City growth forces change
Residents of area west of Lawrence make adjustments as developments move in
The birds already have left.
Bill and Darlene Naff still watch for them from their cozy living room atop the hill at Sixth Street and Queens Road. Bill watches from his recliner positioned next to a humming electric heater, and Darlene from a corner chair comfortable for her needlepointing.
But the covey of quail, the meadowlarks and the red birds are just gone. It’s no wonder, Darlene says in between stitches. The ponds that used to water both the birds and the neighbor’s wandering white herd of Charolais cattle have been replaced by suburban-style houses and city streets.
Across Sixth Street to the north, plans are in the works for a new golf course and apartment community. Next door, foundations are already being laid as a new apartment complex of 108 units is rising from the ground.
Bill Naff is thankful he can’t see that from his living room window. For the time being, his view still is dominated by aging agricultural artifacts – a tractor and bucket loader in an open shed, a weather vane with a perched iron rooster and loop after loop after loop of watering hose hanging from a weathered wooden post.
When stretched, the hose would reach to a solitary red-flagged stake marking the edge of a garden that springs to life each season.
These days, though, it’s an open question whether Bill Naff will be here to collect its next harvest.
“We’re getting old, and we sure don’t want to move,” said Naff, who along with his wife is 76. “But we’re thinking about it a lot. We don’t like being in the city. Too many rules.”
This isn’t a story about somebody being right or somebody being wrong. It’s not about growth or no-growth. It is just about how things are.
Each step the city takes outward requires somebody to look inward. Do you integrate into a city lifestyle? Do you sell and let the next fellow figure it out? Or do you just hope against hope?
“I just wish it was like it was,” said Darlene Naff. “I don’t want to move way out in the country.”
But a return to the past is unlikely for 5275 W. Sixth St. The Naffs’ home is a half-mile west of Wakarusa Drive, right along the widened portion of Sixth Street.
In other words, it’s in the path of the city.
Today, it seems obvious that the land is destined for city development. The city and the state spent millions earlier this decade to widen Sixth Street to four lanes, which leads to the South Lawrence Trafficway. It’s hard to drive the road now without seeing a bulldozer or a construction crew. Naff’s property has city development on three sides, and construction is set to start soon to the north.
But back in 1983, it looked like a safe haven to the Naffs. They owned about 10 acres along Folks Road. The city had started to creep out to Monterey Way, and Bill decided to be proactive and move before the city got to him.
“When we bought this place, I was thinking they never would come out here and get me,” Naff said.
Technically, they’ve gotten him now. The property was annexed into the city when the road was widened. That’s meant lots of little things. Naff swears his water pressure has dropped since he was forced to switch to city water. And it irks him that he has to pay a $10 per month stormwater fee, even though he’s convinced his 3 acres of grass and pea gravel driveways sufficiently soak up any rain that falls.
Then there are the people – just so many of them when you’re in the city. The Naffs’ property is in the unenviable position of being along the uncompleted portion of Queens Road. There’s a nice, new, long left-turn lane on Sixth Street directly outside of the Naffs’ house. But those who use it will see only a homemade sign warning that the adjacent driveway is private property.
“It seems like a lot of people need to go back to school and learn how to read,” Naff said.
ATV tracks through his garden are not uncommon. People tearing through his driveway to turn around also are frequent.
“And God knows what they’re doing when I’m not here,” Naff said. “I just don’t like living in close quarters. Noise. People starting up their cars every morning to go to work. And all the regulations. You know, you can’t spit without getting a permit of some sort.”
Bill Naff may be an anachronism, but he’s not alone.
Just down the road – near Sixth Street and George Williams Way – Chris Collister is in the same path of the same growing city. A short silo rises above the roofline of a traditional Kansas farm house. Appaloosa horses graze and then surely gaze at the rows and rows of houses just across the street from their pasture.
The house and 17 acres are what’s left of the homestead that her parents bought in 1969.
“Mostly, my reason for staying here is a sentimental one,” Collister said.
But it becomes tougher as time goes by. She remembers not long ago when police came knocking on her door at midnight to inform her that her horses were running around the neighborhood near Corpus Christi Church. Construction crews near her home had taken down some fence and didn’t bother to tell her.
“One of the things everybody in the country knows is that if you take a fence down, you put it back up. If you open a gate, you close it,” Collister said. “What everybody calls progress has been a real pain in the rear to me.”
But that makes Collister sound like a crotchety complainer. Both she and Bill Naff say that’s not how they want to be perceived. Both acknowledge that their properties, when sold, likely will fetch a nice price. And both also said they recognize that cities grow and that it is generally unwise to shut that growth down.
Naff, for instance, said he refused to sign petitions circulated by his neighbors opposing a Wal-Mart at Sixth Street and Wakarusa Drive. He laughs about how they worried about the traffic it would create. All the homes and apartments already have done a good job of that, he figures.
“Then the city turns around and won’t let in any businesses,” said Naff, who is a retiree from the Southwestern Bell Telephone system.
Collister – a retired utility consumer advocate – also said it’s unrealistic to think growth would never reach her slice of Douglas County. It has happened faster than she expected, but that’s not even her primary complaint.
Instead, she thinks the process can steamroll over many people. She frequently attended City Commission meetings – often driving 500 miles round-trip from her work in Iowa – to protest a special benefit district.
The benefit district would have required her to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for improvements to local streets that area developers were requesting. Her efforts paid off. Commissioners agreed to defer her costs. In other words, the city will pay her share but then be repaid once Collister’s property is sold or redeveloped.
She’s not sure everybody, however, would know what to do or feel comfortable doing it. She said something – absent hiring a high-priced lawyer – needs to be done to make sure people understand their rights.
“I think about the 80-year-old couple who have lived in their farmhouse for their entire 60-year marriage, and then something like this comes along,” Collister said. “I think they would just be overwhelmed and they wouldn’t know what to do. To me, that just seems like a crime.
“I’m not saying that progress shouldn’t come or that growth is bad. I guess what I’m saying is it needs to be humanized. Most of the time it seems so impersonal.”
Back atop the hill, it looks personal to Bill Naff. In an outfit of overalls and flannel – with big glasses covering eyes suffering from macular degeneration – Naff still talks about his old maple tree.
People would drive from “clear west of Topeka” to take a picture of its brilliant colors stretching high into the sky. At first, the road engineers said the tree could stay. But then upon further review, it was determined that it had to go. Naff thought he could at least give the log to a local high school woodworking class. Maybe something homey could be made out of it. But that plan also went awry.
“They just reached up there and tore it to pieces,” Naff said. “It wasn’t good for anything. It was a landmark. I used to be known as the guy who lived up there with the big maple tree.”