Lawrence City Commission denies Queens Road protest petitions, finalizes special taxing districts
photo by: Mike Yoder
A plan to have nearby property owners pay the majority of the costs for the $5.3 million reconstruction of Queens Road has cleared its last hurdle at City Hall.
As part of its meeting Tuesday, the Lawrence City Commission voted, 4-1, with Commissioner Leslie Soden opposing, to reject two protest petitions against the benefit districts that would pay for improvements to the pothole-ridden, gravel- and asphalt-sealed road. More than 200 homeowners in the districts had signed the petitions.
Though some commissioners said it was possible that the petition organizers had gathered the required number of signatures on one of the petitions, the commission agreed that organizers did not meet a second requirement related to the geographic area of the protesters’ properties.
According to state law, to prevent a taxing district from being established, at least 51 percent of the property owners in the district must sign a protest petition, and their properties must make up more than half of the geographic area of the taxing district. A city staff review indicated that the petitions didn’t meet either requirement, but Commissioner Matthew Herbert and Mayor Stuart Boley said that the Queens Road petition may have met the first requirement if dozens of currently vacant parcels in the district were excluded from the calculation, as the owners of the parcels may not be city residents.
“I can see that that math might work (for the first requirement); the problem is with the double requirement and the area,” Boley said. “It’s not sufficient.”
There are two benefit districts that will fund the Queens Road project: one that funds the $4.85 million reconstruction of Queens Road itself, from Sixth Street to Eisenhower Drive; and another that funds $450,000 of improvements to the intersection at Sixth Street and Queens Road, including the addition of a traffic signal.
Several single-family homeowners in the benefit districts spoke to the commission about the petitions. Kurt Schaake, one of the petition organizers, noted that a large percentage of the benefit districts’ area is made up of a few commercial, multifamily properties, and meeting the area requirement without the signatures of those properties’ owners would have been nearly impossible. Schaake said those commercial property owners did not respond to a request to sign the petitions, but that the hundreds of signatures from homeowners indicated that most single-family property owners opposed the districts. He said he considered that a valid protest.
“So in a way, you’re looking at a vote of 251 homeowners versus four businesses,” Schaake said.
After determining that the two protest petitions were insufficient, the commission voted, 4-1, with Soden opposing, to finalize the tax assessments for the districts. The commission previously agreed to pay about $640,000 toward the project, or about 12 percent of the total costs of the road and intersection. The commercial and multifamily developments will pay for about 67 percent of the costs, according to a staff memo to the commission. The approximately 20 percent remaining will be paid by the single-family homes, amounting to thousands of dollars for most homeowners.
Commissioners have previously said that since the city has been using special taxing districts to pay for infrastructure in new developments for decades, it would not be fair to deviate from that and have the city, or taxpayers at large, fund a larger portion of the project. Soden, who has previously voted against the Queens Road benefit districts, did not comment on the sufficiency of the petitions, but did repeat that she thinks the city should look at ways to reduce the scope and overall cost of the road reconstruction project.
The city expects the Queens Road project to begin in 2019, and notices of the assessments will be mailed to property owners in mid- to late 2019. If the assessments aren’t paid in full at that time, they will appear on property tax bills in December 2020 and can be paid over a 10-year period.