Update on 25th and Iowa development; building totals start slowly in 2015; Lawrence lands on list of ‘coolest towns’
Let’s face it: After a night that included the excitement of both an overtime KU basketball game and the thrilling spectacle known as a City Commission primary, we’re all just going to spend today refueling our bodies with Cap ’N Crunch and Mountain Dew. So, I’m going to give you an abbreviated news and notes version of Town Talk. Here we go:
• Some of you have been asking me what development is underway at the former gas station at 25th and Iowa streets. Signs are pointing toward a financial service company that specializes in title or payday loans. A building permit has been issued for $125,000 worth of renovations at the site. The tenant on the building permit application is listed as Anderson Financial Services, LLC. A little research online shows that the company operates several LoanMax locations across the country. The company specializes in providing cash loans secured by a vehicle title. The company already is listing the location at 2434 Iowa on its website, so I would say that is a pretty good sign that a LoanMax is coming to Lawrence soon. The company has about 25 other locations across the state.
• While we are speaking of building permits, 2015 got off to a slow start in January, according to the latest report from City Hall. But that is not unusual for January. (It takes a lot of Cap ’N Crunch to get motivated in January.) The city issued permits for $3.4 million worth of work in January, which is below the previous five-year average of about $6 million. The number of permits for single-family living units also were pretty unremarkable. Permits for five new units were issued, which technically is the lowest January number since 2011. But not by much. Every January for the past five years has seen fewer than 10 new housing starts. So, January numbers don’t tell us much, but we will want to keep an eye on housing numbers in 2015. (Really, we do, so get it on your schedule and factor it in when you’re making vacation plans.) Home building numbers struggled in 2014, and it will be interesting to see if they bounce back.
The January report does provide some information about a couple of smaller projects you have noticed while driving around town. Work that is underway at 721 Wakarusa Drive is to renovate the space for Pinot’s Palette, a business that brings people together to participate in an art class while also sharing wine. We reported on the business back in October, so plans are now progressing on that business.
The January report also shows that construction work at the shopping center at 23rd and Harper is for a new Nail City. That location in fact may or may not already be open. My nails can attest that we do not know. The report also notes activity at one of the condo units on the top floor of the Marriott Hotel building at Ninth and New Hampshire. About $125,000 worth of interior finish work is underway on the condo unit.
• Perhaps it is because we have made a point to keep an eye on housing numbers in 2015, but Lawrence has landed on an Internet list of the coolest cities in America. A website called the MatadorNetwork.com ranks Lawrence as the ninth “Coolest Town in the U.S.” As if you didn’t already know, Lawrence is cool — according to Matador — because many shops and bars sell records or used CDs, plus we have several venues that attract “legit musical acts.”
The site goes on to list a perfect day in Lawrence as shopping for some antiques at Amy’s Attic or Blue Heron in North Lawrence, grabbing an early meal at Zen Zero in downtown and then “just drink your way up and down Massachusetts Street, mingling with underagers and recent grads who haven’t figured out the next move.”
The other towns that joined Lawrence in the top 10:
Laguna Beach, Calif.
North Charleston, S.C.
Sun Valley, Idaho
Mount Desert Island, Maine
What does the MatadorNetwork know about cool towns? I’m not sure, but I felt like it was my duty to alert you, in case you start noticing a marked increase in cape-wearing individuals staggering along Massachusetts Street.
Apartments winning out over single-family homes, report shows; city delays vote on HERE proposal; another project to reduce traffic flow on Iowa Street
I thought this year was going to be the year. (No, not the year that the Coach purse store released the lien from the house. A snazzy red “fall” purse ended that dream recently.) I’m talking about the year that Lawrence builders actually build more single-family homes than apartments. It still may happen, but the latest building permit report from the city shows single-family home builders now have some catching up to do.
City officials have released building permit totals through August, and they show that the pace of multifamily construction now has pulled ahead of single-family home construction. Through August, the city has issued permits for 83 apartment units while issuing permits for 55 single-family homes.
This should not come as a shock. The last time Lawrence builders constructed more single-family homes than apartments was all the way back in 2007. Since 2007, the score is this: 2,104 apartment units versus 933 single-family home units. I think even Charlie Weis and Turner Gill are blushing just a bit at that score.
I’m not saying that the trend toward more apartment construction is bad. I’m just saying if it continues for the long term, it certainly will change the demographics of the community. The 2010 Census found that 53.3 percent of all housing units in Lawrence were occupied by renters. If we continue to see apartment construction occur at twice the rate of single-family home construction, I suspect that number will grow. Other impacts likely will be a greater concentration of ownership of residential property in the community, and I’m guessing a greater percentage of out-of-town owners. I’m just guessing, but I believe the rate of out-of-town owners for apartment complexes is greater than the rate of out-of-town owners for single-family homes. Again, I’m not saying that is bad, but rather just different.
What we are seeing now with apartment construction is not unprecedented. Looking back at past building permit totals, there actually was an entire decade where apartment construction exceeded single-family construction. From 1963 to 1973, builders each year constructed more apartments than they did single-family homes. During that 10-year period, builders constructed 3,351 units of apartments and 1,646 single-family homes.
So maybe what is happening now is a new wave of construction to replace those large number of units that have hit the 40- or 50-year mark. But that leaves a big question: What happens to those old apartments? Thus far, most of the new apartment development has not been tearing down and replacing older units. (The HERE proposal near Memorial Stadium is proposing to do that.) I continue to believe one of the more important development questions for Lawrence over the next 10 to 15 years will be how those old apartment complexes are redeveloped. That’s what has made the HERE proposal interesting. It has needed a 10-year, 85 percent property tax rebate to make the project feasible. Will that be the case for other apartment redevelopment in the future?
As for the other numbers in the August building permit report:
— The city has issued a total of 66 single family and duplex permits through the first eight months of the year. That’s down from 121 during the same time period in 2013. The 66 permits represent the smallest number of single-family and duplex permits in at least the last five years.
— The city has issued permits for $61.4 million worth of construction through August. That’s down from $148 million during the same period a year ago. The $61 million total is the lowest since 2009.
The two largest projects in August were both apartment projects. The city issued a building permit for $4.4 million worth of construction for the 9 Del Lofts project at 900 Delaware St. That is the project by developer Tony Krsnich that will be adjacent to his popular Poehler Lofts building in East Lawrence. This also is the project that city, county and the school district are in the process of providing a 15-year, 95 percent property tax rebate for the new construction. So, if you are keeping track on your calendar, the project is unusual in that the building permit for the project had already been issued prior to city commissioners hearing the request for incentives. Usually, that process is vice versa because developers say incentives play a large role in whether a project is feasible. This project, which will have 43 units, never was in much doubt of receiving city incentives, though. The city has been supportive of the project from the beginning, in part because it is in an area of town the city is hoping to spur investment, and also because the large majority of the apartment units are rent-controlled and will be available only to low-to-moderate income tenants.
City officials also issued permits for $2.2 million worth of construction for two additional apartment buildings at the Apartments at Frontier complex, 542 Frontier Road. Lawrence architect Paul Werner is designing that project, and he told me more expansion is likely on the way for the complex, which is on the site where the Boardwalk Apartments used to be located. (That’s another example of a recent apartment project that redeveloped on the site of an existing complex.) Werner said that plans call for three more buildings to be constructed in the near future. When completed, the project will have 192 units. Werner said the project, which began in 2009, has been popular with tenants. The units are designed to be ultra energy-efficient, and the three-story buildings include a rarity in Lawrence apartment units: elevators to cut down on the amount of trips up and down the stairs.
In other news and notes from around town:
• This information is just in from City Hall this morning: Commissioners at their meeting tonight will not debate a request from the Chicago-based development group HERE, LLC to receive a parking reduction for its planned apartment complex near Memorial Stadium. A notice from City Hall says the issue now is scheduled to be heard on Oct. 21. No word yet on why the issue is being delayed.
• I know you are sad that the construction work at 23rd and Iowa Street may soon be over. I’m now hearing that the intersection will be fully open by the first of November. But don’t cry in your Halloween candy just yet. There is another project in the works that will reduce traffic flow on Iowa Street, although it won’t be near the production 23rd and Iowa Street has been.
Kansas University officials are asking the city to reduce traffic on Iowa Street to one lane in each direction near the Irving Hill Road overpass. That is in between 15th and 19th streets. Work won’t actually be taking place on Iowa Street, but rather on the bridge above. The project includes widening the bridge to include better sidewalks. KU officials want to reduce traffic to one lane in each direction underneath the bridge to make for a safer work area. KU leaders, however, said the lane reductions could be limited to 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., which will mean the street will be fully open during the rush hour periods. KU also is committing to have the street fully open during holidays, KU football games and KU basketball games.
Work on the project won’t begin until the 23rd and Iowa Street intersection is fully open. Once work begins, the project is expected to take up to 12 weeks to complete. City commissioners will hear the request from KU at their meeting tonight.
If you are a Lawrence driver, you’ve had this happen to you before: You’re driving westbound on Sixth Street, minding your own business. You see Taco Johns, and then begin calculating how many cheap tacos you are going to eat on Taco Tuesday. You see the Zarco 66 station and its car wash, and try to calculate if this is the year the F150 is due for a wash. You see the Dollar General store, and begin calculating how many $1 bags of knock-off Doritos you could buy with a month’s worth of paychecks.
And then . . . Holy Mother of Red Lights. You are in the LEFT LANE at Sixth and Iowa Street. You’re trying to go straight, idiot. Why are you in the left lane?
At this point, you might as well just settle in because Sixth Street at Sixth and Iowa has no dedicated left turn lane, which means traffic in the left-lane will stack up while the poor guy at the front of the line is waiting for a break in vehicles to turn onto Iowa Street.
We’ve previously reported that problem is set to get fixed this summer. Crews will add a left turn lane at the intersection. But now I’ve learned there is even more on tap for the intersection.
City Hall engineers tell me that as they’ve worked on the design of the project, it appears it will come in under the $900,000 estimate they had for the intersection. Engineers are looking to keep the project budget the same but add a few more improvements to the intersection.
Originally, the project was slated to just include adding a left turn lane on westbound Sixth Street. Plans called for the roadway to be widened to the north a bit, and traffic lanes would be reduced from 12 feet wide to 11 feet wide. That would allow Sixth Street to have a left turn lane and two lanes of through traffic at the intersection. The latest plans still call for those improvements, but also these additional ones:
• Iowa Street now will have two left turn lanes, funneling traffic westward onto Sixth Street. To accomplish that, however, the city will change the intersection so that there is only one lane of traffic for southbound Iowa Street. (Just at the intersection. It will widen back out to two lanes as you progress southward.)
• A dedicated right turn lane for eastbound motorists on Sixth Street turning south onto Iowa Street. City engineers have calculated the average delay at the intersection during peak driving hours will be reduced from 93 seconds to 23 seconds.
The city is expected to go out to bid for the project in April. Construction would take place over the summer.
Temporary closure of 15th/Bob Billings Parkway this summer upsets neighbors; city proposes new detour in hopes of alleviating concerns
We’ve been telling you for awhile now that the area near 15th and Iowa streets is going to be a mess for a good part of 2013. Well, it looks like the mess is going to spread into City Hall tonight.
As we have reported in the past, Iowa Street from about Harvard Road to the Irving Hill Road overpass is set to get rebuilt in 2013. The project, which has lingered in the planning stages for almost three years, has mainly focused on rebuilding Iowa Street and adding a center turn lane.
But the $6.5 million project also includes significant improvements to the intersection of Iowa Street and Bob Billings Parkway/15th Street. As we have previously reported, the construction plan for the project includes closing 15th Street/Bob Billings Parkway for several hundred feet on both sides of Iowa Street. In other words, you won’t be able to turn off Iowa Street onto Bob Billings to the west or 15th Street to the east, and vice versa. Iowa Street will have one lane of traffic open in each direction.
The entire project is expected to last from February through November, but the city is estimating that 15th Street/Bob Billings Parkway will be closed from May 20 to Aug. 16.
That part of the project seems to be catching some neighbors by surprise. I talked to Lawrence resident Nelson Krueger who lives in the neighborhood, and it sure sounds like there will be a push made at tonight’s City Commission meeting to get commissioners to leave the intersection fully open.
But city engineers are warning that such a change this late in the game is going to cause multiple delays to the project. Chuck Soules, director of public works for the city, told me the Kansas Department of Transportation — remember that Iowa Street is also U.S. Highway 59 — is scheduled to be advertised for bid on Wednesday, with bid openings on Jan. 17.
If Bob Billings/15th Street had to remain open during construction, KDOT has indicated it will pull the project from the January bid letting schedule. Soules said that means the start of the project likely would be pushed back by three to four months — it is scheduled to begin in February — and total length of the project would be increased by four months because it will take longer to do the construction work while traffic continues in the area. All told, that means more of the project will happen during Kansas University’s school year.
The city also is predicting that motorists on Iowa Street will see significantly longer delays if the intersection is left open. The key here is that Iowa Street will only have one lane in each direction. If the intersection is closed, the city can remove the traffic signal and keep traffic continuously moving through the construction zone. But if the intersection remains open, the traffic signal will have to remain in place, and with just one lane of traffic, vehicles are predicted to back up for long distances in both directions. Soules told me he can envision traffic backing up through the 19th Street intersection and close to 23rd Street.
The city probably did not help itself by officially designating the detour for the project as Sixth Street to Kasold or Clinton Parkway to Kasold. That will take motorists a long distance out of their way to get to Bob Billings Parkway.
As opposition has grown, however, the city has shifted its detour plan. Soules confirmed to me this morning that he has gotten permission from KU to use several West Campus streets as the official detour for the project. The plan is motorists could turn west at the 19th and Iowa intersection and go through the West Campus streets that run by the Lied Center and the Dole Institute of Politics and then re-enter Bob Billings Parkway at Crestline Drive.
Soules said the city always assumed that would be a de facto detour for motorists, but since those streets are maintained by KU, it needed the university’s permission before signs were put up to declare it the official detour.
We’ll see if that shorter detour makes neighbors happier.
Neighbors — led by Krueger and a few businesses along Bob Billings Parkway — have put together a presentation arguing that closing the intersection will hurt a whole host of businesses.
I received a copy of the presentation this morning, and the neighbors contend there are 2,000 residents in single-family homes and apartment complexes — the large Meadowbrook Apartment Complex is just west of the intersection — that will be impacted. The intersection will be closed during the critical time period of late July and early August when new residents are moving into the apartment complexes.
In addition, the shopping center at Bob Billings and Kasold stands to lose significant business, Krueger argues, because that is when many of those businesses establish relationships with those new residents.
Krueger also contends the city didn’t do enough to notify residents west of Iowa Street about the project. Soules said the city did send out notices to residents, but he said the notification did not stretch all the way to Kasold Drive.
City commissioners will get to sort it all out at their meeting tonight, which begins at 6:35 p.m. at City Hall.