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Lawrence City Commission to consider land purchase, zoning and code exemption for Pallet Shelter Village

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Lawrence city commissioners on Tuesday will consider a $725,000 land purchase, a contract for $1.11 million of temporary shelters for people experiencing homelessness, and a resolution suspending zoning and code enforcement on that property for a year.

The commission in December approved budgeting $4.5 million of American Rescue Plan Act money — federal COVID-19 relief funds — to purchase modular homes from Pallet, a Washington state-based “Public Benefit Corporation.”

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Commissioners will first consider the $725,000 purchase of land at 256 North Michigan St., the site of the former Veritas Christian School building. The expense would be paid with ARPA funds. The purchase of the 3.5-acre site includes “all buildings and improvements thereon,” according to the contract in the meeting agenda.

The next agenda item is a contract with Pallet, which shows a total amount of about $1.11 million. Altogether, the expenditures come to about $1.84 million.

The modular Pallet homes, which will include a heating and cooling source but no bathrooms, will be part of a “village setting” that includes restrooms, laundry, shower and community gathering facilities and support service offices. The individual units include locking doors and windows, smoke detectors and carbon monoxide detectors for safety. 

“Staff is still finalizing the appropriate amount of cabins and common amenities for the site, therefore we are requesting to purchase no more than 75 cabins at this time hoping to finalize this number within then next few days,” according to the staff memo in the meeting agenda, as of Thursday evening. “The City will be utilizing the two bathroom/shower trailers as well as the laundry trailer the City owns at the site.”

Next up is a temporary exemption from zoning and code enforcement.

Chansi Long/Lawrence Times The city announced plans to purchase land at 256 N. Michigan St. for a Pallet Shelter Village. Land behind the building, which formerly housed Veritas Christian School, is pictured Wednesday, March 15, 2023.

Commissioners will consider a resolution that “suspends enforcement of the Land Development Code, the International Building Code, and International Fire Code that may conflict with this newly developed form of temporary sheltering,” according to the agenda.

“This form of temporary sheltering has only recently been developed and current codes could not envision or anticipate these rapidly developing innovations,” according to the staff memo.

As for safety of the site, the memo continues: “Prior to occupancy, City staff will inspect the site to ensure fire safety and all necessary utility connections are properly in place to ensure occupants are protected to the fullest extents possible. In addition, an emergency operations plan will be developed prior to operations.”

The enforcement suspension would expire after one calendar year, at which point the commissioners would “be able to evaluate the current conditions and consider allowing the resolution to expire, or ask for a new resolution to be created to allow the continuation of this use,” according to the staff memo.

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The city has acknowledged that it is in violation of codes through the use of trailers at the North Lawrence campsite for people experiencing homelessness.

As we reported earlier this month: “Members of the City’s Planning & Development Services Department have been closely involved in planning at the temporary support site throughout this process, and the team is aware that both the new bathroom and shower trailer and the additional administrative and donation storage trailer recently added to the site are in violation of current City code; however, both are being overlooked in the interest of public health and welfare and due to the temporary nature of the added facilities,” the city wrote in a news release about the trailers. “The City will not be seeking a building permit for the bathroom and shower trailer but will ensure all facilities meet safety requirements.”

Here’s the land contract:

20230316-Land-purchase

Here’s the Pallet contract:

20230316-Pallet-contract

And here’s the zoning and code exemption:

20230316-Zoning

The Lawrence City Commission will meet at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday, March 21 at City Hall, 6 E. Sixth St.

The commission accepts written public comment until noon the day of the meeting sent to ccagendas@lawrenceks.org. People may provide public comment during meetings in person at City Hall or via Zoom. Register for the Zoom meeting at this link.

View the full meeting agenda at this link. Meetings are livestreamed on the city’s YouTube channel.

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Mackenzie Clark (she/her), reporter/founder of The Lawrence Times, can be reached at mclark (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage of housing and homelessness:

August Rudisell/Lawrence Times

City, Lawrence Community Shelter board plan massive expansion of shelter’s capacity, closure of North Lawrence camp

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With the number of people living outside estimated at more than 3 times what it was last year, the Lawrence Community Shelter board has agreed to vastly expand the shelter’s capacity for the winter, and the city is looking to close the North Lawrence campsite.

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