City of Lawrence

Planning and Development Services Department



David L. Corliss, City Manager



Planning Staff



Diane Stoddard, Assistant City Manager

Cynthia Wagner, Assistant City Manager



October 23, 2012



DR-10-164-11 – Varsity House



Agenda item: Review record and determine whether the Historic Resources conditions of approval regarding the Varsity House being relocated on the subject property are being met.


Relevant Project History:


The subject project has a lengthy history that includes applications for rezoning, preliminary and final development plans (site plan and elevations), platting, and even text amendments to the Development Code to support high density multi-dwelling development.  For purposes of this memo, the relevant history is that the Historic Resources Commission denied an application for demolishing the structure known as The Varsity House.  On October 11, 2011 and on appeal to the City Commission, the applicant agreed to relocate the house closer to the corner of 11th and Indiana Street (CC minutes).  The City Commission deferred the appeal request in order for a new application, which included relocating the existing Varsity House from one location on the property to another, to be considered by the HRC as a feasible and prudent alternative to the request to demolish the structure.  The new application gained approval from the HRC on October 27, 2011 with conditions as noted below. The City Commission subsequently voted 5-0 as part of the consent agenda to approve the Preliminary Development Plan (PDP-7-1-11) for the relocation of the Varsity House and development of a multi-dwelling structure with a condition that the HRC conditions be met.  The Final Development Plan was approved administratively in alignment with the Preliminary Development Plan.


HRC approved conditions:

1.    The existing structure will be relocated but will not be placed at an angle to Indiana Street.

2.    The applicant will work with the HRA to minimize the elevation of the existing structure on the new site.

3.    The new placement of the existing structure will have a minimum of 10’ side yard setback and 18’ front yard setback, or be constructed to comply with the approved PDP.

4.    The stone from the existing foundation for the existing structure will be reused as possible and will not extend above the foundation line as determined by staff in photographs to be provided to the applicant.

5.    The rehabilitation of the existing structure will repair the existing materials where possible and use like in-kind materials when necessary.

6.    The applicant will work with the HRA to reduce the amount of stone used in the new building foundation.

7.    The applicant will work with the HRA to determine compatible windows for the new construction.

8.    Staff will be allowed to photograph before, during and upon completion of the project;

9.    Any changes to the approved project will be submitted to the Historic Resources Administrator prior to the commencement of any related work. 

10. A building permit may be obtained to initiate moving the historic structure and construction of the parking garage prior to approval of final constructions documents for the proposed new structure. Those construction documents will be submitted and approved by the HRA prior to release of the building permit.

11. The chimney and front porch will be rebuilt using existing materials.

12. Final construction documents with material notations will be approved by the Architectural Review Committee prior to the release of the building permit for the new structure.


During the construction, the applicant did share with the Historic Resources Administrator that the house was going to be dismantled and not moved in whole from the property.  Planning staff approved this method of removing the structure assuming that the structure would be reassembled in a way that maintained a majority of the existing structure’s elements and that the inherent value of the conditions would still be met.


October 11, 2012:  Staff observed during a visit to the site, that only a few elements of the original Varsity House were being placed at the permitted location.  Staff understands that construction is in process; however, it was observed that a few interior studs were installed in the first floor wall assembly with most to all other building elements observed as being new construction.  In staff’s opinion, this was not compliant with the conditions related to relocating the structure on the property, as agreed to by the applicant during the review process.


October 12, 2012:  Based on the observations of October 11, 2012, Staff sent the owner a letter advising that staff had observed issues with how the conditions of HRC approval were being met and requested that a meeting be scheduled to discuss the matter.


October 15, 2012:  Staff and owner met to discuss staff’s letter.  Staff requested a letter identifying how the owner was meeting the conditions of HRC approval.


October 17, 2012:  Paul Werner submitted a letter responding to staff’s October 12, 2012 letter.


See attached photos of current construction of the project.




The conditions of approval are clear in that the existing structure was to be relocated near the corner of the property; however, the details of how this was to be accomplished were not defined to any greater extent than what was represented on the development plans and other application documents.  There was recognition that many building elements – windows, mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and a roof would be upgraded as is typical with relocating a structure.  Staff did, however, expect the shell of the building to be original, even in accepting the dismantling of the structure to move while the new parking garage was being constructed. 


The October 17 letter from Paul Werner lists structural elements of the house that will be new, structural elements of the house that will come from the original structure, and architectural elements that will be new and replicated due to their poor condition.  In discussions with the applicant, staff has learned that many aspects of the dismantling and rebuilding of the project were complicated and unique compared to what many would consider a more standard relocation of a structure – length time the structure would need to be stored, height of structure relative to electric wires during the move would have necessitated removing a portion of the house, etc.  Staff understands that the applicant will attend the City Commission meeting and explain these circumstances.


In staff’s opinion, the existing structure is not being relocated per the conditions of approval and as we have known structures to be relocated in the city.  For example, the City moved the Murphy-Bromelsick house from 909 Pennsylvania to Hobbs Park in 2000 generally intact.  The structure currently located at 1313 Haskell was moved from 15th and Haskell generally in a complete fashion.  These structures were essentially moved to new locations and repaired/rehabilitated to restore their historical significance.  This was staff’s expectation of the Varsity House relocation.


Mr. Werner’s letter notes that staff required a note on the building plans as follows: “Balloon construction is not permitted. Fire blocking will be located as required.”  This note was the product of a staff/applicant meeting at a time when staff believed that the house was going to be relocated in whole and that the existing balloon construction would remain.  In that scenario, fire blocking is required to prevent the risk of fire spread throughout the structure.  Balloon framing utilizes long continuous framing members (studs) that run from the sill plate to the top plate, with intermediate floor structures let into and nailed to them.  This method is not permitted in new construction due to the fire spread risks the method has been shown to have.  When it is used for older structures, fire-blocking at the floor/ceiling is required to separate the vertical spaces.  While balloon construction is not permitted for new construction, the building code makes allowances for houses that exist and/or are relocated. In discussions with the architect during plan review for the Varsity House, it was noted that fire blocking was required since it was believed that balloon framing was to be maintained.


The applicant has stated to staff that he believes the reconstruction is compliant with the approved conditions.  Staff believes the applicant should have contacted staff when it became apparent that relocating the “existing” building in a conventional sense was not feasible so that staff and/or the HRC could have determined whether the construction plan met the conditions of approval.  An understanding of how the applicant was addressing the conditions as construction challenges were identified would have helped to manage the expectations of the project.




After receiving information from staff, the applicant, and public, direct staff as to how to proceed with this matter.  Options include:


  1. Determine that the project is not in compliance with the conditions of approval at this time given the observations to date; monitor the progress from this point forward; and insist that the applicant use as much of the original structure as possible, especially on the exterior, as construction continues in order to bring the structure into compliance with the intent of the conditions of approval.
  2. Determine that the project has not met the conditions of approval and cannot meet the conditions given the construction to date.  Direct staff to negotiate a settlement with the owner with the intention of furthering the historic preservation efforts in the community.
  3. Determine that the project is in compliance and allow construction to proceed per the method and materials outlined in Mr. Werner’s October 17, 2012 letter.