Lawrence school board approves tax breaks for affordable housing project

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The Lawrence school board on Monday approved the school district’s portion of tax breaks to help fund construction of a downtown affordable housing project for people ages 55 and up.

During their brief meeting Monday, school board members voted 5-2 to approve the district’s portion of tax breaks in the affordable housing project. The approval was part of the consent agenda, or a list of items that are generally considered routine and are approved with one motion unless a board member or the superintendent asks to pull something for further discussion.

The developer of the New Hampshire Street Lofts, Tony Krsnich, of Flint Hills Holdings Group LLC, is seeking a 15-year, 95% Neighborhood Revitalization Area (NRA) property tax rebate as well as Industrial Revenue Bond (IRB) financing to make project construction materials sales tax exempt. The school district was the last government entity needed to approve tax breaks for the project.

The New Hampshire Street Lofts are a 48-unit affordable housing project planned for the long-vacant downtown lot at 1000 New Hampshire St. Board Past President Shannon Kimball said the district won’t be affected by participating.

“This will have no impact on enrollment for the district because it’s completely senior housing with some limited commercial space on the first floor,” Kimball said. “We talked about this when we had the last one of these come through, there is zero fiscal impact to the district that’s negative. We do not lose any funding from approving this.”

Board members Erica Hill and Paula Vann voted against approving the tax breaks. Before voting, both expressed dissatisfaction that the item was placed on the consent agenda rather than made a regular agenda item.

“It kind of seems like there’s a foregone conclusion that the board would just pass this,” Hill said. “Even though there’s minimal impact, as you explain, it seems like if it comes to the board, it’ll be good to have a better understanding of what we’re voting on.”

Board President Kelly Jones and Kimball said developer projects don’t usually come before the board, but historically when they do, they’re placed on the board’s consent agenda. Vann asked why Krsnich and city staff didn’t present the project to the board, like developer Doug Compton and city staff members did when seeking tax breaks to renovate the building at 700 New Hampshire St. to be First Management’s new corporate headquarters. Jones said the New Hampshire Street Lofts project isn’t controversial in her eyes.

“First of all, they met all the metrics for the requirements for the NRA,” Jones said. “It hasn’t been contentious in any space at all, not the city or the county … It really has — and I mean this gently — has minimal impact on our operations, but we are required as part of NRA to vote on it.”

Jones said the board could potentially ask for presentations ahead of voting for developmental tax breaks in the future.

There will be no market-rate units in the New Hampshire Street Lofts building. At least 15% of the units would be for people with incomes less than or equal to 30% the area median income (AMI). Effective in May, the AMI for Douglas County is $94,600; 30% of the AMI is $19,900 annually for a household of one person, $22,750 for a household of two people. Rental rates at that income level range from $440 for a studio up to $560 for a two-bedroom unit. Units must remain affordable for at least 30 years.

The project already has secured about $3.33 million in funding, which includes $450,000 of City of Lawrence ARPA (federal COVID-19 relief) funds and $100,000 from the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund. It also has been approved by the Kansas Housing Resources Corporation for $890,000 each in federal low-income housing tax credits and Kansas Affordable Housing Tax Credits, and $1 million from the National Housing Trust Fund.

Earlier Monday, the city’s Affordable Housing Advisory Board voted to recommend the city allocate an additional $300,000 for the project.

And while the board was considering the district’s share of tax breaks, Krsnich was in the Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Commission’s meeting, where the project received recommendations in favor of a special-use permit allowing the ground floor of the building to be used as live-work spaces, and to build angled parking along New Hampshire Street in front of the building.

The Lawrence City Commission and Douglas County Commission have both approved the tax incentives. City commissioners will consider final approval of the tax incentives and the additional $300,000 in affordable housing funds at future meetings.

In addition to tax incentives on the board’s consent agenda, the board on Monday approved some policy updates, including a new policy to handle open enrollment under new state legislation.

School board members reflect on local election results

Lawrence voters on Nov. 7 participated in a local election with Lawrence City Commission and school board candidates on their ballots. 

Incumbents Carole Cadue-Blackwood and GR Gordon-Ross as well as two newcomers, Anne Costello and Yolanda Franklin, were elected to four-year terms. Kimball was reelected to serve a two-year term. Vann and Hill did not run for reelection.

During Monday’s meeting, Jones said she’s looking forward to working with current and new colleagues and believes they will contribute to a “strong board” in the coming years.

“I also want to extend congratulations to my board colleagues Shannon Kimball, Carole Cadue-Blackwood and GR Gordon-Ross for winning your reelection bids and doing so in a way that helps us retain balance and the knowledge that you bring from your service prior,” Jones said. “And I look forward to welcoming Anne and Yolanda to the board in the next few weeks.”

Superintendent Anthony Lewis was not present for Monday’s meeting, and Chief Operations Officer Larry Engelebrick stood in his place. On behalf of Lewis, Englebrick thanked Cadue-Blackwood, Gordon Ross and Kimball for their continued service as well as welcomed Costello and Franklin.

Costello and Franklin will fill Vann and Hill’s seats on Monday, Jan. 8, the first board meeting of the 2024 year.

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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

More coverage: New Hampshire Street Lofts


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