Douglas County Commission to hear funding request for Bert Nash housing project, consider applying for funds for additional housing work
photo by: Journal-World
Douglas County commissioners will work on a trio of housing issues at their meeting on Wednesday, including a more than $400,000 request to jump-start a project for 24 units of housing devoted to people in need of behavioral health services.
Bert Nash Community Mental Health Center has asked commissioners to approve $427,000 for the acquisition of property for a planned supportive housing project. The amount is part of the agency’s $2 million supplemental funding request that was included in the county’s 2024 budget, but it still requires an additional approval from the commission.
As the Journal-World previously reported, Bert Nash hopes to construct a new 24-unit supportive housing complex to aid people who struggle with both homelessness and behavioral health disorders by early to mid-2025.
Located in north-central Lawrence, the two connected parcels of land at 530 Rockledge Drive and 2222 West Sixth St. have a $1.6 million purchase price. In addition to the county funding it’s requested, Bert Nash has received $1.08 million from the city of Lawrence and $200,000 in state funding.
County commissioners will also consider a resolution that would allow Douglas County staff members and area agencies to apply for federal funds that were awarded to the state as part of an American Rescue Plan program. Most of the funds would be used to provide support for a variety of housing projects, according to a memo to commissioners.
Bert Nash, the Lawrence-Douglas County Housing Authority (LDCHA), Lawrence Family Promise, Tenants to Homeowners and the Willow Domestic Violence Shelter are also part of the application. If the funding were awarded, Bert Nash would use it for the 24-unit supportive housing project, while LDCHA would put the funding toward the construction of several two-bedroom affordable housing units. Lawrence Family Promise and Tenants to Homeowners would also use the money to build affordable housing units, while the Willow Domestic Violence Shelter wants to use the money for rental assistance, as well as supplies and support for domestic abuse survivors.
During a work session prior to the meeting, commissioners will hear about yet another housing issue. Commissioners will receive a report they commissioned in April from the Corporation for Supportive Housing. According to the agenda packet, “CSH was tasked with gathering information from community agencies and housing partners to identify areas of strengths, challenging areas, gaps in knowledge, and areas needing clarification.”
The report says that Douglas County has many strengths, including that it is proactive in solving issues critical to the community. The challenges that the county faces, according to the report, include the lack of a shared definition of supportive housing and the fact that there is no agreed-upon best practice for keeping people housed.
In other business, the commission will:
• Consider approving the 2024 budget for Consolidated Fire District No. 1, which provides firefighting services to several rural areas of Douglas County. The budget includes roughly $2.1 million in funding and is about $435,000 more than the current year’s budget, while its mill levy remains unchanged at 5.5 mills. The district covers most of the northern half of Douglas County, excluding Lawrence and Eudora. A public hearing is scheduled prior to the commission’s vote, allowing the public to share its comments and concerns about the budget plan.
As the Journal-World previously reported, the increase in expenditures will help fund an equipment reserve fund for the fire district.
• Consider a special event permit for Halloween-themed operations to take place at 1387 East 1650 Road, on the eastern outskirts of Lawrence. Also known as “Garrett’s Haunted Farm,” the attraction would primarily operate three days a week from Sept. 27 through Oct. 31. According to a memo from planning staff to commissioners, the attraction would involve customers shooting paintballs at actors in zombie costumes while riding on a trailer. The backdrop is themed as a ghost town “since the property is located near the historic site of Franklin, which was active during the Bleeding Kansas conflicts,” the memo reads.
• Consider whether to grant a one-year extension for a temporary business use permit that allows outdoor vehicle storage at the property at 1036 East 1000 Road. The soon-to-expire permit was granted in August 2022 with a requirement that Dennis Thome “demonstrate progress on removing the vehicles” from the property, which houses automotive wholesaler Cardinal Motors, according to a memo to commissioners by planner Karl Bauer.
The memo said that vehicles have been stored on the property since the 1960s and that “more have been added little-by-little over the past decades.” Bauer wrote that zoning and codes staff had visited the property and that it appeared that Thome had complied with the requirement.
“The applicant had claimed that there were 100 vehicles on the property, and that in the past year 35 have been removed,” Bauer’s memo read. “Staff has been able to confirm that almost all of the vehicles that were in the floodplain and floodway, which were of greatest concern, have been moved or removed. The applicant (also) indicated he is working with buyers for many of the vehicles.”
• Hear an update on a behavioral health project called the “Familiar Faces Initiative.” The project is a collaborative effort between Douglas County and the National Association of Counties, and it seeks to “empower behavioral health and justice system partners to more seamlessly share data” to help individuals receive services and reduce hospital stays.
The commission’s work session begins at 4 p.m. followed by the regular business meeting at 5:30 p.m. at the Douglas County Courthouse at 11th and Massachusetts streets. A Zoom link can be found on the county’s website, douglascountyks.org.