City denies that it acted unlawfully when rejecting Hub apartment project

photo by: Core Spaces, Antunovich Associates

This conceptual rendering, dated Feb. 15, 2019, shows a revised design for the Hub on Campus apartment and retail building that developer Core Spaces had proposed for the corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets in downtown Lawrence.

The City of Lawrence is denying claims that it acted unlawfully when it rejected a proposal to build a five-story apartment and retail building in downtown Lawrence.

In May, the Lawrence City Commission unanimously denied a certificate of appropriateness to Chicago-based developer Core Spaces to build the Hub on Campus at the northeast corner of 11th and Massachusetts streets in downtown Lawrence and determined the project did not meet downtown design guidelines. Following the denial, the developer and property owners sued the city.

Core Lawrence Massachusetts LLC, Allen Realty Inc. and Allen Press Inc. filed the lawsuit in Douglas County District Court in June, alleging that the commission’s decision was “unreasonable, arbitrary and capricious” and therefore unlawful, and asked the court to reverse the decision. Allen Realty Inc. and Allen Press Inc. own the site that Core Lawrence wants to build on. The project was strongly opposed by many Lawrence residents, and the lawsuit states that the city “bowed to citizen pressure,” which it claims was based on unsubstantiated fears and speculation and unrelated to legal requirements.

In a recently filed response to the lawsuit, the city denies those claims, stating that the city’s actions were within its authority and were lawful and reasonable. The city also states that the developers and property owner have failed to make a claim upon which relief can be granted and asks that the court instead deny the request to reverse the city’s decision.

The City Commission considered the Hub project after the developer appealed previous decisions made by the city’s preservation board, the Historic Resources Commission, regarding the certificate of appropriateness and the downtown design guidelines. The certificate was required because the project would be adjacent to three historic buildings: the English Lutheran Church, the Douglas County Courthouse and the former bank building that currently houses the Watkins Museum of History.

Both bodies denied the project based on several factors, most notably that its size and scale were not appropriate for downtown’s historic district and were out of line with design guidelines. The City Commission approved its own findings of fact related to both denials and essentially upheld the HRC’s decisions. Those findings, which comprise 16 pages, include that the main building overwhelms the city landmarks and is incompatible with the height and width of other one- and two-story structures downtown.

The project’s two buildings would cover the equivalent of 16 original townsite lots and provide 610 bedrooms targeted to college students. The primary structure covers nine lots and would be a five-story apartment and retail building that would stretch the width of the block between Massachusetts and New Hampshire streets, partially covering the alleyway. The secondary building would be a three-level parking garage and mixed-use structure on the east side of New Hampshire Street.

The city’s response was filed on July 16, and the lawsuit remains pending in Douglas County District Court.

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