Posts tagged with Lawrence Government

Homes sales up in February; single-family building permits hold steady; weekly land transfers

If you are like me and continue to set off crimson and blue confetti bombs in the TV room after every Jayhawk victory, you soon may be looking for a new house. So, how about some news and notes from the Lawrence real estate and building industry?

• The city has February’s building permit report out, and the numbers continue to be a tale of two types of construction. Single-family home construction continues to be pretty stagnant, but there are builders staying busy with multifamily construction.

The city issued 10 single-family building permits during the month. For the year, the city has issued 18, which is on pace with what the city did last year. (There were 19 issued during the first two months of 2012.) On the apartment front, though, the city issued permits for 22 new apartments in February, bringing the total number of units to 286. Apartment permits come in bunches though, and all the permits are for one project in the city — the new apartment development just west of Wal-Mart at Sixth and Wakarusa. That project, by the way, is being built by Lawrence-based Highland Construction, which indicates Lawrence’s Stultz family — longtime landlords in the community — are behind the project.

In total, the city issued $6.04 million worth of building permits in February. For the year, the city has issued $22.7 million worth of permits, which is up from $10.47 million a year ago. It’s early, so it is not wise to read too much into those numbers yet, but city officials certainly would love for that pace to continue.

• Sales of single-family homes continue a steady climb, according to a new report from the Lawrence Board of Realtors. Lawrence homes sales in February checked in at 46, up from 44 during February of 2012.

For the year, home sales are up about 20 percent — 82 home sales during the first two months of the year vs. 69 for the same period a year ago. But the bigger story is that February marked the 11th consecutive month that homes sales have been higher than the same month a year earlier. That’s the type of statistic that begins to paint a picture of a rebound. Indeed, I’m hearing from some in the industry that agents are now starting to believe that more homes are needed on the market. That hasn’t been the case for quite some time. If that feeling continues, that’s the sort of sentiment that will fuel a rebound in the single-family construction industry.

In terms of other numbers from the monthly report:

— The number of active listings in Lawrence is down almost 30 percent from a year ago — 371 in February 2013 compared to 510 in February 2012.

— The median selling price for the year is $174,125, up from $145,000 during the same period a year ago. But the sample size this early in the year is so small that those numbers don’t mean much.

— The median days on market is at 99, which is up significantly from 79 days one year ago. That’s the one piece of the report that runs a bit counter to the recovery trend.

• You know the housing market has been slow when homes that are built to sell for prices below their market value were slow to sell. But that had been the case for awhile with the southeast Lawrence affordable housing project being built by Tenants to Homeowners.

In case you have forgotten, Lawrence-based Tenants to Homeowners has started construction on the Prairie Wind affordable housing community right near the corner of 26th and Haskell.

The development is listing brand new four bedroom homes for $125,000 to $130,000. The homes have an appraised value of about $175,000. But Rebecca Buford, executive director of Tenants to Homeowners, told me even those homes were moving very slowly in the Lawrence market for the last year or more.

But there are signs that is changing. Buford said the development has put four houses under contract in the last three weeks.

“It is like a switch was turned on in the last month or so,” Buford said. “I think people have just been scared. And it probably wasn’t a good decision to buy if they didn’t think their job was solid. But I think people are starting to feel better about that.”

The Prairie Wind development is set to have 18 homes when completed. Buford said five houses have already been sold and another seven are under construction, with four of those under contract. She said she hopes to have the project fully built and sold by this time next year.

The development does place income restrictions on who can qualify to buy the below-market rate homes. Buyers must have an income under 80 percent of the median income for the area. For a Lawrence family of four that means an annual income of less than $56,650.

• I have some catching up to do here on our listing of property sales as recorded by the Douglas County Register of Deeds. Click here to see the last few weeks worth of reports. There have not been many commercial sales of note, other than the ones we already have reported in past Town Talks. But here are few that caught my eye.

— Maybe James Naismith’s original rules of basketball will be housed in The Oread hotel. I rather doubt that, but it appears the man who bought the rules to bring back to KU has purchased a condo in the hotel building. The listings show a trust held by David and Suzanne Booth bought an upper story condo in the hotel that sits atop Mount Oread.

The Midland Railway Historical Association in Baldwin City has purchased a piece of property, 1704 College Street, along the railroad tracks, about a block south of its historic station. No word yet on what the plans may be for that location, but the old-time train company has been busy lately. It launched its first dinner train in January.

— It looks like business must be going well for Biemers BBQ at 2120 W. Ninth St. The property transfers indicate the business has finalized a deal to purchase its restaurant location — which used to be the old Bucky’s hamburger joint — from a group led by Lawrence businessman Doug Compton.

I don’t know about you, but a little BBQ and basketball sounds good right about now.

Reply 3 comments from Navyvet Chad Lawhorn Golfguy

Business prepares to move to make way for South Lawrence Trafficway; details and speculation about what else the SLT may bring

Construction on the South Lawrence Trafficway is still at least six months away from getting started, but signs of the coming changes already are starting to show up.

The one known business that will have to relocate due to the SLT recently has signed a deal for a new southeast Lawrence location. The business formerly known as RSC Equipment Rental will move to 930 E. 30th St., which is the space that used to be the parking lot and maintenance facility for the city’s public transit buses.

RSC Equipment Rental now goes by the name of United Rentals, after the RSC chain of stores was purchased by United recently. The company rents aerial lifts and other types of construction equipment.

The company plans to use the existing 5,000-square-foot building on the site, but it will undergo about $250,000 worth of remodeling, according to plans filed at City Hall. An employee at United told me the move is likely to happen in the next month.

The business now is at the southeast corner of 31st and Haskell. But soon enough, a new road will run through that location. No, the new road won’t be the South Lawrence Trafficway. It will be the new road called 32nd Street, which will be the local road that will run just north of the SLT. It will replace the thinly paved joy of driving that we currently know as 31st Street.

If you have forgotten about that new street, you probably have forgotten about several others. The South Lawrence Trafficway project likely will produce the most change in the city’s street network of any project in decades. Take a look at the map on this page to see the details. Here’s a reminder of what you are looking at:

• A portion of Haskell Avenue will move about 1,000 feet east of where it is today. Haskell will start making its shift to the east at about the point where it intersects with 29th Street today. In other words, right near where Hiper Technologies is located, or — if you are an old timer — where the Honeywell avionics plant used to be. Haskell will shift back to its current alignment before it reaches the Wakarusa River bridge. (At that point the road is actually called County Route 1055 because it is outside the city limits, for all you geography sticklers.)

• The existing portion of Haskell Avenue between 29th Street and the current 31st Street will remain in place to serve as a frontage road for the businesses — such as the new United Rentals building — that are just west of the existing Haskell Avenue.

• The existing 31st Street between Haskell and Louisiana will be removed and the property will be converted back to wetlands. The new 32nd Street — which will be four lanes — will be the local route through the wetlands.

• Louisiana Street south of 31st Street will undergo major changes. The road will be moved a half-mile to the west, in order to get the road farther away from the Baker Wetlands. In other words, if you are driving on Louisiana Street north of 31st Street and want to continue south, you are going to have to turn west onto the new 32nd Street. You’ll take that new road — which turns into the existing portion of 31st Street in the city — for a half-mile. Then you can turn back south onto the new Louisiana Street. The new Louisiana Street eventually will curve back to the east and connect with the existing Louisiana Street (technically E 1400 Road outside the city limits) before it crosses the Wakarusa River. If you are trying to picture where the new Louisiana Street will intersect with 31st Street, it will be just east of the large apartment complex at 31st and Ousdahl.

The state plans to accept bids on the SLT project in September, and construction in the wetlands could be begin this fall. Work on the Haskell and Louisiana parts of the project wouldn’t begin until 2014.

All of these new roads — with the largest, of course, being the new four-lane SLT — will create a lot of question both in the business community and at City Hall. The best way to get a feel for some of them is to go to Google Maps and type in the area of 31st and Louisiana. Zoom in several clicks, and the map will show you the route of the SLT and of the new 32nd, Haskell and Louisiana streets. That map does a good job of highlighting several pieces of property that seemingly will have a lot more development pressure in the near future.

Some properties and questions that jumped out at me include:

• The former Gaslight Mobile Home Park just east of Home Depot. As we have reported, Menards has filed a plan to build a new store on the property, plus have lots for several smaller retailers or restaurants. This is going to be an issue very soon. The Planning Commission is tentatively scheduled to review the plans in April. In order for the project to be approved, the city is going to have to change its planning documents. The city’s planning documents call for the property to be developed as apartments.

Here’s the question: Will the city stick to those plans when a major retailer clearly wants to be on the site? Now that a new 32nd Street is going to be built just east of the site, the property will be on one of the most highly improved roads in the city. That’s generally where most cities want their retail.

The more political question is whether the City Commission will do everything it can to steer all new retail development to Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway in northwest Lawrence? After all, that is where the city will be investing $25 million for a new recreation center. But Menards has had plenty of opportunities to sign a deal to locate in the existing — and vacant — Mercato development at Sixth and the SLT. Company officials have told the city the site doesn’t meet their current needs. Will the city hold its ground on steering development to Sixth and the SLT, or will it blink?

• The former E&E Display building at 29th and Haskell. That’s a decent size manufacturing/warehouse building with some vacant/underutilized ground near it. When the SLT is built, it really will only be about a minute away from the freeway. I’ll keep my eyes open for some sort of jobs producing deal for that location. If one doesn’t materialize, given its location, economic developers should be asking what’s wrong with our community?

• The vacant ground directly behind Wal-Mart at 33rd and Iowa streets. Until you look on the Google Maps, it is easy to forget about that piece of property. But the map makes it clear that it is one to remember. The ground stretches all the way from the Walmart/Crown Toyota area on the west to the former Printing Solutions building at 31st and Louisiana on the east. The entire piece of property will have great visibility from the South Lawrence Trafficway. As a bonus, the new Louisiana Street will cut through the property as well.

City commissioners talk about the need for planning, but what is the plan for that area? I’m sure there is something in a plan somewhere about that area, but it is an area that hasn’t been talked about by city commissioners for awhile. It would seem — given its location next to major retailers such as Wal-Mart, Kohl’s and others — that the market may have an interest in putting some retail there. Will the city share that interest?

It will be interesting to watch, and I’m pretty sure I won’t be the only one watching. In fact, if you see a tent staked up on that vacant property, that’s my wife. She wants to make sure she doesn’t miss out on any early-bird specials.

A map showing the route for the South Lawrence Trafficway. Courtesy: Kansas Department of Transportation.

A map showing the route for the South Lawrence Trafficway. Courtesy: Kansas Department of Transportation. by Chad Lawhorn

Reply 43 comments from Oletimer Tomatogrower Juma Richard Heckler Average Bearded_gnome Bob-RJ Burkhart Lawrence Morgan Jhawkinsf Royalpain and 20 others

City set to make additional improvements to Sixth and Iowa intersection

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.

Reply 24 comments from Asixbury Starbrite Macheath Larrynative Buckjennings Forgetful Kugreenmachine Alabamastreet Workinghard Keith Richards and 12 others

New Lawrence PAC raises $14K as City Commission election draws near; Farmer top candidate fundraiser at $11K

The largest fundraiser during the heat of this year’s Lawrence City Commission race wasn’t a candidate. It was the newly formed political action committee Lawrence United.

According to new reports filed at the Douglas County clerk’s office, the Lawrence United group raised $14,400 during the key Feb. 15 through March 21 reporting period.

The group raised all of its money from just 10 donors. Lawrence builder Tim Stultz and Blue Jacket Ford LLC — a development company headed by construction owner Roger Johnson — both donated $5,000 apiece to the PAC.

Three companies that include Thomas Fritzel, the Lawrence businessman driving the public-private partnership for Rock Chalk Park, gave a total of $3,000 to the PAC. Lawrence-based McGrew Real Estate also donated $1,000 to the PAC. All the other donations received by the group were at the $200 level or less.
The pro-business PAC has endorsed candidates Rob Chestnut, Jeremy Farmer and Terry Riordan.

Those three candidates also did well in their individual fundraising efforts. Farmer, the political newcomer who serves as the CEO of the Lawrence food bank Just Food, raised the most money of the six candidates in the race: $11,265. Farmer finished second in last month’s primary election.

Rob Chestnut, the CFO for a Topeka publishing company, raised $8,949 during the period. Chestnut was fourth in the primary election. Only the top three vote winners in the April 2 general election will receive a seat on the commission.

City Commissioner Mike Amyx, the lone incumbent in the race, raised $5,960. The downtown barbershop owner is seeking his fifth term on the commission. He was the top vote winner in the primary.

Terry Riordan, a Lawrence pediatrician, raised $5,315 from supporters. Riordan also contributed $9,000 of his own money to the campaign. When combined with a similar loan Riordan made to his campaign during the primary season, Riordan has now invested more than $18,000 of his own money in the campaign. Riordan finished third in last month’s primary election.

Scott Criqui, an executive with Lawrence’s Trinity In-Home Care, raised $4,555. He was fifth in last month’s primary.

Leslie Soden, the owner of a Lawrence pet care business, raised $2,718. Soden was sixth in the primary election.

The Lawrence United Group gave $500 each to Chestnut, Farmer and Riordan. (Note: In a previous article, Riordan had told me the group gave him $100. But Riordan called me this weekend to tell me he had misspoken then. He quoted that number off memory and realized the amount was $500 when he looked at his records.)

But the group’s bigger impact on the race is that it has sent out several mailings urging support of the three candidates it has endorsed. Businesses and individuals are limited to making contributions of no more than $500 to any candidate during any one reporting period. Individuals and businesses, however, can make unlimited contributions to PACs, and the PACs can spend as much money as they choose advocating for a candidate.

Lawrence has had other PACs in the past. In the 1990s, a group called Progressive Lawrence campaigned for candidates who it thought would give the neighborhoods more of a voice in the City Hall process. Progressive Lawrence no longer exists, but there are other organizations that are in the political giving business. The plumbers and pipefitters union — it is based out of Wichita but has operations here — gave $200 each to Chestnut and Amyx, according to the latest reports. And the Gay and Lesbian Victory Fund, based out of Washington, D.C., gave $500 to Criqui. Criqui has been a frequent advocate for greater equality for the LGBT community.

But this year, Lawrence United sure appears to be the most active and best funded political organization operating in the City Commission race.

There is a question among campaign watchers, however, whether the PAC’s support will help more than it hurts. Thus far, the PAC largely has been supported by business interests in the community.

That has put some candidates at recent events emphasizing that they won’t be beholden to any special interests if elected.

“I have told people that if I have to choose a side to win an election, I would rather lose the election,” Farmer said during a forum hosted by Lawrence’s 6News last night.

Farmer went on to say that he clearly doesn’t equate taking a donation from any group as creating an expectation that he’ll vote in any particular manner, if on the commission.

“My integrity is not for sale,” Farmer said.

At the Monday night forum, Riordan said he thought some people had “overblown” the importance of the group’s endorsement. He said he consented to the endorsement because he and the group agree on the importance of creating sustainable jobs in Lawrence.

“They will have my attention in the future, but everybody else will too,” Riordan said.

Chestnut said he also supported the group’s main message on jobs, but he said he doesn’t “know that much about Lawrence United.”

It will be interesting to see what the final week of the campaign brings from the PAC in terms of advertising. At the end of the reporting period, March 21, Lawrence United still had about $20,000 in its coffers.

The complete reports for all the candidates are available for viewing and show the names and amounts of contributors. You can find them here:

• To see Amyx's report, click here.

• To see Chestnut's report, click here.

• To see Criqui's report, click here.

• To see Farmer's report, click here.

• To see Riordan's report, click here.

• To see Soden's report, click here.

• To see Lawrence United's report, click here.

Reply 32 comments from Hadley_says Bad_dog Letsbehonest Deltaman Cheeseburger Smot Larrynative Chad Lawhorn Steve Jacob Number_1_grandma and 9 others

City commission candidates show no signs of wanting to eliminate fluoride from city’s water; forum on fluoride set for Wednesday at KU

Some of you have been asking whether Lawrence is going to have a great fluoride debate.

If you remember, City Commissioner Hugh Carter in February caught folks by surprise by asking the city to at least do more research on whether adding fluoride to the city’s drinking water is a good idea.

But thus far, that appears to be an issue that other city commissioners and the current crop of city commission candidates are avoiding like a root canal.

The city auditor put together a memo on the most recent studies related to benefits or dangers of water fluoridation. Commissioners have had that memo since late February, but haven’t brought it up once at a City Commission meeting.

The memo basically directs commissioners to three reports conducted by the National Research Council, the Congressional Research Service and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The reports do recommend a lowering of the amount of fluoride that is allowed in treated drinking water. The thinking, according to the reports, is that as more food and beverage products are made with fluoridated water, that the public is ingesting fluoride in more ways than ever. The city auditor notes Lawrence’s fluoridation policy already meets the lower guideline.

I recently asked each of the City Commission candidates for their views on the fluoride issue, and none advocated for the city to stop adding fluoride to the drinking water.

Most flatly rejected the idea. Jeremy Farmer was the lone candidate who left the door open a bit. Farmer said he does think there are many nutritionists who object to the idea, but studies show fluoride has improved dental health.

“Until presented with other compelling information on how unhealthy fluoride may be, I’m O.K. with it,” Farmer said.

Others had stronger opinions. Leslie Soden said she found it “a little embarrassing” that city commissioners were “wasting the time” of the city’s auditor to compile a report on the subject.

Scott Criqui said he thought the science behind water fluoridation was pretty sound.

“It has been so well studied, and the health benefits dramatically outweigh any downsides," Criqui said. "I haven’t heard anyone articulate a concern in a very scientific way.”

Terry Riordan, who is a medical doctor, said he has “no concerns” about the city’s water fluoridation practices. He said he not only supports the idea as a City Commission candidate, but also as a health advocate.

The other two candidates, Commissioner Mike Amyx and Rob Chestnut, said they haven’t seen any information that causes them concern about the city’s practices.

The issue has been a hot topic in various communities across the country at times. But it hasn’t been much of one in Lawrence at any point in the last couple of decades.

That is interesting because one of the world’s foremost opponents of water fluoridation lives in Lawrence. Albert Burgstahler, professor emeritus in the Department of Chemistry at KU, is the longtime editor of the journal Fluoride, which publishes much research advocating against water fluoridation.

Burgstahler will host a public forum at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at 1001 Malott Hall on the KU Campus to discuss research related to fluoridation of public drinking water.

Reply 3 comments from Leslie Soden Pea James Reeves David Holroyd

City set to go out to bid for $25 million rec center; commissioners asked to OK retail rezoning for area across highway from center

After a weekend of shoveling snow, perhaps you are looking for a new form of recreation these days. If so, mark your calendars for Tuesday evening to learn the details on the city of Lawrence’s biggest recreation project yet.

As previously reported, the city will host an open house to show off the designs for its $25 million, 181,000-square-foot recreation center set for an area near the northeast corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

The open house will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The public will get its peek at the plans just before city commissioners are set to send them out for bid. Commissioners at their 6:35 p.m. meeting on Tuesday will be asked to start the bid process for the project.

Under the process, the plans will be released to potential bidders on April 9 — the plans are complete enough for an open house but aren’t yet complete to the point that they can be shared with contractors.

Part of what is going on right now is the city has hired its own Quality Control Management Team to review the plans that have been developed jointly by Paul Werner Architects and Gould Evans. According to a city memo, the Quality Control Team of Craig Penzler’s CP/Sports and Dan Foltz’s KBS Constructors is reviewing the roof and mechanical engineering plans of the facility.

It is a bit unusual for the city to hire a separate team to check the plans of an architect that is working on the city’s behalf. But, as you have perhaps noticed, this is a bit of an unusual project. The architectural firms of Paul Werner and Gould Evans certainly have been working with the city on the design of the recreation center, but it wouldn’t be completely accurate to say they have been working for the city.

During the design process, both architectural firms have been closely tied to Thomas Fritzel’s Bliss Sports company, which is the private company that has been the driving force behind the larger Rock Chalk Park sports village that will be built adjacent to the recreation center. So, those mixing of interests has caused the city to agree to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars or more to hire an independent review of the plans.

At this point, the independent review has found the plans to be solid. The review team will stay on the job during construction of the facility to serve as the city’s representative on the job site.

Once contractors receive the plans on April 7, they will have about a month to put together a bid for the recreation center. The city will open the sealed bids on May 9.

As a reminder, the city has committed to pay $25 million for the project. If the recreation center bids come in below $25 million, the city will pay the difference to Bliss Sports and/or a KU Endowment entity that is responsible for building the infrastructure for the Rock Chalk Park sports village.

We’ll see how much competition there is among area builders for the project.

• Recreation center plans aren’t the only reason commissioners will be looking at the intersection of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway on Tuesday.

Commissioners at their weekly meeting also will be asked to rule on a contentious zoning request for property directly across the South Lawrence Trafficway from the recreation center project.

Essentially, commissioners are being asked to decide how much — if any — retail/commercial development should be allowed on 146 acres at the northwest corner of Sixth Street and the South Lawrence Trafficway.

If you remember, the city’s recreation center once was proposed to be located on a portion of that site. At the time, the city was planning to approve commercial/retail zoning for a good portion of the site, in order to accommodate hotels, restaurants and other uses that would complement the recreation center.

But when the project got pulled from that site and moved across the highway, there was talk from the City Commission that any idea of retail development on the site was done too.

Well times and thinking do change. The project now comes to the City Commission with a positive recommendation from the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission.

The Planning Commission is recommending the northwest corner be allowed to have up to 155,000 square feet of retail uses in the future. City commissioners on Tuesday will be voting on a rezoning ordinance that will give the property that right.

In somewhat of a surprise move, the Planning Commission also has opened the door to retail development on the southwest and southeast corners of the intersection. The Planning Commission is recommending approval of a planning document that calls for the southwest corner to have up to 25,000 square feet of retail development, and the southeast corner to have up to 60,000 square feet of retail development.

At the moment, there aren’t rezoning requests for either one of those properties, but this plan makes it likely that such retail uses would be approved in the future. (Assuming the plan is followed, which isn’t always a good assumption.)

The southeast corner is vacant, but is next to a growing housing development just north of Langston Hughes Elementary. The southwest corner largely is thought of as the west campus for Lawrence’s First United Methodist Church. But there also is a vacant portion of ground near the church. That ground is owned by a group of investors, and Allison Vance Moore — a commercial real estate agent with Lawrence’s Colliers office and one of the city’s leading retail brokers — already has a "for sale" sign planted in that property.

It has been interesting to watch how opinions on this area have changed in a relatively short period of time. The Planning Commission in October voted to deny the retail rezoning for the northwest corner of the intersection. But by January, it became clear the political winds on the City Commission had shifted toward allowing retail zoning at the northwest corner, so the Planning Commission reconsidered the issue in February and recommended approval of the rezoning.

So, what has changed to cause the City Commission to now look favorably upon retail development at the site? It is tough to say for sure, but certainly commissioners have gotten an earful from the owners of the property, which is a group led by Lawrence developers Duane and Steve Schwada.

That group has been making the argument that the city is about to make a huge mistake in building the recreation center and Rock Chalk Park without a clear plan of how to build the necessary commercial and retail uses that visitors to the park will expect.

The Rock Chalk Park property — as currently zoned — doesn’t have any area for retail or commercial uses. Originally city commissioners assumed the vacant Mercato development, just south of the Rock Chalk Park site, could accommodate the necessary retail development for Rock Chalk Park.

But Schwada also controls that property, and there are indications he’s reluctant to change the plans of that development. It is the only site in town that is zoned for future big box store development. That was a hard-won victory at City Hall, so to change those plans to accommodate hotels, restaurants and other such uses may not be likely.

Instead, he has pointed to his property across the street. So, perhaps, the city has decided it doesn’t want to play that bluffing game with the Schwadas.

But that leaves a large question looming. If the area on the west side of the SLT is expected to carry the load in terms of hotels and such for the new Rock Chalk Park destination, who is going to pay to have the necessary infrastructure extended across the SLT?

If there are several million dollars worth of expenses to extend water and sewer to the site, are any hotels, retailers and such going to pay to develop on that piece of property? If they don’t, how is the Rock Chalk Park area going to have the necessary hotel and retail space that many people say is needed to support the development?

At this point, the city hasn’t done anything to indicate it is willing to pay to extend those pieces of infrastructure to the site. But, of course, just a few months ago the city was indicating that it wasn’t going to approve retail zoning for that property either.

So, as I’m prone to say, it will be interesting to watch.

Reply 12 comments from Kim Schulz 1yardstare Just_another_bozo_on_this_bus Jack22 Toe David Holroyd Catalano Richard Heckler Gail Grant Number_1_grandma

City set to finalize curbside recycling program to begin October 2014; monthly rate $2.81

Lawrence residents, you have about 18 months to come up with an extra $2.81 per month.

Before this Lawrence City Commission gets kicked to the curb with the April 2 election, it wants to make sure it finalizes a plan to create a city-wide, city-run curbside recycling program.

Commissioners are set to do just that at their Tuesday evening meeting. Commissioners will approve an ordinance that officially creates the program, and that ordinance contains the details that many folks have been waiting for. Here’s a look:

• Price: The city has settled on an initial fee of $2.81 per month for the curbside recycling service. As expected, every residential and multi-family resident who currently receives a city trash bill will be required to pay the fee. People won’t be required to actually recycle, but every resident will be required to pay the monthly fee, which will be added onto the city’s standard trash bill.

• Timing: The city will be ready to begin the service on Oct. 15, 2014. That’s also when the $2.81 per month rate increase will take effect. After Oct. 15, 2014, it will be illegal for any other company to collect recycling materials generated by residents "unless authorized by license or other formal agreement with the city." I'm still checking to see what that means for private companies that currently offer the service. (Businesses will still be able to contract with private companies for their recycling needs.)

• Frequency: Curbside collection will happen once every two weeks. The city will create a schedule showing what days each area of town is served. I’ve previously been told that this new service is likely to cause the trash day for many residents across the city to be changed. Your recycling will go out the same day your trash does.

• Carts: The standard cart size delivered to households will be a 95-gallon cart. The standard size trash cart delivered to residents recently is 65 gallons, So, as you’ve probably already determined, the recycling cart will be a bit bigger. I’ll try to get you actual dimensions, so you can start cleaning out your garage. Residents, though, can request a smaller cart. And since residents won’t be required to recycle, they can simply refuse to receive a cart from the city. But those folks still will pay the $2.81 per month fee. In case you haven’t figured it out, the city wants you to recycle. And by requiring everyone to pay the fee, that’s how its created the economy of scale to keep the cost below $3 per month.

• Accepted materials. All recycling will be single stream, which means you just throw it all into your cart. Here’s what will be accepted:

— Glass bottles and jars

— Mixed paper such as magazines, junk mail, chipboard, telephone books and other similar materials

— Newspapers

— Office and printer paper

— Shredded paper, as long as it is bagged in a clear, plastic bag

— Cardboard containers, such as a unwaxed cardboard boxes

— Tin, steel, aluminum and bimetal food and beverage containers

— Scrap metal that is less than 30 inches in each direction and less than 50 pounds in weight

— Plastic containers marked with recycling symbols #1 through #7

• Dumpsters: If you live in an area where your trash service is by dumpster, you won’t be getting a cart. Instead, the city will place a recycling dumpster next to your trash dumpster.

• Crews: City crews — the same department that picks up your trash — will pick up your recycling. At the moment, though, it will take two separate crews to do the collection. The city does not have trucks that can haul the recycling and the trash at the same time.

• Recycling facility: The city on Tuesday will sign a seven-year contract — with two three-year renewal options — with Hamm Quarry to operate a new recycling collection facility just outside the Lawrence city limits. The multi-million dollar facility will be built at the junction of Kansas Highway 32 and U.S. Highway 24/40, which is just east of the Lawrence Municipal Airport. Hamm is the Perry-based company that runs the landfill where Lawrence takes its trash.

• Fines: The ordinance does establish a $5.00 fine anytime a resident sets out a recycling cart that contains materials that are trash instead of recycling. The city ordinance specifically states residents aren’t to use the recycling carts for other purposes, such as storing yard waste.

Commissioners will be asked to approve the necessary ordinance and the necessary agreement with Hamm to start the service. A majority of commissioners have indicated strong support for the program. This current commission will change after the April 2 election. Per usual, three of the five seats are up for election. This year, only one incumbent — Mike Amyx — is seeking election. So commissioners want to wrap up the curbside recycling issue before the changing of the guard occurs.

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3 Spoons Yogurt closes Lawrence store

Maybe the folks at 3 Spoons Yogurt know something we don’t — that winter is never really going to end.

Whatever the case, the frozen yogurt business at 732 Massachusetts Street has closed its doors, and an employee there confirmed to me that the company has no plans to reopen elsewhere in Lawrence.

I didn’t get any official word on why the company decided to close. I suppose you could assume that it was just a decision based on the amount of sales the company was doing in Lawrence, although the store had nearly 3,000 likes on its Facebook page. (And that’s all you need to get rich in America anymore, isn’t it?) I will say that on my many patrols of downtown, it seemed to me the store had a good following, especially with the sorority crowd. (I’ll tell you what I tell my wife when she asks me why I know so much about where sorority members hang out: It is my job to be observant.)

3 Spoons, which has been in Lawrence for a little more than two years, is part of a franchise that was started in College Station, Texas in 2009, according to the company's Web site. In case you are curious, the nearest store to Lawrence now appears to be Waco, Texas. (It might melt before you get back.)

What isn’t the case, it appears, is that some other business came and took the space away from Three Spoons. Bob Sarna — an executive with First Management, the company that serves as the landlord for the downtown building — confirmed to me he doesn’t yet have another business lined up for the space.

The frozen yogurt business downtown certainly got more competitive in recent months with the opening of TCBY at Ninth and Massachusetts in the former Penny Annies location. Both operated with the same philosophy of serve yourself and then take your yogurt up to be weighed. (Dangerous business trying to gauge the weight of food. Lawrence Memorial Hospital once had a spaghetti bar that operated like that. One of the more important lessons I’ve learned in life: Spaghetti is heavy, although it was the best $22 hospital lunch I’ve ever had.)

TCBY, though, also has the added advantage of being a Mrs. Fields Cookie retailer as well. (Because of the observant nature of my job, I have observed they do give free samples of that product.)

I’ll keep an ear out for word of what may be heading into the 3 Spoons location. As for people who have a gift certificate to the 3 Spoons location in Lawrence, the company is asking you to e-mail lawrence@spoonsyogurt.comto find out the details for a refund.

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Longtime leader of city’s Community Development Block Grant program retiring

Sometimes the job was about building a single sidewalk in front of someone’s home. Sometimes it was about building an entire neighborhood.

Margene Swarts has been the official city guru when it comes to all things related to the city’s participation in the federal Community Development Block Grant and HOME funding programs.

Soon, the city will have to hang out a “guru wanted” sign. Swarts is retiring after working at City Hall for the last 33 years. Her last day on the job is Friday.

The CDBG and HOME programs primarily are focused on helping lower income homeowners or neighborhoods make improvements with federal dollars. Recently, the lighted pedestrian path that runs through Oread neighborhood and down to South Park, was constructed in large part with CDBG funds. To see an even bigger project, the federal funding was critical to the HAND Addition, a neighborhood of 30 below-market-rate homes built near 24th and Haskell more than a decade ago.

Between the CDBG and HOME programs, the city receives about $1.15 million a year in federal funding to address neighborhood and affordable housing issues. And some of those issues can be pretty localized. Neighborhood associations frequently apply for the money to fund everything from clean-up days to the salaries for neighborhood association coordinators.

Swarts said the job has involved becoming familiar with a litany of federal regulations, but she’s enjoyed it. “I feel like it has been a wonderful opportunity to work in the community,” Swarts said. “It definitely has been a way to meet a lot of great people.”

Swarts — who started as a building and code inspector with the city — held the title of assistant director of development services, which is the department that oversees everything from building permits to trash in yard complaints.

Scott McCullough, director of development and planning services, said the city is still working out a transition plan for how it will fill that position.

“We’re committed to keeping the service running smoothly,” McCullough said. “But Margene has been our local expert for a long time. There is just a tremendous amount of experience there.” Swarts said she and her husband plan to remain in the area during retirement.

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Nursery business files plans to open farmers’ market in West Lawrence

It is spring, which of course means that my crop of crabgrass soon will take off. (That sound you heard was my neighbor who reads this throwing her computer across the kitchen.)

But maybe a different type of crop comes to mind for you with the changing of the season. Fresh produce, it appears, is on the minds of more people than ever these days.

Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall for yet another farmers’ market.

The folks at Clinton Parkway Nursery — right at the corner of Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive — have filed plans for a farmers’ market every Wednesday evening from May through August.

If you are keeping track at home, there will be farmers’ markets on Tuesday (Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market), Wednesday (Clinton Parkway Nursery, assuming it is approved), Thursday (Cottin’s Hardware near 19th and Massachusetts), and Saturday (Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market.)

Ann Peuser, an owner of Clinton Parkway Nursery, said people are creating a strong demand for locally grown fruits and vegetables. And she said indications are that West Lawrence residents want a market that allows them to buy a little closer to their neighborhoods.

The Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market has had a West Lawrence market in the past. Within the last two years it had a market in the parking lot of the shopping center on the southwest corner of Sixth and Wakarusa. But as that shopping center started to fill up with new tenants, the market lost its lease. I think the idea of a westside market, though, was starting to gain some momentum.

We’ll find out soon enough how much of an appetite the community has for farmers’ markets. If approved, the Clinton Parkway market will open May 15. Peuser said plans call for the market to be open from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. on Wednesdays.

She said she expects to have about a dozen vendors — they’ll focus on actual produce, not crafts and such — and she already has “quite a list” of producers who are interested in the market. The market will be in a portion of the nursery’s parking lot.

While the Clinton Parkway market won’t get going until mid-May, the Downtown Lawrence Farmers’ Market in the 800 block of New Hampshire has set its opening day as Saturday, April 13. I don’t yet see an opening date listed for the Cottin’s Hardware market on its Web site, but it indicates its outdoor market (it has a small indoor market currently) will open in May.

Although I considered it, I won’t have a booth at any of them. But if you need some starter shoots of crabgrass, just get in touch with me and we can dicker. If you buy in bulk, I bet my neighbor will even finance the deal.

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