November 14, 2022 NLIA minutes Meeting began: 6:58pm Ted opened the meeting
First on the agenda was the Lawrence Public library represented by Terese Winters.
Terese Winters addressed neighbors and shared all the free services that the Lawrence Public Library have available. Such services are reserving study rooms, book a help tech session, record a oral history, book club, take a guitar lesson and grow native flower from the seed library. You can learn more at lplks.org. Terese is your library Liaison and you can reach her with questions, suggestions and feedback at 785-843-3833.
Mark the libraries community resource staff member also spoke. His role is directing people to resources in the community. There is a Community Resource Fair November 18th from 2pm – 6pm in the library auditorium. Hope all will join to learn about local social service agencies and stop in for refreshments, free winter gear and activities for children.
Ted talked about how the neighborhood agreed that they needed to come to together to help the homeless and neighborhood
Ted then introduced Jennifer Burnes and stated that she would report out in regards to the survey that she and Kirsty Feltz compiled. Jennifer Burnes addressed the neighbors and gave a survey update. She stated that the neighbors will receive the survey results in a formal print version and hopes to do so by January. She shared the survey results in regards to what our neighbors like about North Lawrence which is small town feel, proximity to the Levee, down to earth, diverse, friendly and the agricultural feel were some of the responses. Jennifer shared that a neighbor stated in the survey they had only lived in North Lawrence for one month and found the neighborhood friendly and welcoming. Jennifer stated that there were responses on the survey in regards to the homeless. She stated she wanted to bring other neighborhood concerns forward which are conditions of homes, dilapidated homes, junk in yards and ditches needing maintenance. Also speed of drivers on Locust street and light pollution. Neighbors would like street lights to be addressed. She shared that a neighbor stated that she can no longer take walks alone as a women. Another neighbor would like no people staying over night in the parks. One neighbor wrote that they struggle to find the right words to express their concerns about the homeless and feel that we need to find a balance. A neighbor at the meeting asked how many survey’s were answered and Jennifer answered 147. Neighbors at meeting stated “great job” to the survey.
Ted stated he would support encouraging more to answer the survey by posting info about the survey on Facebook. A neighbor requested a paper copy of the survey. Ted stated that once the results of the survey are compiled he would like to have them posted in the Lawrence Journal World and shared with City Commissioners.
Ted talked about the 200 new homes that have been built in the neighborhood and the new neighbors have expressed they moved to North Lawrence for the community feel and walking distance to downtown. He also stated because the crime rate was low. Ted addressed the neighbors and stated he has some good news. He stated that a neighbor had taken a walk along the river and checked out the two abandoned camps between 7th street and 3rd street. At this point Ted handed the report out to the said neighbor to continue sharing. The neighbor stated that he discovered only two people living in the abandoned camp and that with the help of Bert Nash the two people are receiving help and services. The neighbor also shared that another camp is located East of John Taylor Park and that there is one lady living there that is very nice and a brave lady. Ted stated that transients are still chanting and threatening even though the city has been kindhearted by providing help and support. A neighbor asked Ted how he knows the transients are causing the issues and Ted replied that the local homeless have told him so.
The Neighbor and Ted expressed that they are going to meet at the Ballard Center in regards to understanding the transients and the homeless. Ted shared with the neighbors the letters that were written by downtown business owners including the one written by Rick Renfro all in regards to the need for more support to take care of the homeless community. Ted shared that the downtown businesses letters are available to read with concerns with homeless including Rick Renfros decision to close Johnny’s. Ted shared that a farmland area east side of Lawrence has the possibility of being a better suited site for the camp for the homeless and that there is a need for the homeless to have a permanent place rather than be up rooted or shipped around and not allowed to get to stay. He said It is not fair to the homeless to be moved all the time and find a spot that is beneficial to getting them back up on their feet. Ted said he is working with community partners and business owners to find a solution. Ted shared how the homeless were put in Woody Park and then moved out and that he has first hand experience as to what it is like to have nothing. He said my family and I have had to receive help from the Salvation Army. He said we need to offer a hand up.
Ted shared that any development like a grocery store is on hold until we get the situation under control.
Ted then said we have to help the homeless and we have to distinguish between the good and bad. Ted said with the Police having a hands off policy and residents not feeling supported and safe this is not happening. He did state that at the time of the hands off we had an interim police chief. Ted said he had a meeting at Johnny’s with Police Chief Lockhart and he said he heard that patrol officers were saying “hands off”. Ted said the “hands off” started a year and half ago and this is why neighbors were feeling unprotected.
A Neighbor addressed Ted and stated that “the paper reports that the police have clarified their involvement with protecting the neighborhood”.
Ted moved to the topic of affordable houses and that the prices are around $180.000. Ted talked about keeping affordable housing in the neighborhood. Neighbor addressed Ted and said “you mentioned a couple of times chanting can you tell me what they were chanting?” Ted stated that it was “kill you in your sleep”. Ted mentioned that the incidents with crime have been documented by the police.
Neighbor stated that he would like to thank the North Lawrence neighbors for all the help and donations. He mentioned a long list of donations such as water, tents, sleeping bags and what said neighbor verbally listed was impressive. He is on the Board of Directors for Independence Inc and wanted to thank Rick Renfro for donating pizza’s to the homeless camp. He received a question from a fellow neighbor asking if when the donations are delivered are the recipients/homeless helping to unload his vehicle? The neighbor responded that they are willing to help and stack all the donations into the container to wait for them to be dispersed at the scheduled time. He went on to say that he himself was surprised as he thought that the campers would start digging through and taking items immediately. He share that he has seen things at the camp that he did not want to see however he is not scared to go to the camp. He also stated that he is proud to be a North Lawrence Resident. Ted talked about a friend who helps collect donations that are received from churches such as cases of strawberries, bananas, grapes and also canned goods. Ted stores them at his home to disperse to families in need including the homeless. Ted said we all have to do our part to help. Neighbor stated can we take donations at our December meeting? The December meeting is being cancelled due to the venue for said meeting not being available.
Neighbor stated that even though the neighborhood were concerned about the homeless they still stepped up and helped. He went on to say that there needs to be a better solution than where the camp is located at present. He said I don’t want them out of North Lawrence just in a better situation and I feel that the North Lawrence neighbors will still be willing to help the homeless no matter where they live. He stated we still need to address the situation. Ted reminded neighbors that the collection from local business for holiday gifts will happen as always this year and that in the past 10 families are adopted for the holiday.
Neighbor shared that the Journal World is collecting for Toys for Tots and that they will give a few free papers for your donation. She also shared that LJW have a free add if you are selling anything for under $100. City Commissioner Lisa Larson was at the meeting and a neighbor shared with her a program to stop gun violence and asked her to look into “Omaha 360 violence intervention and prevention”. Ted reiterated that the local businesses downtown want to help the homeless in a positive way. Neighbor asked if the Chili is still planned for February? Ted stated “no”. if you have donations for the homeless camp please call 785-505-0039. Lisa Larson has a plea from the city. They are in need of volunteers to take shifts at the Community Building. You are able to sign up for a shift online to support the emergency shelter for the homeless.
Ted started the meeting with an overview of which commissioners he might be expecting this evening to talk with us. He gave a history of his time in North Lawrence and his family’s roots here.
North Lawrence has a history of transient persons, usually seasonally. Ted said that during the pandemic, many transients were not able to travel away from Lawrence and stayed here. Ted quoted the current transient (vs local unhoused) as 85%, at a total of around 500 people right now. Ted got this number from the power company.
Becky at the Ballard Center told Ted at the beginning of the year (2020) that some of the transient population of homeless were threatening the local population, telling them they should not use Ballard services.
In 2021, there were many reports of fires up on the levy behind the houses that are on Oak and Ash, with threatening chants (“we’re going to kill you in your sleep”) and other activities like trespassing and peeping tom activity. Residents were told by the police that officers could only respond if they would catch people “in the act” of crimes, not just on reports of certain activities.
A resident of that area said he has videoed someone on the levy brandishing a gun late at night, around 1 in the morning. The police did respond, but could not find the individual, so they deployed a drone with infrared. They found the person, but he did not brandish the gun in their presence.
Ted says there are may reports of people wandering the neighborhood during the night. One home close to the levy reported a break-in around 2 in the morning, with a cut fence, stolen tools, and a broken glass back door. The resident dog ran the intruders off.
One neighbor has reported their son, while riding his bike on a weekend morning, being stopped by someone he did not know, with questions about where he lived and whether or not he had any gasoline. The child went home and reported to his parents, who called the police.
A local businessperson was coming out to her car one evening and saw a couple preparing to set up camp south of the river. When she stopped to talk with them and said they could camp safely in the area behind Johnny’s, the couple said they were chased out of that area. The man insisted they could camp anywhere they wished and become belligerent with her. She came across a police officer about a block later, and asked the officer what the police could do. The officer said they couldn’t do anything, and recommended that she arm herself.
Other residents have been told to stay hands off, and to call the city commission.
Ted says that some of the local people he knows who are houseless report that they can’t leave their camps unattended, because other populations in the homeless community will steal things from their camps or destroy their camps.
Ted continued to give a history of homeless and transient populations in Lawrence and North Lawrence, reminding us of various efforts 20-25 years back from the city and other organizations. He also mentioned that there continues to be a lack of affordable housing in Lawrence, which may contribute to overall problem.
Ted says that Lawrence is “known” as a friendly community, so there has been a larger influx of houseless people to town who are not leaving, and that they are taking up a majority of the slim resources that are available for efforts to house and take care of houseless people.
Neither the county nor the city took any responsibility for not offering housing to people out near the jail, where there is ample land for housing, whether tents or tiny homes. There are container homes in that area specifically for this that are not being used. When Ted called the county to see if they would take responsibility, the said the city took the lead. This was prior to the Woody Camp effort that happened during the pandemic.
Ted emphasized that in most of his conversations with city and county officials, no one is taking responsibility for the problem or how to handle some of the issues that are arising, and a few people have backtracked and reneged on what they previously said. The police says that the city commission has told the police force “hands off”, but that is currently being denied.
Ted said this meeting tonight is about finding someone to own this issue.
When people are admitted to one of the camps that get organized and set up, they have to abide by certain rules to stay in that camp. A number of people do not prefer to stay in these camps for these reasons.
Ted talked about the yearly NLIA campaign to raise money every holiday season for Ballard Center and adopting North Lawrence families for Christmas. The money stays in North Lawrence and all goes to North Lawrence residents, and includes small amounts like gas cards, grocery cards, etc. given to the working poor in this neighborhood.
Ted said that he and Rick (Renfro, local business owner) attended a downtown businesspersons meeting, and he said that downtown businesses say they are losing money because of the population of people who are panhandling in downtown right now. Part of North Lawrence is zoned as a downtown area, including the area behind Johnny’s and the Union Station Depot.
Ted said that North Lawrence has always been a welcoming community, even though it was “the wrong side of the river” prior to the 1990s. We’ve had 200+ new homes build in North Lawrence since the 1990s. What draws families is Woodlawn, but also, people love the small town atmosphere and being within walking distance of downtown.
Ted is suggesting crowdsourcing and neighbor sourcing solutions to this issue, as it increases and starts to impact residents and businesses. Ted says that the reputation of Lawrence as being a welcoming city for homeless has even reached Germany. He is interested in helping and protecting the local population of homeless, and finding ways to deal with the transient population that is overwhelming the system.
A resident talked about different issues that he has seen happening close to the levy, and how he has asked for police assistance but has not received any. He believes that the police department could allocate their resources more justly throughout the city, and respond to citizen concerns, especially across the river, in a more serious manner.
Ted said that the police department is currently 20 officers short. He said that the current force is overwhelmed this year with not only the homeless issues, but with policing students, who seem to be “more active” this year. As a policy, for years they have not responded to traffic issues or doing traffic control for events or setting up radar checks in neighborhoods.
A resident asked if anyone from the city was here yet today to talk with us, as advertised, and what good the meeting might be if the city isn’t listening to us. There are two commissioners present at at the meeting tonight, representing the city. Amber Sellers spoke up saying she is here to represent for us. She was able to be with us tonight on short notice, as another commissioner who had planned to attend is out ill.
A resident commented that he agrees that there is a problem; crime is up, sanitation is a problem. He said he’s been robbed twice by neighbors, and had neighbors who were selling drugs out of their homes. He says, some neighbors do drugs, most don’t; some steal, most don’t; but he’s actually questioning the information that he is hearing this evening as hearsay. He says that the county has been working on the issues, but the city has been struggling. There are private organizations that are doing work to present models to the governing bodies on how to resolve the issue of homeless in the city with in five years. He emphasized that he doesn’t like to hear “us” and “them” rhetoric; he would like to find positive solutions to the issue. He said that many of us in the room are two or three paychecks away from being houseless.
A resident talked about the difficulty of recruiting new people to the police force. He then went to talk to the present commissioners in the back of the room privately.
Ted said he is the “messenger”, so don’t kill the messenger; he’s trying to relay information that he has from meeting with commissioners.
A resident from Ash Street asked if we will be able to ask questions of the commissioners. Ted opened the meeting to questions to the commissioners, Amber Sellers (city) and Shannon Reid (county). The commissioners came to the front table we had set up for them.
A resident said that a point is being missed re the transient and local populations. He said that the transient population is the issue; their presence and activities are impeding help for the people that we know are “local” homeless folks.
A resident asked the commissioners for attending. He said the city has defined where it is legal to camp within the city limits. He asked where those areas area. Commissioner Sellers said she does not have that information immediately at hand, but there are people present in the meeting who have those locations.
Commissioner Sellers said that she wants to take two steps back before continuing. She says the issue is bigger than just two populations; from the information that the safe and secure and homeless teams and the social service organizations, that homelessness is a spectrum and it is intersectional. There may be various concerns with each person who is unhoused; each one is unique. She said the only thing she sees between my houseless neighbor and her is that she is housed. She said that we all are a paycheck or a life trauma away from possibly being unhoused. There are many variables into what goes into how someone ends up unhoused. So the resources that are put together with cooperation of the city, county, and other agencies are getting closer to understanding all of these issues.
Seller said that she has been to many other communities in the state as well as the country, and every single community is dealing with similar issues. She gave a call to action to take in as much information as possible, speak to the homeless outreach team, talk to Bert Nash, talk to the Housing Authority and Family Promise, and get a larger picture of what the community is dealing with, and what they are trying to do help the populations. She said that there are some acute, heightened incidences downtown, but it does not stop her from going downtown and engaging. She reminded us that each of them is a person.
There are subject matter experts in the audience tonight, and Sellers called out to them to speak.
A resident asked why the camp was put in North Lawrence, and why there aren’t more camps spread throughout the city. CIcely Thornton, homeless programs project specialist at the city, spoke to that issue. In October of 2020, City Ordinance 14417 stated that people could camp in the commercial district, 9th street to 2nd and Lyon when there are no other shelter beds available in the city.
Another resident said that a lot of people are camping in the woods along the North side of the river, from the bridge to 8th Street. It is more difficulty now to walk in the woods by the river. He said he was confronted and threatened while doing so in spring of 2022, and he can no longer hike back there or take his grandkids there for hiking.
Matthew from (the city?) said the entire issue is dynamic and complex. He said that city has recently changed its camping ordinance based out of a ruling in Idaho that said that if a city does not provide enough housing, they cannot fine or stop people from camping in a public place. He said that the drastic changes to the service structure of our nation over the last 60 years has had an effect on what has and can be done. There are multiple services needed in a multifaceted population which will require a large amount of investment at the governmental level, but also amongst citizens of the cities affected. The camp is a short term solution as they move toward creating and providing housing and other services.
A resident asked what homeowners can do if the police don’t respond and they don’t feel safe going own in their own yards. There are no immediate solutions, but meeting as a community as we are tonight is a start.
Comm Sellers said she is hearing what people are saying tonight about the “hands off” piece, and that she hears these stories, but there is a disconnection between what she is hearing and what the police department is saying.
A resident said that the city needs to send a truck down to pick up trash from the tent areas or provide a dumpster. As a homeowner, he can’t leave trash out in his yard or he will get a letter and get fined.
A business owner in NL said this is the beginning of all of us realizing we are in crisis mode. He compared it to the pandemic, when we didn’t know anything about the virus. He acknowledged that there is a spectrum of people and issues that lead to homelessness. He said we have to figure out a way to get through this and what residents really need is education about what is going on, what’s happening, and then leadership from the city, county, police and sheriff departments, NGOs, etc. He says that there just isn’t overall coordination between everyone concerned about the issue. He has written a letter to all the commissioners asking for direction, resolution, and resources. Even though by law people are allowed to camp in Commercial Districts, residents don’t want to see people in the parks across the river. This business owner is aware of who is in the camp behind Johnny’s and keeps in touch with the county and the city on what is going on there. He says we can resolve this with education and intentional leadership.
Commissioner Reid responded that it is an escalating crisis that is not unique to this city. She highlighted lack of inventory, skyrocketing prices, compounded trauma, anxiety, etc. that can contribute both to homelessness and to the friction that is happening in neighborhoods. She said there is a new mobile response team through Bert Nash. She highlighted the past stories of “us” vs “them”, the rhetoric/history that Ted outlined. She said that the issue is not isolated to the levy area and North Lawrence, but they are also seeing issues at the local lakes, other parks in the city, unincorporated areas of the county, etc. She said the county’s role is to be a supportive partner to the city, assist in creating supportive services in an accessible way, and looking at housing opportunities.
A resident stood up and said the media reported “As of March 1, the city will have a permanent location in the county/city for the homeless population” and asked if this was true. Cicely said March 12. The resident said this is not what he read. He said that there needs to be some substantial commitment to setting a goal and getting a process in place to get the help to the people who need it.
Comm Sellers said that there is a process going into place currently. They are trying to create housing opportunities and services for subpopulations within the houseless population It doesn’t mean that by March 1, everyone who is experiencing homelessness is going to have a place to live with services. The resident said that he expects that the process would begin March 1. Sellers said the process is happening now.
The residents continued by saying “we” can’t help people, because we are not trained to help them. He said commissioners need to talk to the police chief, and the takeaway from tonight is the fire calls, the break in calls, and issues on streets close to the levy, and the firemen and police are saying they can’t do anything because the commission has told them they cannot. The resident asked that when we need help, we have to get a response, and we need action.
Cicely responded that there is a meeting with Mjr Fowler on October 18th and she will bring up these concerns she’s heard tonight.
Ted wondered if many of the transient population are not vaccinated, and may be bringing COVID to the camps. Others may not abide by the rules of the camps where they are set up.
Comm Sellers said there are several agencies in the city/county that provide outreach and assess for needs, including health needs.
A resident said her largest concern is that she isn’t seeing a plan, and she is concerned that all of the homeless in the city will be moved to North Lawrence.
Sellers said they are putting together a community engagement package on this issue, that will include sharing the plan with the community in town halls.
A resident asked why North Lawrence is taking the burden of the larger camp, and why there isn’t an effort to build more camps in other areas of the city.
A resident asked if the only coordinated camp in town over the winter will be in North Lawrence. The resident asked if there will be temporary shelters in other areas of town.
Cicely said on Dec 1st through March 12th, they will start housing 75 people community building downtown.
The ordinance only allowed certain areas for creating a temporary camp like the one behind Johnny’s as a temporary camp.
The resident mentioned the Lawrence Times article in which a woman was interviewed saying that putting everyone in the same camp will lead to violence.
Matthew quoted the zoning codes that limit where these sorts of camps can go. He said that the city is looking at other parcels and how to change the code for those parcels to create multiple areas in town where people can legally camp.
A resident asked how many months the larger camp will be in North Lawrence. Matthew said the goal is March, as the paper said. So the camp will be through the winter, and possibly another area could be legally opened sometime in March.
Sellers said it has never been the goal and intent to have just one temporary shelter areas. They are working to find multiple locations, based on zoning, where other camps can be set up. There is a group at the city is working on this.
A resident asked about what happened to Woody Camp. Matthew said it was only a temporary camp (6 months, November – March). That camp was established under a COVID response process.
A resident asked how long it took to decide to put the temporary camp in North Lawrence. Comm Sellers said It was decided in September in a commission meeting. It is a uniquely-zoned area to the city, so it was the most immediate solution.
A businessowner said during COVID, all the rules were thrown out, and people could camp in other areas without being removed. The Commercial District (downtown and parks) ruling allows camping, and it is against higher laws to deny campaign to people. He said that the commission changed the ordinance about campaign, and they are looking at making other areas that can be made legal camping areas. He said this IS a crisis, and it needs to be handled as such. He mentioned Built for Zero, a video that outlines a path to reducing homelessness within five years. https://community.solutions/built-for-zero/
Matthew spoke to the costs of not only helping unhoused people, but working people, families who need homes, etc. and how this will be millions of dollars in cost.
A resident asked if there will be 24/7 police or EMS services during the existence of the camp, especially overnight services and security, as we don’t have a fire station in North Lawrence and police response from south of the river can take quite a bit of time. The resident worries that there won’t be resources present 24/7 at the camp. She said there are 125 beds at the shelter, but only 50 are being used.
Sellers said the shelter is a private nonprofit and is using the “housing first” model and want to create “low barrier access” to individuals who have severe needs, so they have capped the number of people they can take in. They do not answer to the city, so the city can’t tell them to open to capacity.
Reid said that the 125 number is a misnomer. The model that the shelter is using can only handle a smaller amount at this time.
The resident asked if the lack of security or presence of resources overnight at the camp can be considered by the commissions in their plan.
Cicely reminded residents that the process is only a week and a few days in right now. The camp is staffed during the day by city staff, and they are doing a good job of keeping the peace.
Ted said why didn’t the campsite out on county land (pre-Woody Park) happen? Reid said she did not know that this was slated as a site for a camp. She said there was no plan in place, but it is possible that this parcel of land could be considered in this new effort to create camps around the entire city. Matthew said that is an undeveloped parcel with no utilities, etc. and there was never a camp proposed there.
Ted recapped some of the conversations he had after the Woody Park camp was disbanded, and some of the locations that were suggested to move a camp to. He asked about the property north of the new police station as a possible site.
Jeff said that a city in the KC area got a grant to provide pay, at $15 an hour, to clean up camp areas. He asked if grant money could be found for employment opportunities like this.
Ted quoted housing in North Lawrence as 85% owner-occupied at this time, one of the highest rates in the low-to-moderate income neighborhoods, so we do pay our taxes to support these programs.
Comm Reid talked about interpersonal violence and trauma that people experience in their daily and family lives, and how othering people, as “us” vs “them” can further that violence.
A resident noted that even though North Lawrence has dealt with these issues for decades, there has been an increase in all sorts of activities with the influx of the homeless to behind Johnny’s. He asked if the city is providing dumpsters for these camps. He said that North Lawrence has done neighbor-based cleanups of the camps in recent years, and asked who will be responsible for all the trash that is generated in both approved and unapproved camps.
Ted said that this camp was dumped upon North Lawrence by the city, without decisions or input from the actual residents of the neighborhood. In the past we were documented as one of the safest neighborhoods in the city for walking and biking, but residents feel that is not the case right now.
A resident asked what she should do if she is accosted on the levy or in other places. She has been approached by a person with a machete. Ted said to call the police every time and get the incident documented. She says that some restaurant staff downtown have started using the buddy system to get back to their own cars at night when they leave their shifts.
Ted has been in touch with staff at the city and all of the commissioners about this issue, going on for a few months.
FYI: The police non-emergency number is: 785-832-7509
Matthew asked if we have a neighborhood patrol in North Lawrence; Ted said “We never needed one!” He said we used to have a dedicated resource officer from the police department, Trent McKinley. He would stay and talk to residents, get a feel for the area, and what was going on. There are no longer resource officers available for this job.
Matthew said we have to, as a community, find a way to create those resources that we feel we need. Ted said that he meets with commissioners every week, saying the same thing, and he is still not seeing results.
A resident said that neighborhood watches dealing with people with machetes and chanting at neighbors would not be the best idea. Ted said that watches call the police when the see issues rather than engaging with the issues directly.
A resident said that there is an official neighborhood watch sign on North or Lake Street and asked if there is anyone to actually call if neighbors see something. Ted said these signs were a CBDG project about 20 years ago, but there has been nothing organized to respond to the signs.
Multiple people toward the end of the meeting decided to have conversations between each other rather than any one person leading the conversation. It was difficult to document. Ted ended the meeting at 9:03 pm and Jeff did the drawing.
Ted opened the meeting with the notification about the Potluck Picnic on Monday, September 12, 5:20 pm at Lyons park shelter. All are welcome.
The picnic shelter at Lyons Park is scheduled to be replaced in 2024. The playground will be replaced in 2023, and the new sprinkle park should start construction in late 2022.
We are staying on the city about adding plumbed restrooms at John Taylor Park, which is the most pressing facility need in our parks. Unfortunately the cost of doing the pre-fab construction for this restroom increased more than $50K since the last time we asked for it 3 years ago (from $85K to over $140K). So that project is still on the back burner. Ted says he hopes we can find some grant or stimulus money to build the restrooms at John Taylor, perhaps earlier than 2024.
We are still advocating for the return of tennis courts to one of our parks (either Lyons or John Taylor) without the removal of existing basketball courts — though the existing courts at John Taylor could be converted to half-court so a full tennis court and wall could be put in. The tennis courts in John Taylor were converted to pickle ball courts without input from North Lawrence residents. Even though the sport is popular, tennis is actually more popular with our neighbors, and the loss of the courts has had a negative impact on our neighborhood. Tennis is also considerably more quiet than pickle ball. Apparently the noise is not just a local problem; there are complaints about the noise nationwide according to parks and rec.
A resident who lives across from John Taylor said that dozens of people use the basketball courts at John Taylor for a number of activities, not just basketball; the basketball court has become a multi-purpose surface for different styles of basketball games, learning to ride bikes, dances, and other community activities.
A resident commented that the USTA (United States Tennis Association) could be consulted regarding what type of tennis wall to ask for that also insured that the sound of the wall was not disruptive to neighbors. They suggested that we reclaim one set of courts at Lyons Park where there is already a good setup for tennis if we have them re-paint the lines.
Lyons park is a “regional” park, meaning it belongs to the entire area, where John Taylor is a neighborhood park, meaning it is “our” park and NLIA can actually have a say in what goes on there. Lyons park was developed with CDBG money, which made access to and governance of it regional/citywide rather than a neighborhood park. This is why a decision could be made to change the courts without our input.
A resident asked how many pickle ball courts there are south of the river. A resident also said they’d go well in Dad Perry Park, because there are fewer houses in that area.
Apparently pickle ball players at Lyons park have complained that people playing basketball who bring radios and music players are disruptive to their pickle ball practice. How they can hear the music over the noise of pickle ball is a mystery,
We do not want any more pickle ball courts in North Lawrence and we will do the best to conserve the recreation facilities we have without removal of any courts. Ted said they city could put pickle ball out by the airport on city land there.
North Lawrence is one of the only neighborhoods that has steadily been growing, with 8-10 new houses built every year, and more middle and higher income residents moving to the neighborhood each year, enough so that we are no longer considered a low-to-moderate-income neighborhood according to HUD (which means we lost our CBDG funding).
Ted talked about the city and the historic Mill street (the alley behind Elm street, 300 and 400 block). When a resident in the 400 block asked the city to trim trees in that alley, the city said they would not, because it was Mill street, and the city had vacated it, so did not have any authority over those trees. The city also was unwilling to pick up trash in the alley (former Mill street) because they had vacated the street. There had been street signs, but they were taken out. The city said that the residents inherited “half the alley” so the trees —and putting their trash out front of their homes instead of behind — was the residents’ responsibility.
Ted argued that there was a city sewer running through the alley, but the city said because the property was reverted to the residents, they would have to ask each owner for access to the properties to work on the sewers. But then… Jon Davis (who also owns historic Lonnie’s) bought the lot behind the church on historic Mill street and he wanted to put three houses there. Ted owned a piece of the west end of that lot. Jon and Ted talked about storm water issues, putting three houses there, including Ted’s piece. Each property could then take care of their own storm water. BUT THEN! Planning at the city didn’t know where Mill street had been — they thought it had run through Walnut Park. None of the new city maps had Mill Street on it where it historically was — the new maps had Mill erroneously in Walnut Park, in an area which is actually a driveway. Ted gave Jon a 1950s map to take to the city. Then the city said they *hadn’t* vacated Mill street!
Ted then talked with each commissioner about these issues with Mill street. (Ted meets with each commissioner individually once a month and has done so for 12 years). Ted then got a letter from Diane Stoddard that said that Mill street *wasn’t* vacated. He had a meeting with Brad Finkeldei after that, and Ted let him know that folks in NL were being called liars because of the Mill street issue. He said that the commission would generally made decisions based on staff recommendations rather than community members’ input (at meetings and letters, etc). Fast forward to 2022, and the city wants Jon to put in a cement street from 4th street 120 feet down the alley to the west, curbed and guttered, 20 feet wide, so he can build the houses. It will take 10 feet of property off of the houses on the North side of the street. There isn’t a single place in NL where any resident or developer has had to do this, and the only streets that are 20 feet wide are Locust, parts of Elm, and parts of Lyon. Stormwater asked where the water from that concrete strip would go; apparently the fire department wants this, though — so they don’t have to back up their fire trucks. Now they are talking about putting in a “hammerhead” so that fire trucks can pull in and do a three-point turn to get back out. Ted said the sanitation trucks *back down the alley* 2-3 times a week!
The fire department has been driving its new ladder truck through North Lawrence to practice driving on small streets. This is one that steers from the rear. They haven’t been practicing backing up, though. Ted says the reason the city got it is for the university and its tall buildings on West Campus. The previous fire truck was purchased in 2008 for close to $5 million.
The reason the city wanted a new Mill street built at the expense of the developer so supposedly they could pull up in front of these proposed new houses was so the big fire trucks could pull in and pull through. Ted said that the new hook and ladder truck could get 360 access to these houses. Ted said that he’s seen the truck parked on Walnut street, the ladder crossed the levy, and used to put out fires set by transients in the woods by the river. So that ladder could reach anywhere the truck could go. If Jon has to put in the street, the lots alone will cost $150K EACH before the houses are BUILT.
This is NOT the affordable housing we need — the city’s requirements will cause them to be $400K houses once built because of this new street being built. The proposed concrete road will also increase storm water issues in Walnut Park. We don’t need this.
Ted said this is why we need neighbors to let us know what is going on in the neighborhood — he knows a lot, but doesn’t always hear everything. If he hears about it, he can take it to the city.
A resident asked about the property owners who will lose 10 feet of property if the new street is built — the city thinks that the residents are going to allow it, but it’ll take garages out! One resident has already talked with a lawyer. If the street is owned by the residents, could they sell historic Mill back to the city? The city is now denying that they said they vacated Mill Street.
Ted said we had funding from CBDG for speed humps on Lincoln Street and were slated to start construction on them, but then a city engineer wanted to take over the project. Taxpayer money went to pay for the four speed humps rather than our grant money. Lincoln street is now “Lincoln Blvd” because at the time the “improvements” out at 21st and Louisiana needed to be completed and Lincoln needed to be re-designated so Lawrence could be “eligible” for those improvements — south of the river. There was no benefit to North Lawrence at all. Ted asked if we could transfer the money allocated to the Lincoln speed humps to Lyon Street, and it was — but there is on less bump on Lyon street, so we lost $8000 (the grant for one speed hump) and that money went to the city’s general fund rather than to another project in North Lawrence — even though it was federal grant money that we were given for North Lawrence!
Speed humps for Walnut Street were slated to be next but we had lost our CBDG money, so had to ask the city for money instead. We got almost 100% of residents (70% is required) to agree to the speed humps, and the petition was sent in to the city. Even though every single property owner said yes, the city denied it because of the new traffic safety committee. This committee was led by the same engineer involved in the Mill Street debacle. Ted said the city could put in the plastic, temporary humps, like the ones on Maine Street, rather than build the more expensive concrete ones. They city still said no.
Even getting a street light in the middle of the block on Pleasant is a fight with this city. Most residents want this light, but the city says if they get one, everyone in the city will want one.
Ted said our census is over 3200 folks — up almost 1000 folks in the past 20 years. We have a bigger head count, and we can make more noise at the city and fight to get what we actually want in this neighborhood.
Ted showed attendees the proposal for the new river walkways/bikeways, one of which has been in the works since 2016. One of the walkways will get funded in 2024 and they are looking for grant money to fund that and the second one. These would connect south of the river to north of the river more easily for bikes and pedestrians, including the north end of Massachusetts street (behind Johnny’s). He said that they are still working on the project behind Johnny’s — along with a grocery store. They are soliciting five different grocery stores to come to that property.
Ted went on to talk about the unhoused population in Lawrence. The current city government is welcoming of the unhoused population. 70% of these folks are from out of town/county/state and are no longer seasonal. 30% are more local. The city had more amenities for the unhoused starting in 2020 with the pandemic, and that made most of the formerly seasonal unhoused folks stay in Lawrence. Lawrence is apparently now well-known worldwide as a welcoming government for transients. Ted said we are seeing a trend where the formerly transient population threatening the resident population and deterring them from getting services at Ballard and other places. Ted said the folks living behind Johnny’s right now are generally from our local population. He said that the transient population is just here to take the services the city offers, not to stay here or work here. The shelter has container homes available now onsite, with central air and heating, but they are not currently housing anyone in those homes. The shelter did not want people housed on the property in tents or smaller buildings, even though the proposal was on county land.
Some neighbors are more welcoming of temporary residents, especially the folks who are willing to work, but there have been some tent camps broken up, mostly on rental properties where the owners were not aware of the campers. Folks who have wanted to put campers or tiny houses on county properties have been dissuaded from doing so because the county want the property owners to put in sewer systems to serve even temporary residents.
A resident asked if the city wants the transients to be temporarily housed in North Lawrence. Ted shot down the idea of having a tent city behind Johnny’s after the one at Woody Park was disbanded. Ted said that North Lawrence is not a welcoming community for the 70% transient/seasonal unhoused people. The city has two people who monitor this population.
There have been multiple conflicts between the transient population and the folks we know who are from here, along with reports of people trespassing, peeping in windows, starting fires, and chanting that they were going to kill the residents in the areas of the camps. The residents were told by the police department to not report the population unless they were caught in the act of committing a crime, and to call their city commissioners instead if they had a problem. The city walked back on this when Ted confronted them about this, however.
A resident brought up the idea that North Street had been rezoned recently. Ted said he would look into this with the city and county.
Ted invited any resident to attend his regular meetings that he hold with individual commissioners at the coffee shop each month. Ted said he may consider letting folks know (on Facebook) when he’s having these meetings, so a few of us can also talk directly to each commissioner. If you want to attend when he does, give Ted a call.
Kirsty talked to us about the survey that she and another resident have been working on for the past few weeks. We need to continue publicizing that we are doing this survey so we can try to reach every resident who wants to respond. She and her son went door-to-door with 450 flyers recently, and we’ve gotten a fairly healthy response so far. We have 123 responses so far, some from the flyers, some from the Facebook notifications, some requesting paper copies of the survey via email.
Kirsty said that what she is seeing is that we all seem to live up here for the same reasons — the diversity, that it feels like a neighborhood, and that we help each other out. Kirsty will run a report that residents will be able to see, so folks can see the consensus in what everyone is talking about. We all want a grocery store; we definitely have opinions and stories regarding the unhoused populations and their respect or lack thereof of our neighborhood and parks, but we aren’t heartless regarding them; the lighting, ditches, speed, bar noises, train horns, loose dogs, drug houses, sidewalk and road maintenance, and park amenities, safety, and saving our neighborhood school are ongoing issues; people asked about helping residents keep up their yards and homes. Kirsty said there were fabulous ideas how to raise money for NLIA as well, such as a neighbor-run carnival at Lyons park.
A resident asked what we expect from the survey. Ted said that we want to present this information to the city so they understand what residents up here actually want. This is the first year of this type of engagement, and we plan to continue this in subsequent years so we really can represent the people who live here. Ted will also talk to the LJW and Chad Lawhorn so he can also highlight what we are doing and wanting up here and issues on which we have consensus (which are many). We will present some of the survey findings this fall via the website and post to Facebook as well. Kirsty said that we forgot to ask how many people are in each responding household on the survey.
One of the fights we will still face in the future will be the fight to save Woodlawn School. The neighborhood is incredibly supportive of this school staying open, regardless of what the school board decides is best for their budget. Woodlawn in one of the biggest draws to new residents of North Lawrence. A resident said that Woodlawn can always use donations to support the families in purchasing school supplies each year. The first day of school this year is August 17th. Woodlawn was completely renovated about 4 years ago, and is one of our top schools in the entire city. Ted has been on the site committee for the school for many years.
The issue of closing inner-city, core schools and busing those students to expensive, newly-built schools out west has been going on for decades in Lawrence. Neighborhood schools are core institutions in our historic neighborhoods.
Ted mentioned resurrecting the Sandrat reunion for 2023 if public health issues allow it. This event is usually held the first Saturday in June.
A resident asked if the city could put portable restrooms at the park in John Taylor. Ted said that at Hobbs Park (the baseball diamond) as well as downtown has portable restrooms with wooden enclosures around them. Mark H had said that the city didn’t like to install these because they get tipped over and vandalized. The one in Hobbs has been secured to the ground, though. Ted will ask Mark why there is one of these at Hobbs park but not one at John Taylor. The resident said that there are trailer-style bathrooms with holding tanks available as well. Ted will ask parks and recreation about this so we at least try to get something installed soon.
The meeting was adjourned at 8:44 pm. Then we did the drawing.