Boathouse proposal approved

Local environmentalists object to Burcham Park plan at city meeting

Plans for a Kansas University boathouse to be built in Burcham Park won City Commission approval Tuesday night, despite encountering choppy waters from environmentalists.

Commissioners unanimously approved a special-use permit for an approximately 16,000-square-foot, $6 million facility that will serve as a boathouse and clubhouse for the Kansas University rowing team.

City commissioners, though, added conditions to the permit after hearing concerns from environmentalists and park users who said the project would require the loss of too many mature cottonwood trees in the park.

“We should be expanding this forest, not chopping it down,” said Susan Iverson, a member of the Jayhawk Audubon Society. “In many ways it already is a pretty pathetic remnant of the forest that once stretched all along the Kansas River, but it is the best we have and we need to protect it.”

Andy Pitts, an architect for the project, said preliminary analysis has identified nine trees – most of them 24 to 30 inches in diameter – would need to be removed to make way for the boathouse. Pitts said KU officials are prepared to replace up to three times that many trees as part of the project, although he said they would not be as large as the ones being removed.

City commissioners heard from about five members of the public who expressed concerns about the project. Commissioners agreed to place specific conditions on the special-use permit that requires the city’s forestry officials to approve a plan to protect as many trees as possible as part of the construction project. KU leaders also were told to present a report on using pervious surface rather than concrete for a loading and parking area near the clubhouse. Also, a condition was added for the architects to look into changing the glass portions of the building to make it less likely that birds will collide with the building.

City commissioners, though, said they were supportive of the idea of the boathouse. They said they just want to take care that the project fits in well with the park.

“I think it is really important that we’re careful and perform due diligence and really think about how much of this area we want to pave,” said City Commissioner Mike Dever. “If you are not careful, you end up with a lot more paving in a park than you need.”

The two-story building is proposed for the northern portion of Burcham Park. It would include a special design to withstand flooding. KU leaders have said they would like to start construction this fall. The city and KU must still reach agreement on a lease to allow KU to use the city property. But the two sides have agreed that KU would pay a nominal fee – such as a dollar per year – for use of the property. That is similar to a lease the city has with KU to use KU Endowment property for Fire Station No. 5 near 19th and Iowa streets.