City of Lawrence delays Queens Road project until next year because of pending appeal over lawsuit
photo by: Mike Yoder
The City of Lawrence has delayed the $5.3 million Queens Road project until 2021 because of pending litigation in the Kansas Court of Appeals.
The Lawrence City Commission voted to create two tax districts to fund the project nearly two years ago, but the city has been voluntarily putting the project on hold since one of the homeowners in the districts filed a lawsuit against the city in January 2019 that was subsequently dismissed.
In February, Queens Road homeowner Kurt Schaake appealed the ruling made by Douglas County District Court regarding his lawsuit opposing the taxing districts the city established to help fund the Queens Road project, as the Journal-World previously reported. The lawsuit claims that the way the taxing districts are set up is arbitrary and capricious and therefore out of line with state law. The District Court judge dismissed that lawsuit last year prior to trial because of representation issues.
The two taxing districts — one for Queens Road and the other for its intersection with Sixth Street — have been a contentious issue with homeowners near the road in northwest Lawrence. Though the city will provide some funding, the city primarily plans to fund the project through special assessments collected from property owners in the districts. The cost of the assessments is in proportion to the square footage of each parcel, including the commercial parcels, and is added to a property’s tax bill. The city has commonly used such districts to pay for roads in new subdivisions, as opposed to having those costs absorbed by local taxpayers at large.
Schaake, who lives in a home on two parcels in a formerly rural neighborhood and not in one of the new developments near Queens Road, has stated in court filings that the special assessment against his properties for the improvements to the road and its intersection with Sixth Street total $47,290. In a brief filed with the appeals court this summer, Schaake argues that the district court made a mistake in dismissing his case, in ordering him to bear the cost of the action, and in denying his request to temporarily order a stop to the project until the case was resolved.
The issues with representation began after Schaake’s attorney withdrew from the case and Schaake sought to represent himself because he said he could not afford an attorney. The lawsuit technically names James Kurt Schaake, trustee of the Donald Dean Schaake Revocable Trust, as the plaintiff, and Douglas County District Court Judge Amy Hanley determined that Schaake could not legally represent a trust as a nonlawyer. In November, Hanley issued an order dismissing the case for lack of prosecution.
In the brief filed this summer, Schaake argues in part that despite the existence of the trust, he has a personal stake in the matter, and that dismissing the case violates his right to a trial.
In a brief filed July 29, the City of Lawrence argues against Schaake’s claims. The city states in part that the district court was right to dismiss the case, because like a corporation, a trust is an artificial entity without the right to self-representation.
Schaake’s lawsuit argued that the city’s taxing districts are out of line with state law because the city didn’t determine what special benefit accrued to properties within the districts; that the city improperly excluded properties; and that the properties within the districts were not benefited in equal relation to the financial burden imposed. The city denied those claims, arguing that it provided reasons for why each area was included, including direct and indirect access to Queens Road and whether each area had previously been included in a district for another street in the area. In the recently filed brief, the city states that Schaake has not presented any evidence that shows the properties in the districts don’t benefit from the improvements.
The Queens Road street project is estimated to cost about $4.83 million, of which the city will contribute about $640,000. There are about 400 properties in the Queens Road taxing district that will contribute toward the remaining $4.2 million, according to city documents. The Queens Road intersection project is estimated to cost about $450,000, all of which will be assessed to properties in the taxing district. There are about 515 properties in the intersection district, which includes the 400 from the street project district.
The court docket does not indicate when the court may issue an opinion on the case, but a letter from Kansas Court of Appeals Judge Karen Arnold-Burger dated July 29 states that the case is being considered for a summary opinion because the court believes oral argument would not materially assist in the determination of the appeal. If the case proceeds in that fashion, a panel of judges could decide it without hearing oral arguments, according to the letter.
The city’s announcement regarding the delay, made Thursday afternoon, did not provide any additional information about when the project might begin or where the city is in the process, and the city did not immediately respond a request to provide additional details on Friday.
• Jan. 22, 2019 — Lawsuit filed against city of Lawrence over Queens Road taxing districts