City leaders approve agreement to help Tenants to Homeowners with $1.2 million land purchase; site was formerly Lawrence Alternative High School

Jul 12, 2023 | News


Lawrence city leaders on Tuesday gave their OK to an agreement that will help a local nonprofit secure a $1.2 million land purchase, but not without first hearing some concern about the process for how that land will eventually be developed.
As the Journal-World reported, the Lawrence school district finalized the sale of its former alternative high school building and surrounding 8.78-acre property at 2600 W. 25th St. in late May for $1.2 million. Nonprofit Tenants to Homeowners was the highest bidder, and it negotiated a funding agreement with city staff to accelerate the payment and support its land purchase.

Authorizing that agreement — which the Lawrence City Commission approved in a 4-0 vote Tuesday, with Commissioner Amber Sellers absent — allows the nonprofit to take the next step in acquiring the land adjacent to Holcom Park and placing it into its affordable housing land trust for future development. According to the agreement, the city will pay Tenants to Homeowners $350,000 in the 2023 fiscal year and $850,000 in the 2024 fiscal year.

The agreement appeared on Tuesday’s meeting agenda as a consent item, but a member of the public pulled it for further discussion. They voiced concerns about that amount of money being approved outside of the city’s budget process and without any public hearings regarding how the property would be used ahead of the purchase.

Rebecca Buford, Tenants to Homeowners’ executive director, clarified that the site would be used to develop more affordable family housing. Buford also told commissioners that securing the property first was a necessity before the nonprofit could expend any additional resources on planning for the project itself.

“For-profit developers will buy the property and then they’ll start the development process,” Buford said. “We are asking for funding to acquire the property because site control is absolutely required from any of the grant funding that we generally get to leverage and bring in for development.”

The project generated much more support than concern, though, as about a half dozen folks spoke during Tuesday’s meeting urging commissioners to move forward with the agreement.

City leaders, too, were unanimously supportive and didn’t have any issues with the agreement. Commissioner Courtney Shipley, for example, noted that long processes still lay ahead both for zoning and site plans for the nonprofit’s project. And Commissioner Brad Finkeldei clarified that the two city payments are either already included in the city’s current five-year Capital Improvement Plan or are on the table for the next CIP, which city leaders will consider approving later this year.

“… I’m in support of this agenda item and look forward to a robust process, and I trust that Tenants to Homeowners will work with the neighbors even more so than required by the processes we have, because that’s what I’ve seen them do in the past,” Finkeldei said.