Town Talk: Plans filed for $5M apartment complex near Sixth and Wakarusa Wal-Mart; Dillons on Mass. seeks to park cars on grassy lot for another two weeks; The Merc buys its building at 9th and Iowa

News and notes from around town:

• What do you get when you have a vacant piece of ground next to a Wal-Mart on a busy state highway? In Lawrence, the answer is: More apartments.

As we’ve previously reported, an idea to build a Lowe’s on the property just west of the Sixth and Wakarusa Wal-Mart has fallen by the wayside.

That means the plans for the property revert back to what seems to have become the default answer in Lawrence: More apartments.

Plans are now in for at least one apartment development on the 18-acre site. Lawrence architect Paul Werner has filed plans with the city to build 88 two-bedroom apartments on the northern 6 acres of the site.

The $5 million project — dubbed Camson South — will consist mainly of two-story apartment buildings and a clubhouse.

There will be more apartments on the way. Werner tells me he is drawing up plans for 280 one-bedroom apartment units that will be on the southern part of the lot.

My understanding is that the two projects are being developed by different groups, but both are local development companies. No confirmation yet on which development groups are involved.

It would seem the new apartment project surely will help spur more business at the existing retailers near the Sixth and Wakarusa intersection. But the retailers may want to make sure they are geared up for apartment living (back in my day that would have meant futons, beer bottle art and, well, the supplies to create beer-bottle art).

In addition to the two apartment projects mentioned above, there are two other apartment developments already under construction (or concluding) in the northwest corner of the city. Work began in late 2008 on a $28.5 million project to build 108 one-bedroom apartments and 192 two-bedroom apartments along Sixth Street between Stoneridge and Queens.

Work also is underway on a $8.3 million project to build about 130 living units at 204 Eisenhower Drive, which is just north of Wal-Mart.

So, basically, in that short stretch between Stoneridge and Wakarusa, there soon will be 948 new living units hit the market. Yes, it is accurate to say that Lawrence is in the midst of another apartment boom — don’t forget there are about 1,000 living units slated for the former Gaslight mobile home park east of 31st and Iowa. Just think of the art possibilities.

• I’ll tell you what else is booming: Interest in the new Dillons store at 17th and Mass. If you went to its ribbon-cutting ceremony two weekends ago, you know what I’m talking about. The parking lot looked a lot like a slow-motion NASCAR race — lots and lots of cars going around in circles.

Well, interest must still be high because Dillons is asking to extend a city permit by two weeks that allows the company to park cars in a grassy lot south of the store.

Dillons has been using the grassy lot behind the Kwik Shop at 1846 Mass. for overflow parking for its employees and vendors. Originally that parking arrangement was set to end on Sunday, but now store officials want to extend it to Sept. 9.

Dillons previously has said the extra parking is needed during the store’s grand opening period because about 100 extra employees are expected to be on site during the busy period.

The new Dillons is unique for many reasons, but one of them is that the city did approve a smaller than normal parking lot for the store. During the store’s first day, that parking lot was swamped. But I drive by the location frequently, and I see quite a few parking spaces available during the day. But during those times the grassy lot is often full of vehicles and I’ve been told on-street parking on New Hampshire street — which runs behind the store — has increased significantly.

Based on what I’ve heard, Dillons doesn’t have any plans for making the grassy lot situation a more permanent solution. If you remember, Kwik Shop — which is owned by Dillons — has filed plans to build a new store on that grassy lot. Those plans are still on file at City Hall, and are currently being reviewed by city planners.

It will be interesting to see how the parking situation plays itself out once some of the new shine wears off the store. Early in the process of building the new store, Dillons officials were in negotiations with a local group to buy the small brick apartment building on New Hampshire Street that’s adjacent to the store’s parking lot. That would have allowed for more parking. But those discussions fell apart. Right now, I think neighbors are happy enough to have a new modern store that they are willing to put up with some on-street parking on New Hampshire Street.

• Dillons, however, is not the only grocer in town that has exciting news. The Merc has completed a $1.7 million deal to buy the building that it has long rented at 901 Iowa St.

The locally operated natural foods and grocery cooperative bought the building from owners Sharon and Bill Elkins. The Merc had been renting the building since 2001.

“Ten years ago we couldn’t even dream of owning, but this shows that ambitious goals are possible,” said Rita York Hennecke, general manager of The Merc.

The purchase also includes the adjoining space that houses Alvin’s liquor store. Alvin’s will continue to operate the space and has a long-term lease for the property.

Now that The Merc owns the building, it plans to make improvements to the energy efficiency and environmental sustainability of the building. There’s no doubt that will remain a focus of the group. The current president of The Merc’s board of directors is Eileen Horn, who also is the sustainability coordinator for the city and county. She’s been making energy improvements at a host of public buildings around town.

The Merc plans to have a party this fall to celebrate the purchase.

The Merc purchase appeared to be the biggest commercial deal in the most recent list of weekly land transfers from the Douglas County Register of Deeds. But click here to see the complete list.