Lawrence school board signs off on property tax rebate for affordable senior housing project

photo by: Journal-World

Lawrence Public Schools district offices pictured in April 2021.

The Lawrence school board on Monday joined other local governments in approving tax incentives for a project that would develop just under 50 units of affordable housing in downtown Lawrence for people 55 and older.

The vote for the New Hampshire Lofts project passed 5-2, with Erica Hill and Paula Vann dissenting. Hill expressed concern that it was on the consent agenda, with those items being routinely passed without discussion on a single board vote. Board members Kelly Jones, Bob Byers, Shannon Kimball, Carole Cadue-Blackwood and Ronald “G.R.” Gordon-Ross voted in favor.

Vann told Jones, the board president, that she thought the item related to the tax incentives request that the board passed by a 4-3 vote in August. That vote was for the former Borders bookstore site, which is being renovated to serve as a new headquarters for businessman Doug Compton’s First Management and First Construction companies. The New Hampshire Lofts project calls for construction to take place in a long-vacant lot on the east side of New Hampshire Street — just north of the 11th and New Hampshire intersection.

“This is a different (Neighborhood Revitalization Area rebate program) request than the one we saw in August,” Jones said.

Along with the 15-year 95% property tax rebate — a sales tax exemption for construction materials would save the developer, Tony Krsnich of Flint Hills Holdings LLC, approximately $98,000.

Agenda materials were made publicly accessible several days prior to the meeting, which included a detailed slide presentation of developer’s proposal, but Vann questioned why the item was placed on the consent agenda in the first place — as well as why there was not a formal presentation to the board. For the project that related to the former Borders bookstore, both the project’s developers and a city official made in-person presentations to the board.

Jones said that unlike the Borders project, the New Hampshire Lofts project “hasn’t been contentious in any space — not with the city or the county.” Jones cited the project’s unanimous approval from the Lawrence City Commission, Douglas County Commission and the Public Incentives Review Committee. Even with approval Monday night, the measure still needs a final round of approval from the city commission.

“I put it on consent because it is highly likely to pass based on what I’ve seen from other folks,” Jones said, adding that she “might have misread the board.”

Jones said that the district’s participation in the project has “minimal impact on our operations.”

The district, along with the city and Douglas County will continue to receive 100% of the property taxes generated by the property — with the 95% rebate applying to the value of the new improvements made to the property.

Kimball, who represents the board on the Public Incentives Review Committee, said that participation in the agreement would have “no impact on enrollment for the district because it’s senior housing.”

“As we talked about when we had the last one come through, there is zero fiscal impact to the district that’s negative,” she said. “We do not lose any funding from approving this.”

Despite those assurances, Hill also raised concern that “it kind of seems like there is a forgone conclusion that the board would just pass this.” Hill added that no matter “how minimal” of impact it has, “it would be good to have a better understanding of what we’re voting on.”

Jones reiterated that “it’s been our practice, that if they are not contentious, to have them on consent (agenda).”

In other business, the board:

• Unanimously adopted a policy that will bring the district into compliance with a new state law that governs the transfer of nonresident students into the district.

As reported by the Journal-World, the Kansas Legislature passed a law during the 2023 legislative session, that beginning in June 2024, will allow students apply to districts other than their own if those districts have space to accommodate them. The law requires districts to adopt a policy by 2024 that regulates how it will handle those transfers. The policy adopted by the board was a model policy written by the Kansas Association of School Boards that Jones previously told the Journal-World “was consistent with what’s in the (state) statute.” The board held a public hearing on the matter at its Oct. 23 meeting.

• Approved by a 4-3 vote, services from TrustCentric Consulting that would provide a “framework for organizational and leadership trust” at a cost of $12,500. Services that the district will receive from the firm include organizing school board and executive leadership team retreats and professional development. Cadue-Blackwood, Vann and Hill were opposed to the measure.


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