Douglas County Commission to consider accessible platforms for Wells Overlook; both options require tree removal

photo by: Journal-World File Photo

In this file photo from Sept. 8, 2014, a sky full of cumulus clouds passes over Douglas County as seen looking north from Wells Overlook.

Douglas County commissioners will hear two options to provide accessible viewing platforms at Wells Overlook Park at their new meeting time of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.

Keith Browning, director of public works and county engineer, wrote in a memo to the commission about two options to construct a platform compliant with Americans with Disabilities Act accessibility guidelines at the site, which is on County Route 458 just east of U.S. Highway 59, or about 3 miles south of the Iowa Street interchange on the South Lawrence Trafficway.

The first option would add a platform near the northernmost curve on the park’s access drive, according to the memo. It would be about 35 feet lower in elevation than the top of the hill where the park’s observation tower is located, “but would still provide excellent views to the north and east” if a half acre of trees were removed, Browning wrote.

The second option would provide a parking area on top of the hill and accessible walkways leading to two viewing platforms at a similar elevation of the base of the tower, according to the memo. However, that plan would require cutting down “a significant amount of trees” in order to open up sight lines.

Browning wrote that with either plan, erosion from tree removal is a concern, and staff would need to seed the area by hand for at least a couple of years to establish and maintain native prairie vegetation on the steep slopes.

This is not the first time the commission has considered the Wells Overlook project. The Journal-World reported on April 4, 2018, that commissioners did not authorize improvements at that time because of budget concerns, pending a countywide vote on a half-cent sales tax that would have funded an expansion of the local jail and behavioral health initiatives. However, commissioners included $40,000 for the project in the 2019 budget they approved on Aug. 8.

At the April meeting, Browning gave the commission a cost estimate of $144,800 for the first platform option. The second option has been added since. He wrote that county staff would provide cost estimates and plan layouts for both options at the meeting.

If commissioners want to move forward with either plan, staff would apply for a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund that would reimburse the county 50 percent of out-of-pocket and in-kind costs for the work, according to the memo.

In other business:

• Commissioners will consider approving a site plan from Veritas Christian School to build a satellite campus south of Lawrence.

The Journal-World reported in December that Veritas had purchased 8 acres of property at the intersection of East 1300 Road and North 968 Road — near Wells Overlook Park but to the west of U.S. 59 Highway.

The building will provide a new home for Veritas’ basketball and volleyball programs and also will include classrooms for high school students.

County planning staff recommends approval, with the condition that the property owner seek a floodplain development permit.

• Bob Tryanski, the county’s director of behavioral health projects, will give commissioners a presentation on a peer fellows program, which “will connect trained individuals, sharing insight and wisdom gained through lived experience, to community members who struggle with mental illness and addiction,” according to agenda materials. That’s scheduled for a 4 p.m. work session before the meeting, and the commission will take no action.

The Douglas County Commission will meet for a work session and regular meeting at 4 and 5:30 p.m., respectively, on Wednesday at the county courthouse, 1100 Massachusetts St. Complete agenda materials are available at

Contact Mackenzie Clark

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