sales tax to pay for the police headquarters project, and thus the project never got off the ground. (Think of the revenue lost: Police officers stationed next to a go-kart track. They wouldn’t even have to leave the parking lot to write speeding tickets.)
I’ll let you know if I hear more details about the type of commercial development proposed.
• There is another part of the plan, however, that may draw concern from neighbors. The same development group has filed a plan that would allow for 28 new living units of duplexes to be built on the property.
The duplex development would be just west of the existing Remington Square Apartments. Essentially the duplexes would be a buffer between the apartments and the proposed commercial lot. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission is scheduled to consider that duplex development at its June 22 meeting.
Unlike the proposed commercial development, the duplex development doesn’t need rezoning approval. The existing residential office zoning allows for duplexes. Neighbors have been very united in their opposition to new apartment and rental units on that property. In fact they just get downright mad, like when their spouse has hidden their mini bowling pants from them. Neighbors feel that the city has allowed that area to turn into much more of a multifamily neighborhood than what was envisioned when the adjacent single-family homes were developed years ago.
Technically, duplexes aren’t apartments, though. We’ll see what type of response the duplex idea elicits from both neighbors and the planners tasked with approving the project.
• One landowner who may be watching all of this with interest is Bart Yost. I noticed several weeks ago a land transfer showing that he had bought a vacant piece of property kind of behind the Hy-Vee gas station that is located at Clinton Parkway and Crossgate Drive. Yost is an owner of the longtime Rumsey-Yost Funeral home, but no, he doesn’t have plans to build a new west Lawrence funeral home.
When I contacted him, he said he bought the property with the idea of future apartment development in mind. The lot — which is just east of the Legends apartment complex — isn’t real large, so any apartment development would be smaller than any of the other apartment complexes in that area. Thus far, no development plans have been filed for the property. Yost didn’t provide any timeline on when he may pursue the project.
In other news and notes from around town:
• People say we don’t have a go-kart track in town, but those are people who just lack imagination with a golf cart at the city-owned Eagle Bend course. I don’t think the city’s Parks and Recreation Department appreciates such imagination, but the department is getting its fair share of appreciation these days.
It has been announced that the city’s Parks and Recreation Department is one of four finalists for a national gold medal award from the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration and the National Recreation and Park Association. The award recognizes excellence in parks and recreation management and overall service. Lawrence is competing against departments in Allen, Texas; Roswell, Ga.; and St. George, Utah. Lawrence has twice been nominated for the award before, in 1997 and 1998. Winners of the award will be announced at a Las Vegas conference in September.
Family fun center opening along 23rd Street; Census says Lawrence population growth among tops in region; word of a new manufacturer along Haskell
I’m an expert on lasers, no matter what people tell you about that unfortunate incident when I borrowed a laser pointer for a Rotary presentation. So trust me when I say that a new laser tag business is coming to Lawrence, and I’m almost certain that no one will lose their eyebrows this time.
Plans have been filed for a new family fun center called Epic to open in The Malls Shopping Center at 23rd and Louisiana streets. The fun center will open in the former Family Dollar space. Co-owner Travis Jacobsen told me work has begun to renovate about 4,000 square feet of the building into a massive laser tag area. The building also will include a 3,000 square foot video arcade, although it will operate a bit differently from many arcades.
“Instead of tokens or quarters, you buy access to all the arcade,and then it is unlimited game play,” Jacobsen said. “It is like when you go to the carnival and you buy a wristband to ride all the rides.”
Jacobsen, a recent business school graduate from KU, is opening the business with his father, Terry Jacobsen of rural Lawrence. Travis said he hopes to have the business open by early July, but no later than early September. He said response from people who have heard about the concept has been great.
“We believe Lawrence needs more things to do,” Travis said. “It needs wholesome things that can entertain an entire family. It has been an overwhelmingly positive message we’ve gotten back from the community.”
In addition to the laser tag and the arcade, the center also will include about 1,200 square feet of party room space that can be divided into three separate rooms. Lawrence has had a laser tag business before, but it has been awhile. The bowling alley at Ninth and Iowa used to have a laser tag space years ago before the space was converted into Wayne & Larry’s sports bar.
“Lawrence is as big as it has ever been, and KU is big,” Travis said. “With the right marketing plan, we think it will work very well in Lawrence. I remember going to these type of places with my family when I was a kid. It was a blast. This has been a longtime dream of ours.”
Travis and his wife, Ellen, also hope the business has a secret weapon. Travis and Ellen, as we reported on Tuesday, were first in line to adopt one of the puppies of Penny, the Lawrence dog who gained fame on social media when she ran away, pregnant, from her foster home in midwinter. The couple plan on the puppy becoming a fixture at the fun center.
In other news and notes from around town:
• The U.S. Census Bureau has released its 2014 population estimates for cities across the country, and they show that Lawrence may be getting some of its growth mojo back. The latest numbers estimate Lawrence’s population stood at 92,763 people in 2014. That’s up by 1,587 people from 2013. That’s good for a growth rate of 1.7 percent. Lawrence’s growth rate had slowed to less than a half percent a year in 2010, but has been on the rise since then. The 2014 numbers are the strongest showing for Lawrence this decade, and is near Lawrence’s historic average of the last 20 years or so.
Here’s a look at how the city’s population growth compares with some other Kansas communities.
— Baldwin City: 4,585 up 0.5 percent
— De Soto: 6,038 up 1.8 percent
— Eudora: 6,303 up 0.9 percent
— Gardner: 20,667 up 0.6 percent
— Kansas City: 149,636 up 0.6 percent
— Leavenworth: 36,000 up 0.2 percent
— Leawood: 34,395 up 4.2 percent
— Lecompton: 637 up 0.6 percent
— Lenexa: 51,042 up 1.3 percent
— Olathe: 133,062 up 0.8 percent
— Ottawa: 12,403 down 0.8 percent
— Overland Park: 184,525 up 1.7 percent
— Tonganoxie: 5,192 up 0.6 percent
— Topeka: 127,215 down 0.2 percent
— Wichita: 388,413 up 0.3 percent
• There’s another good sign that is a bit of a blast from the past. I’ve gotten word that Lawrence has landed a new manufacturer. I’m still working to get details, but I’ve gotten word than an Iowa-based company that manufactures foam insulation and other foam products has reached a deal to take about 60,000 square feet of space in the former E&E Display building near 29th and Haskell. I don’t yet have word on how many jobs the new enterprise may create for Lawrence. I’m working to get in touch with the company, Iowa EPS Products, and I’ll report back when I have more information.
West Lawrence fun center plans on hold again as neighbors speak out; the big question looming for city’s rental licensing program
Mini-golf, mini-bowling, many concerns, it appears. As we've reported multiple times, plans have been filed for a "family fun center" on vacant ground near the southeast corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive in west Lawrence.
When we last reported on the project in February, it was scheduled to receive a key vote at the Lawrence-Doulgas County Planning Commission that evening. It didn't. Instead, it got deferred until March's meeting, which took place Monday. But again, no vote for the fun center. The issue was deferred before the meeting ever began.
I've got a message into the architect for the project to find out if the development group still plans to pursue the project. I haven't received any word back on that. (I also don't have a clear understanding of who the development group is behind the project.)
What is clear is that an organized opposition effort to the fun center is underway. Raintree Montessori School is among the leaders of that effort. In its newsletter to parents this month, Raintree takes a strong stand against the project
"We feel relocation to another property more suited for recreation would be the only acceptable compromise," it writes in the newsletter.
The fun center is proposed to have a variety of activities. They include:
— A two-story club house that would have private party rooms, arcade and snack areas on the ground floor. The second floor would include a bar that serves 3.2 beer and has a NASCAR driving experience arcade and miniature bowling.
— Outside, an 18-hole miniature golf course, six batting cages, a patio area and a children's "tot-lot" play area also are planned.
— A future second phase of the development proposes a 33,000 square-foot, outdoor go-kart track. The carts are proposed to be electric and produce little noise, according to information submitted by the developers.
A prevailing theme in the opposition to the fun center is that those type of uses aren't appropriate for an area that has so many schools nearby. Bishop Seabury, Raintree, Sunflower elementary, and Southwest middle school are all within walking distance of the site.
Raintree leaders mentioned that proximity as being a problem, and so too did an earlier letter from the Wimbledon Terrace Townhomes Association. It expressed concern about "hundreds of little children who might be intimidated by the large numbers of teenagers and young adults who would frequent the project."
I'm not sure how such intimidation exactly would play out, but it is worth noting that the city's planning staff is recommending approval of the project, in part, because it is a walkable destination for a variety of people. Creating walkable destinations has been a real catch phrase at City Hall in recent years. (No one has ever accused City Hall of having extraordinary catch phrases.)
There are other reasons, though, that neighbors have objected. In addition to the fun center, the development in recent weeks has added a request for two lots that could house drive-thru businesses, such as a fast-food establishment. The architect, Lawrence-based Paul Werner, has told me that he doesn't envision a traditional fast-food restaurant at the location. Instead, he thinks some type of coffee shop with a drive-thru would be more likely. But it sounds like several neighbors haven't liked the addition of drive-thrus.
"The roundabout on Inverness can barely handle the traffic now, but adding this type of use to the neighborhood will increase traffic exponentially," Raintree writes in its letter. "The availability of alcohol late at night in a high traffic area has the potential for causing serious problems, and the noise and lights from the center will disturb the sleep of countless residents nearby, not to mention the increased incidents of vandalism."
Raintree is sponsoring a petition drive against the project.
I suspect we'll find out in the coming days whether this project has any legs left to it. If it doesn't, it will be interesting to see what comes next for this area. It is a highly visible piece of vacant property on a major city street. It basically is surrounded by apartments. Neighbors already have strongly voiced their opposition to future apartment development.
In other news and notes from around town:
• There were times during the nearly four hours of discussion at City Hall last night about the rental registration program that I thought we perhaps were going to settle the issue with a game of mini-bowling or a putt-putt contest. (Or perhaps that was just wishful thinking on my part.)
But, instead, it was a night of back and forth between opponents and supporters of the program. As we reported, the program was approved on a 3-2 vote.
I left the meeting, though, with one big question about the program: Will it survive the next election?
One of the changes to the program last night was its start date. A divided commission pushed the start date back by six months to give the city more time to prepare for the program, although staff wasn't asking for more time to prepare for the program.
The new start date means the first inspections of multifamily rental units won't begin until July 2015. That means no inspections will have taken place prior to the next City Commission elections, which are in April 2015. (Unless state law changes on municipal elections.)
Politically, I'm not sure what the ramifications of that change will be. Originally, the program would have had four months of inspections under its belt before voters went to the polls in April. I think some city officials were hopeful those four months of inspections would have shown that the program will not be nearly as burdensome as many landlords believe. Now, there won't be any such chance to prove that before the elections.
Of course, you could also argue that if the city did inspections and they went poorly in those first four months, that may have been bad politically. I asked Commissioner Jeremy Farmer, who pushed for the delayed start date, whether he was concerned that a new commission could take office and end the program before it every really got started. (Registrations, but not inspections, will begin in January.) He said he wasn't. His belief is the timing won't affect the politics of this. He may be right.
But it is worth noting that two of the three commissioners who supported the rental inspection program have terms that are expiring in 2015: Commissioners Terry Riordan and Bob Schumm. Mayor Mike Dever, who voted against the program, is the other commissioner who has a term expiring in 2015.
I don't know what will happen, but I think it will be very interesting to watch whether a slate of candidates committed to repealing the rental inspection program emerges by early 2015. As some of you may remember, Manhattan had a program for two years, but then a new slate of commissioners came into office and repealed it.
The plan commissioners approved on Tuesday was meant to be a compromise aimed at making landlords more comfortable with the program. It is questionable whether it accomplished that. Landlords came out in large numbers to oppose the plan, and some of them appeared to be well-funded. I counted at least four attorneys who rose to speak against the proposals.
That leaves me with just one more question: Are we absolutely sure mini-bowling can't solve this?
More LJWorld City Coverage
Go-Karts, batting cages, mini-golf planned for new West Lawrence Family Fun Center; new info on high-speed Internet plans
I need to find my Mario Andretti sunglasses, my Chi Chi Rodriguez slacks and my Alex Rodriguez cologne ASAP. There are plans for a new West Lawrence development that includes electric go-karts, miniature golf, batting cages, and even mini-bowling. (I'm not sure what I'm supposed to wear for mini-bowling, but I promise it will be small.)
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for a proposed Family Fun Center at 4300 W. 24th Place, which basically is the vacant ground near the corner of Clinton Parkway and Inverness Drive. The plans call for the development to be on about 11 acres near the multitude of apartment complexes that have developed over the years between Inverness Drive and Crossgate Drive.
Based on the drawings submitted to City Hall, preliminary plans include about a 36,000 square-foot area for a go-kart track, about 7,200 square feet for batting cages, 87,000 square feet for miniature golf, and a 6,800 square-foot "tot lot." (I'm assuming it is an area for toddlers, but a pit full of warm tater tots would be excellent as well.)
In the center of the site is a proposed two-story, 28,000 square-foot clubhouse, which I assume would have the mini-bowling area. Information submitted to City Hall also indicates there also will be lots of area for birthday parties, arcade games, snack areas and that sort of thing. The information also indicates preliminary plans are to have a small bar area that would serve 3.2 beer.
The plans filed don't make it clear who the developer is behind the project. Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects has filed the plans and is shepherding the development through the city approval process.
The development will require some significant approvals. I'm confirming with city officials, but it looks like the project will need not only a change in zoning to a commercial designation, but also a special use permit and a text amendment to the zoning code that would allow outdoor recreation centers in CN2 commercial zoning district.
It will be an interesting development to watch. Neighbors in the general area have fought hard against apartment development in recent years. So, the fact that this prime piece of property is being proposed for something other than apartments is probably welcome. Whether neighbors will take to the idea of an outdoor recreation center will be a key issue to watch.
Outdoor developments usually bring up the issue of noise and light pollution, and Werner's firm has indicated it will make limiting those issues an important part of the design process. The plans note that the go-karts will be electric rather than gas powered. The go-kart manufacturer advertises that the machines make noise equal to or less than a vehicle traveling down a road at about 20 to 30 mph.
The plan also will include significant landscaping to address lighting issues. Preliminary plans call for the business to be open well into the nighttime hours. According to a document submitted as part of the plans, the current thinking is for the business to be open until 10 p.m. on most weeknights, but open until midnight Thursday through Saturday.
Again, we'll see how the development progresses, but certainly the question of why Lawrence doesn't have a miniature golf business has been one that people have asked me frequently over the years (It probably was because I was wearing my Chi Chi Rodriguez slacks at the time.) Many of you probably remember that Lawrence did have a miniature golf and batting cage complex at 31st and Iowa streets well into the 1990s. But that site eventually was redeveloped as the location for Douglas County Bank. I had always been told high land prices had made such developments difficult, but the economic downturn may have changed that equation a bit.
In other news and notes around town:
• I'm still gathering some details on this, but city commissioners are being asked to work with another company that has plans to bring super high-speed Internet to the area.
City commissioners at their 6:35 p.m. meeting tonight will consider approving a right-of-way agreement with Baldwin City-based Dawn Fiber LLC. The company wants to install about 19,000 linear feet of conduit and fiber on city rights-of-way in various parts of central and eastern Lawrence. Locations include: Fifth and Tennessee; 11th and Tennessee; 11th and Haskell; 19th and Haskell; 19th and Harper; and 23rd and Harper. Plans call for the fiber also to be extended across the rural areas of the county and connected with Dawn Fiber's headquarters in Baldwin City.
City staff members are recommending approval of the deal because the right-of-way license agreement would ensure that a portion of the fiber could be used by the city of Lawrence for governmental uses. That opens up the possibility of the city high-speed Internet connections to traffic signals in central and eastern Lawrence, water towers in the area, an a multitude of city buildings, including: the Fire Training Center at 19th and Haskell, the central maintenance garage at 11th and Haskell, the East Lawrence Recreation Center at 1245 E. 15th Street, the Carnegie Building at Ninth and Vermont streets, and several other parks and recreation and maintenance buildings. Importantly, the new fiber route also would allow the city to easily connect with the statewide Kansas Fiber Network, which is an association of 29 rural Kansas telephone companies that offer a variety of services including wholesale Internet services to large users like governments.
What I'm still gathering details on is whether Dawn Fiber, which operates under the name Free State Broadband, plans to use the Lawrence fiber to offer residential and commercial Internet service in Lawrence, or whether this fiber installation is just part of its previously announced plans to bring high-speed Internet service to Baldwin City. I'll update you when I get more information.
UPDATE: I talked with an executive at Dawn Fiber, and current plans don't call for the company to offer residential or commercial service in Lawrence. The company plans to use the new fiber to support its efforts to wire Baldwin City with high speed Internet service.
• There's also news regarding the request by Lawrence-based Wicked Broadband for $500,000 city grant to help with a pilot project to bring super-fast Internet to parts of downtown and East Lawrence. Originally, the city's Public Incentives Review Committee was scheduled to meet and discuss the request today. But that meeting has been postponed to Jan. 21.
I'm not sure what has caused the delay, but based on the last city memo I saw, the city's staff members are not recommending approval of the grant request. I won't get into all of that now because I'm still gathering information from city and Wicked officials on the request, but I'll hope to have more on that in the coming days.