Multimillion-dollar Queens Road reconstruction project on hold as city awaits initial decision in lawsuit
photo by: Mike Yoder
The City of Lawrence has elected to put the controversial Queens Road reconstruction project on hold pending a decision in a lawsuit filed by one of the homeowners in the taxing districts set up to pay for the project.
Following years of debate regarding how the multimillion-dollar road project should be funded, the Lawrence City Commission voted in December to set up two special taxing districts, under which property owners near Queens Road would pay most of the cost of the improvements. In January, homeowner Kurt Schaake filed a lawsuit against the city in Douglas County District Court claiming that the taxing districts are arbitrary and capricious and therefore out of line with state law. An initial hearing was held in February, and Schaake’s attorney requested a preliminary injunction to delay the project so the lawsuit can be heard.
Initial timelines for the Queens Road project called for bidding to occur in the spring and construction to begin in early summer. Deputy City Attorney Randy Larkin said in an email to the Journal-World Wednesday that until the court issues a decision about the preliminary injunction, the city has elected to put all city actions regarding the Queens Road taxing districts on hold.
Before the lawsuit, the city estimated that letters to property owners with the final costs would be sent in early 2020, and owners could either pay the full amount all at once or spread it out over 10 years. Though the court has not ordered the city to put the project on hold, Larkin said that the city has taken no action regarding the districts at this time. He said the city anticipates a decision from the court in the near future.
Judge Amy Hanley is hearing the case, and her administrative assistant Jordan Tubbs told the Journal-World that the motion is still under consideration and that Hanley has been working on a written decision. Tubbs said she was not able to give a more exact estimate of when the decision would be issued.
The city set up two benefit districts to fund the $5.3 million 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. The city plans to pay about $640,000 toward the project, or about 12% of the total cost of the road and intersection.
The City of Lawrence commonly uses benefit districts to pay for infrastructure, such as streets, sewers and water lines, in new developments. Queens Road joins about seven other areas with active benefit districts, according to city maps, and dozens more have collected funds throughout the years. Developers made agreements not to protest the benefit districts years ago when the neighborhoods near Queens Road were planned, and those agreements, which run with the land, were passed on to homeowners in the district when they purchased the properties. Many homeowners have told city leaders they were not aware of the no-protest agreement when they bought their homes.