Property owner, fed up with illegal homeless camping, hires bulldozer to clear site of all trees

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A bulldozer is shown clearing the property at 2900 Haskell Lane on Thursday, June 27, 2024.

A bulldozer was busy at work Thursday afternoon on an island of land in southeast Lawrence, but its purpose wasn’t exactly to create an island paradise.

Rather, the property owner had become frustrated with the homeless camping that was taking place on the wooded property that sits in between Haskell Avenue and old Haskell Avenue, just north of 31st Street.

So, he hired a construction crew with a bulldozer and a track hoe to begin clearing the property of all its trees and brush. Now, the property has both brush piles and piles of debris left from homeless camps.

“I don’t know how many bicycles and bicycle parts were out there,” said Luke Oehlert, who owns the property. “We are guessing maybe a couple of hundred bicycles.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A pile of debris is shown at 2900 Haskell Lane on Thursday, June 27, 2024. The site had been the location of an illegal homeless camp.

Oehlert, a Lawrence businessman, said he has had the police out to the property multiple times over the last two years to remove people who have illegally set up camp on the property. His impression was that there were normally six to eight people on the property. However, since the city closed its sanctioned camp in North Lawrence in April, he’s been told the number of people on the property grew significantly.

He said he decided to take the action of clearing the property of all its trees and brush, in part, because he was hearing from neighbors about problems that were occurring. He said some industrial neighbors to the west of the property had expressed concern that individuals living in the woods were now trespassing on their properties and perhaps stealing items.

“They were so fed up with getting broken into,” Oehlert said of his neighbors.

As the trees and brush came down, Oehlert said he and the construction crew did find multiple items — chainsaws, blowers and other pieces of equipment — that appeared to be the property of an equipment rental business that is located across the street from the property.

“It was quite the compound,” Oehlert said.

photo by: Douglas County GIS/Journal-World

The blue star on the map shows the site 2900 Haskell Lane, where construction crews are cleaning up a former homeless camp site.

Oehlert said he was pleased with the response of the Lawrence Police Department whenever they were called to the scene over the last couple of years. He said police would tell the trespassers that they had to leave, and see that they did. However, he said, in his view, there has never been much action out of Lawrence City Hall that has given the trespassers any reason to fear coming back to the property, or others like it.

Oehlert said he is unaware of any charges ever being filed against any individuals who were on the property.

Now, Oehlert is frustrated with the city for other reasons. He said he’s disappointed that the city is not assisting in the cleanup. Oehlert said he would like the city to at least provide a truck, given that the city is in the sanitation business, to haul off the items. Oehlert said he think it is reasonable — given the amount of tax dollars that the city has devoted to homeless services — that there would be a fund available to help property owners who can prove that they have been negatively impacted by illegal camping.

Such help, however, hasn’t materialized.

“I’m having to hire a trucking company,” Oehlert said. “It is just out of my pocket.”

Oehlert grimaces at what he expects will happen next. Now that he has cleared the property, it has made the land more developable, which likely will mean that its tax value will increase.

“I’ll probably be paying more taxes on that property now,” he said.

Oehlert, who has been in the building and development business in Lawrence, said the changes to the property likely will cause him to become more active in developing the land. The property became a unique 8-acre island surrounded by roads due to changes in street alignments associated with the completion of the nearby South Lawrence Trafficway last decade.

The property is zoned for light industrial uses, and Oehlert said its proximity to so many roads has him thinking about whether it would be attractive to somebody who wants to develop a truck stop.

“Lawrence needs a truck stop that is not in the middle of town,” he said. “I don’t know if that is a possibility there, but we may try to find out.”

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

A site at 2900 Haskell Lane is shown on Thursday, June 27, 2024 as construction crews clear it of trees.

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World

The site at 2900 Haskell Lane is picture on June 27, 2024.


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