We’re soon going to have another test of how — or whether — city leaders want land along the South Lawrence Trafficway to develop. Plans have been filed for a new office, commercial and gas station development near the Haskell Avenue interchange of the SLT.
Specifically, the project is proposed for the northwest corner of 31st and Haskell Avenue. Some of you may remember the property from years ago as the former LRM concrete plant.
A group led by Lawrence businessman Scott Zaremba has filed plans at City Hall. The group is proposing that the property be rezoned from its current heavy industrial zoning category to a lighter industrial zoning category. That lighter industrial zoning category would allow for a variety of commercial uses, including fast-food restaurants with drive-thrus, smaller-scale retail stores, banks, office uses and other similar types of businesses.
The zoning also includes gas stations and convenience stores, and that is a business that Zaremba is in. He runs the Zarco fueling station businesses in Lawrence. A concept plan calls for a gas station to be built as part of the project. Any time a gas station project is mentioned in Lawrence — especially along a major highway — the question of a truck stop comes into play. Zaremba, though, indicated his current thinking is more of a traditional gasoline station/convenience store type of project.
“That is not in the plan today,” Zaremba told me when I asked about a truck stop.
Instead, Zaremba said he hopes to have a development that can serve as an eastern gateway to Lawrence. Haskell Avenue isn’t exactly the eastern edge of Lawrence, but the Haskell interchange and the 23rd Street interchange are the two most eastern interchanges along the South Lawrence Trafficway.
“I want to make it one of those places that highlights what the city has to offer,” Zaremba said.
Currently, a specific development plan hasn’t been filed for the project. Rather, the ownership group is asking for the rezoning and has provided a “concept plan” that has been developed by Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects.
That plan shows the gas station and seven other buildings on the property. Two of the other buildings are strip retail centers that could house multiple stores. One is next to the gas station along Haskell Avenue, and another is on the southern part of the site next to 31st Street. The two largest buildings are listed as office buildings, and three other buildings are the right size to be fast-food restaurants.
But concept plans are meant to change. If the zoning is approved, it is likely that the concept plan will be changed, perhaps significantly, depending on what businesses are interested in the property.
In total, the site is just under 9 acres. It includes what has become a kind of funky piece of ground after 31st Street and Haskell Avenue were rebuilt following the SLT project. If you have driven in the area, you’ve likely noticed there are now two roads named Haskell in the area. The new road is called Haskell Avenue, but there is a short section of the old Haskell Avenue that continues to exist just to the west of the new road. That is called Haskell Lane. In between Haskell Avenue and Haskell Lane is a triangular piece of ground that is covered by a stand of timber. The concept plan calls for Haskell Lane to be removed. That would allow for the timbered piece of ground to be connected to the old concrete plant property, providing about 9 acres of contiguous space for the new development.
It will be interesting to watch whether city leaders approve the plans. The Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission will consider the rezoning issue at its Wednesday evening meeting. The rezoning, however, ultimately will have to win approval from the City Commission before it can move forward.
Other plans to redevelop property along the trafficway haven’t been moving too quickly through the approval process. The large shopping center proposed for south of the SLT and Iowa Street interchange is the primary example. Another example is a large apartment complex proposed for west of the Bob Billings and SLT interchange. (That project has been really quiet of late. I do hope to get an update.)
This 31st and Haskell project is slower than either one of those, but I’m sure many developers will be watching how it turns out. In developers’ file cabinets, there's no shortage of plans to develop along the bypass. (Granted, some of the plans are in Latin because that was the language of the day when the SLT first started construction. For newcomers to town, it took a really long time to build the SLT.)
It will be particularly interesting about whether this idea of creating an eastern gateway to Lawrence is embraced. If so, then you have to wonder whether that is a green light for some projects to be proposed near the 23rd Street interchange of the SLT. Probably not. I think most people believe the political winds at City Hall aren’t favoring developments that would be built on the edge of town.
Someday they may, though, and it is worth remembering who owns one of the premier sites near that interchange: the Lawrence public school district. The school district owns the site outlined in blue on the map below. It is immediately west of where 23rd Street and the SLT split. The city of Lawrence owns the large, vacant piece of property in the lower left corner of the map.
Combined, the two could create some really interesting prospects for a statement-making type of project in Lawrence.
A bevy of high-tech car washes set to come to Lawrence; businessman confirms he’s looking at commercial, industrial options for site along SLT
Lawrence gets on its binges. One not long ago was fried chicken. For awhile, the only thing more frequent than a new fried chicken restaurant in Lawrence was another sharp pain in my chest. Well, now it appears to be tunnel car washes. Three plans have been filed with the city to build 150-foot tunnel car washes in the city.
Perhaps the chicken restaurants and the car washes are related. (It would be more environmentally friendly to push me through a car wash than to provide me two pallets of wet wipes.) Regardless, you soon should have no excuses for a dirty car.
The owner of the Lawrence-based Zarco convenience store chain is set to begin construction on a new car wash along Iowa Street, and has filed plans at City Hall to build another one on 23rd Street. Meanwhile, an Illinois-based company has filed plans to build a similar tunnel car wash just down the street from Zarco’s 23rd Street location.
First, the Zarco plans: Lawrence businessman and Zarco leader Scott Zaremba said construction is expected to begin in the next 30 days on a new tunnel car wash that will be located on his property near Ninth and Iowa streets.
As we have reported, plans call for the old Phillips 66 station and the old Amoco station — more recently it was a brightly colored Sandbar Subs shop — to be torn down to make way for the high-tech car wash. Zaremba said the new car wash will be about four times as large as the small automatic car wash that is on the property today.
“And it will be a tunnel car wash,” Zaremba said. “We will be able to wash cars much quicker. That’s the big thing so that people don’t have to spend their time waiting.”
The car wash also will be connected to the fuel pumps at Zaremba’s adjacent American Fuels station, meaning that customers can pay for a car wash at the pump.
The Ninth and Iowa project will be good practice for Zaremba’s 23rd Street project. Zaremba said plans call for the same type of car wash to be installed at his convenience store/fueling station at 1500 E. 23rd St.
The existing store at the 23rd Street location will remain unchanged, but some diesel fuel pumps behind the building will be moved. The plans, however, do call for some changes on 23rd Street. The plan proposes a new right-turn lane for motorists using the eastern driveway of the property.
Look for more changes just down the road. Illinois-based Peak Inc. has a deal to buy a portion of the long-vacant lot just east of the QuikTrip at 23rd and Haskell. Plans filed at City Hall call for an approximately 5,000 square-foot automated tunnel car wash, plus 32 stalls equipped with vacuum cleaners for your vehicle.
The project will be on the eastern half of the vacant lot, near the River Rock Family Dental building. The project, however, is not proposing another new curb cut for busy 23rd Street. Instead, car wash customers will use the 23rd Street curb cut that leads to the QuikTrip property. The project will still leave a little less than an acre of vacant property near the QuikTrip that could be developed in the future.
As for the car wash, Brian Sturm with Lawrence’s Landplan Engineering, said the project hopes to begin construction this fall and open in early 2017.
Zaremba, who is using Lawrence-based Paul Werner Architects to design his project, said he also hopes to have the car washes open in early spring.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Car washes aren’t the only thing on the mind of Zaremba. He confirmed to me that he is in the process of preparing a concept plan for development for what will be the new intersection of the South Lawrence Trafficway and Haskell Avenue.
An entity led by Zaremba owns the approximately 18 acres at the northwest corner of 31st and Haskell. Some of you may remember the site as the location of the old LRM asphalt — or perhaps it was a concrete — plant The site now stores some vehicles, mulch and other items. But the property is zoned for heavy industrial use. Zaremba said that could still be a possibility, but more commercial or retail uses also may be a possibility. Of course, a gas station — perhaps a pretty large one — also may make some sense there.
The property is well situated. That portion of the South Lawrence Trafficway has only three interchanges, and Haskell is one of them.
“I feel like it is going to be a prime entrance into the city,” Zaremba said.
He said he doesn’t have any firm plans about what type of development he will propose to the city for the location. He has been adding fill dirt to the location to raise the elevation of the property, which is near the Haskell and Baker Wetlands.
“I want to see what we can bring to the site,” he said. “Right now it is zoned heavy industrial. It is kind of wide open for what could happen there.”
It will be one of several locations to keep an eye on as that leg of the South Lawrence Trafficway opens for traffic. As traffic patterns in the city change significantly, there will be new development pressures emerge along the trafficway. One of the greater questions at City Hall will be how this city commission responds to those pressures.
Old BP gas station near Ninth and Iowa to become Sandbar sub shop; 2006 gas leak may be creating new concerns
The dry cleaner who launders my ties is probably out shopping for a new sports car today. Soon there will be another drive-thru restaurant where I can get biscuits and gravy, and anyone who has seen me try to safely drive the F-150, eat biscuits and gravy, and keep my tie clean will understand why my dry cleaner is dancing a little jig these days. (My insurance agent, not so much.)
Plans have been filed at Lawrence City Hall to convert the old BP gas station at 914 Iowa St. into a Sandbar sub shop. Scott Zaremba, the owner of the chain of American Fuels stations in Lawrence (they used to be called Zarco 66 stations until Zaremba and Phillips 66 parted ways recently), is behind the project.
Zaremba plans to remove the old gas pumps and tanks from the BP station, which has been vacant for more than a year, and convert the building into Lawrence's fourth Sandbar shop. The Sandbar shops sell a variety of sub sandwiches, hot dogs, salads, and, yes, biscuits and gravy and other breakfast items. Zaremba plans to convert the gas station's car wash bay into a covered drive-thru.
Zaremba said he hopes to have the renovations complete in the next 60 days or so. When the project is done, it will be part of a larger complex that Zaremba will operate at Ninth and Iowa. Zaremba already owns the two sets of fueling stations and the car wash and the Scooters drive-thru coffee shop north of the old BP station.
"Our plan is to have whatever you need at Ninth and Iowa," Zaremba said.
Zaremba plans for the new Sandbar to be open 24 hours a day. Think of it: Biscuits and gravy in the dead of the night. Now my insurance agent is really worried.
In other news and notes from around town:
• Another area to keep an eye on for future development — perhaps even for a gas station or transportation center — is near 31st and Haskell. The intersection will be right next to one of only two interchanges on the western portion of the South Lawrence Trafficway.
Signs of activity are beginning to emerge for a piece of land near the intersection. Plans have been filed to re-plat about 13 acres just north and west of where 31st and Iowa currently intersect. The property is owned by a trust controlled by Stan Zaremba, who is Scott Zaremba's father and the founder of the Zarco chain.
I didn't get a chance to get any details from Scott Zaremba about what plans the family may have for the property, which now holds a big pile of wood chips from a tree service. The plans filed call for five small industrial lots to be combined into one 13.7 acre lot.
The property is zoned General Industrial, which allows gas and fuel sales and even would allow property owners to apply for a special-use permit for a truck stop. Again, this plan came in after I already had talked to Zaremba, so I don't know what, if any, plans exist for the property. But if I hear more details, I'll let you know.
• While we're on the subject of gas stations, I'll be seeking more information about activity around the Presto gas station at 602 W. Ninth St.
If you remember back in 2006, the Presto station had an underground gasoline leak that was suspected of causing an apartment house fire in Old West Lawrence.
At the time, the leaking tanks were thought to have allowed more than 1,000 gallons of fuel to enter the groundwater in the neighborhood. That creates a potentially dangerous situation. Sump pumps can allow the vapors from the gasoline to enter homes and become a combustion risk.
Given all that, it is interesting to note that Presto leaders are seeking city permission to install additional "ground water monitoring wells and collection equipment" in the 800 block of Ohio Street. According to a city memo on the subject, current monitoring devices have "shown some contamination and there exists a need to expand the collection area."
There was nothing in the memo that indicated there is an immediate danger to any properties, but I'll be checking with various officials today to try to get some details about the latest request.
More LJWorld City Coverage
Being a pioneer in a new industry can be a bit like taking a ride in my old F150: It can get mighty bumpy, and you’re wishing you would have known beforehand that the brakes sometimes don’t work.
Scott Zaremba, owner of the Lawrence-based Zarco 66 gasoline and convenience store chain, has been a pioneer in the industry of E15 ethanol. As we’ve previously reported, Zaremba’s Zarco chain became the first in the country to sell the E15 product, which is gasoline that contains 15 percent ethanol rather than the more standard blend of 10 percent ethanol.
According to an article this week from the news organization Reuters, Zaremba is finding out how rough the ride can be in the E15 industry. The article paints a picture of some of the largest companies on the planet — oil companies like Exxon, Chevron, BP, and Phillips 66 — taking aim at the E15 industry. Zaremba and his Zarco stations, apparently, have become one of the first targets.
Phillips 66 has sent Zaremba a new set of regulations on how he must sell the E15 product in order to stay in compliance with his marketing contract with Phillips 66. The end result has been Zaremba stopped selling the E15 product at his stations last month. It is estimated there are now fewer than 30 stations nationwide that sell the product.
The new protocols would require Zaremba to add special yellow hoses to all his pumps to dispense the E15 product. Previously, Zarco dispensed the product through the same hose that carried traditional unleaded gasoline, which has up to 10 percent ethanol in it.
Zaremba said adding the hoses would cost several hundred thousand dollars. In the Reuters article, Phillips 66 officials said the change is about ensuring motorists know that they are buying a different product than traditional gasoline. The article notes that use of E15 can void the warranty of many vehicles that are older than 2013 models.
But Zaremba told me he’s convinced the new regulations are part of an effort by Big Oil to nip the E15 trend in the bud. Zaremba said the stakes are significant for Big Oil because E15, if widely adopted, could reduce the oil company’s market share in the gasoline industry by 5 percent. In addition, it would create new competitive pressures that, in theory, would help control the upward price pressures in gasoline.
“I’ve had people complain to me for 40 years about the price of fuel,” Zaremba said. “I tell them we need to find something different. That is what we’re trying to do.”
Zaremba, who also is an advocate for biodiesel, compressed natural gas and other fuel alternatives, said he knows ethanol has received some negative publicity because of the impact it may have on the country’s food supply and the amount of water it takes to produce.
But he said the potential is strong for ethanol to be produced from other nonfood-producing crops, if the ethanol market can withstand the negative publicity that he believes is being generated by the Big Oil companies.
Zaremba, who is the president of the state’s petroleum marketers association and also an officer with the national trade group, said the figures he’s seen indicate the big oil companies will spend tens of millions of dollars this year lobbying against the E15 product.
“I understand what is going on,” Zaremba said. “If you were making a billion dollars a quarter, would you want some little guy from Kansas trying to change your dynamic? Of course you wouldn’t. Would you try to create every negative article you could to protect your product? I bet you would.”
As for the future of E15 in Lawrence, Zaremba said he’s not sure at the moment. He said he hasn’t yet filed any legal action against Phillips 66, but said he’s still crafting a strategy that would allow him to resume selling the product at some point.
“When you are the first, it is never easy,” Zaremba said. “That’s where we are right now. But I chose this path because I believe we have to do something different.”