Plans filed for new assisted living facility in northwest Lawrence; City Hall still interested in buying streetlight system
Being the university community that it is, Lawrence is used to receiving a new senior class each year. But the idea of a senior class in Lawrence is starting to take on a new meaning. With this class, there are probably fewer keg stands, but I bet there are still some wicked pranks with Fixodent.
Surely you have heard the talk that Lawrence is trying to become more of a destination for retirees and seniors. Well, the assisted living industry is taking note. Plans for what likely will be a multimillion-dollar assisted living facility have been filed at City Hall for vacant ground in northwest Lawrence.
Officials with the Americare assisted living group have filed plans for a 46-unit complex at the southwest corner of Peterson Road and Monterey Way.
According to the documents, the project would include a single-story, 30-unit, general assisted living facility, plus a 16-unit, single-story building that will specialize in assisted living for people who need memory care services.
The plans also show a potential phase II including another 16 units of memory care and assisted living and a 22-unit "independent living cottage development." No timeline for phase II has been determined.
For those of you still trying to picture the site, the property is a bit west of the exclusive Fall Creek Farms neighborhood near Kasold and Peterson. The property is vacant, agricultural ground. The property is zoned to accommodate large-lot, single family homes. Americare officials want to have the ground changed to a medium-density apartment zoning (RM-12 zoning, if you have your zoning scorecard handy). But the developers are willing to place conditions on the zoning that would restrict traditional apartment style development.
The site is about 20 acres, but the development as proposed only would occupy about two thirds of the land. Plans for the remaining third haven't been determined, according to the City Hall filing.
As for Americare, it has a number of senior living facilities throughout the Midwest. According to its website, it has 15 facilities in Kansas, although it looks like Lawrence would be its largest market in the state. It looks like the nearest Americare facilities to Lawrence are in Osage City and Paola.
Based on the paperwork filed at City Hall, it looks like the company has its offices in Columbia, Mo. According to its website, Americare is the company that has developed the TigerPlace independent living complex near the University of Missouri. TigerPlace has an affiliation with the University of Missouri's Sinclair School of Nursing, and has been mentioned by Lawrence leaders as an example of what MU is doing to attract retired alumni back to Columbia.
The Lawrence project will need to win both Planning Commission and City Commission approval. Look for those hearings to happen in the next couple of months.
In other news and notes from around town:
• City commissioners at their meeting last night directed staff members to keep exploring the idea of buying the city's streetlight system from Westar Energy.
The city is paying about $600,000 per year for the 3,500 streetlights owned and maintained by Topeka-based Westar. City officials predict that the rates for the lights will go up by about another 10 percent once the Kansas Corporation Commission is finished with its latest Westar rate case.
Buying the system won't be cheap. For one thing, Westar hasn't said it is interested in selling it. But other communities such as Leawood, Overland Park, Lenexa and a few other Kansas City-area communities have bought streetlight systems from Kansas City Power & Light. City Auditor Michael Eglinski estimated that those communities paid about $800 to $1,000 per pole to buy their systems, although prices vary widely based on condition. That would equate to about $2.8 million to $3.5 million for the Lawrence system.
Eglinski also estimates that those cities are saving about 40 percent on their annual costs by owning their own lights. The cities still have to buy electricity from the utility, but they don't have to pay the maintenance and lease fees for the poles and equipment.
City commissioners on Tuesday said they were interested in the idea, in part because owning the system would allow the city to make the system more environmentally friendly. Specifically, it may allow the city to more easily change the system to LED bulbs, which use a lot less energy than traditional streetlights.
Currently, making the switch to LED lights is tough to do with Westar, City Hall staff members told commissioners. That's because Westar requires that a meter be installed for streetlights that have an LED light bulb. Westar charges a significant monthly fee for every meter and city officials said that often offsets the cost savings associated with the LED's lower energy usage.
The city would like Westar to adopt a policy where it estimates the energy use of a typical LED streetlight and uses that to bill the city each month. That's the system used with traditional streetlights. My understanding is that Westar has an LED pilot project in a few communities, including Tonganoxie. No word on when Westar may bring LEDs to Lawrence.
It didn't take much reading of the tea leaves last night to see that several city commissioners aren't real happy with Westar and how they treat the streetlight system. (Westar officials weren't at Tuesday's meeting, by the way.) Eglinski provided a report in 2009 that raised questions about whether Westar was overbilling the city in some instances for streetlights. Westar officials disagreed with several of the findings in that report, but did acknowledge that it is operating some pretty old lighting technology in parts of the city. It appears some commissioners haven't forgotten that.
"If we buy the system maybe we could strike a deal where we take the fixtures off the poles and give them back to Westar and they can use them on some other city that they want to stick it to," Mayor Mike Dever said during the meeting. "We don't want those old things."
As I said, the tea leaves weren't hard to read. It will be interesting to see where they lead.
Gun/tactical supply store opening in West Lawrence, city to consider buying street light system, request to close portion of N.H. street until March
Yes, I conduct tactical maneuvers from time to time. They primarily involve late-night, covert raids on my home's thermostat. It is the only way to combat my wife's iron fist policy that the heater doesn't come on until ice cubes come out of the faucet.
But others conduct more serious tactical exercises, or at least want to be prepared to do so, and they soon will have a store in Lawrence to get their gear. S&S Tactical is opening for business at 4910 Wakarusa Court, in the retail/office area behind the car wash northwest of the Clinton Parkway and Wakarusa Drive intersection.
The shop is aiming to become a full-service firearms retailer and it plans to carry a variety of personal protection accessories, said co-owner Sean Serrao. The store will sell items including body armor, holsters, chest protectors, pepper spray, Tasers, and a little bit of survival gear, Serrao told me.
The store also hopes to cater to hunters and firearms enthusiasts. Gun and ammunition sales will be a big part of the business. The store expects to carry brands including Smith & Wesson, Sig Sauer, Beretta, Glock, Remington, Bushmaster, Tactical Machining and others.
"We moved here from Orlando and just saw a need in the market," Serrao said. "Lawrence is kind of a very empty market for firearms sales and tactical gear."
A store specializing in firearms hasn't taken root in Lawrence for quite awhile, although there are at least three pawn shops that sell firearms.
Serrao said the demand for body armor and other gear also is on the rise across the country, so he thinks there will be a market for it in this area.
"You kind of have that whole survivalist movement that has exploded the market for tactical gear," Serrao said.
Plus, Serrao figures the store will do good business with area hunters looking for another local option to purchase ammunition.
The store, which has about 1,500 square feet of retail space and about 2,500 square feet of warehouse space, partially opened at the beginning of the month. But the federal shutdown has caused a delay in the store getting its federal retail firearms license. I checked in today, and the store is hoping to be fully opened and licensed by Nov. 2. In the meantime, the store has limited hours — 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. — and is selling only its non-firearms inventory.
In other news and notes around town:
• As much as a little heating bill distresses my wife, imagine what she would do if she had to pay the city's electric bill to run all the streetlights. The city spends about $600,000 a year on street lights, and the rates from Westar Energy are expected to increase.
That has City Auditor Michael Eglinski renewing a call that the city seriously consider purchasing the street light system from Westar. Buying the approximately 3,500 street lights would eliminate the maintenance and management fee the city pays. The city, obviously, would still pay for the electricity to power the lights.
When Eglinski made a similar recommendation in 2009, the idea didn't take hold with the city manager's office. An analysis indicted the savings might not be great once the city created its own system for maintaining the street lights.
But now City Manager David Corliss says he's ready to look at the issue again. Two things have changed: Rates and technology. A review of the city's bills shows that the city's average cost per light has increased 24 percent since 2008, Eglinski has determined. Plus, a plan being considered by the Kansas Corporation Commission likely would increase street light costs by another 10 percent.
On the technology front, the feasibility of using LED bulbs in street lamps has improved, Eglinski concludes in his new report. By owning the system, the city would be in a better position to convert the system to the more efficient bulbs.
Several cities in the Kansas City area — Lenexa, Overland Park, Mission, Fairway and Leawood — have purchased their street light systems in recent years. But all those purchases were made from Kansas City Power & Light. It is not clear whether Westar has any interest in selling the system. City commissioners will be asked to weigh in on the subject at their Tuesday evening meeting.
• Commissioners also will be asked to consider partially closing a major downtown street for several months. Developers of the hotel project at Ninth and New Hampshire streets want to close the northbound lane of New Hampshire from Ninth to the Arts Center until March.
Crews recently have had both lanes of the street closed while they relocated a storm sewer. That work is finishing, but contractors are asking that the northbound lane remain closed for a crane on the site to have more room to operate. The contractor is willing to move the crane and reopen the northbound lane periodically for major events, such as the Old Fashioned Christmas Parade that draws thousands to downtown.
Based on the plans I've seen, it also looks like the closing of the northbound lane would not extend south of the mid-block crosswalk that leads to the Arts Center. That means access to the city's parking garage in the 900 block of New Hampshire would remain open.
Area neighbors and businesses have been notified of the request, and have been asked to provide their input at Tuesday's meeting.