Banning Airbnb in Lawrence, Kansas???

Tomorrow evening, the City Commission of Lawrence, Kansas will discuss short term rentals in the city.  I have some very strong feelings about the subject and made sure I completed the survey the city sent out several months ago.  My perspective is not one of someone who owns a short term rental or who has any plans to have one in the future, but instead, is that of someone who has a great deal of experience using services such as Airbnb when traveling both throughout the United States, and internationally.


My husband and I have been customers of Airbnb since 2013 when our first experience with the service was renting an apartment with my parents in Barcelona, Spain.  The apartment was located one block from Sagrada Familia and, from the balcony of the apartment, we had a spectacular view of the cathedral from an angle few tourists would ever have the opportunity to experience.  None of us spoke Spanish, but we were able to communicate with our host (who spoke no English) easily through the Airbnb platform.  The apartment was across the street from a grocery store and in the same block as many local restaurants.  Because we were able to get such a great deal on the apartment through Airbnb, we spent significantly more just being “tourists” in a city we fell in love with.

Since our trip to Barcelona, back in 2013, we have been completely sold on the sharing economy idea of Airbnb.  We do not travel anywhere for pleasure without looking for an Airbnb property to stay in.  In fact, since 2013, the only time I have stayed in a hotel was when I was traveling for work, and we have even started to shift business travel lodging to Airbnb when possible, because it allows for collaboration between colleagues in an environment that isn’t full of the hustle and bustle of a hotel lobby.  We can sit around a dining room table and debrief all the things we learned at a conference, or we can work on presentations while sitting comfortably on a couch in the living room.  It’s really a fantastic way to travel with colleagues.

Vancouver, BC
London, UK
Washington, DCBoston, MAAustin, TX

My husband and I have stayed in Airbnb properties all across the US (Seattle, Downtown Kansas City (twice), Austin (twice), Denver, Washington, DC, the North Shore of Oahu, and Boston) and internationally in London (twice), Vancouver (in the same apartment on three separate trips), and Barcelona.  We feel like utilizing available short term rentals allows us to experience cities like locals do.  We eat at more neighborhood restaurants, shop at more locally-owned stores, spend more money, and really get to know each city we visit.  Because we’re able to experience the true nature of each city, we find ourselves much more connected to each place and much more likely to return for another trip.  Additionally, booking through services such as Airbnb has allowed us to stay in areas that are much closer to city centers and in much more popular areas for far less than we would have had to pay to stay in a hotel.  I can say, without a doubt, that we have been able to travel more and visit more destinations because we are booking with Airbnb rather than with a hotel.  Hotels in many of the destinations we have visited would have made the trip cost-prohibitive.

Lawrence is a city that’s primed to make people fall in love with it.  I’ve lived here my whole life and my love for this city is contagious.  Whenever I have friends coming into town, or even old high school friends coming home to visit for a holiday, I feel compelled to tell them about all of my favorite places in Lawrence and about all the new places that I’ve recently had the opportunity to love.  In my experience, Airbnb hosts are some of the very best ambassadors of the cities in which they have property.  They want the experience of their guests to be as positive as possible.  They want those guests to come back.  They want people to love place they call home as much as they do.

I understand the purpose of regulating short term rentals, but I’ve encouraged our City Commission to do it in a way that will not suffocate their existence in Lawrence.  By keeping them around, we’re encouraging people who love the sharing economy to add Lawrence to their list of desired destinations.  I’m certain people staying in these properties are spending more money in town than those who are staying at a hotel.  My husband and I are those people in other communities and we wouldn’t want it any other way.

 

 

 

 

How Does the East Ninth Project Benefit LFK?


I happened upon a Facebook post today from a longtime family friend. He posted about the East Ninth Project asking “how many homeless families would that money wasted on this project for Hipsters help?” After my expected initial confusion at this question (I definitely don’t consider myself a Hipster), I had time to reflect on some of the really positive outcomes this project will have on the community.

1) The East Ninth Project benefits families with children.
When our nephew was born, my husband and I would take him for walks to Downtown Lawrence in his stroller. When you’re pushing a sleeping one-month-old, you notice every single crack and bump. Some parts of the sidewalk between Delaware and Massachusetts Streets are completely reduced to rubble, and we were forced to walk with him in the street.

2) The East Ninth Project benefits those on bikes. It provides a safe route from Delaware to Downtown Lawrence for adults and children at any skill level to ride their bikes without having to be on the street with cars. This is an important benefit, as it means that a five-year-old who just graduated from training wheels won’t have to bike down the street, shared with delivery trucks and other vehicles. And when that 5-year-old inevitably falls off his or her bike, they’re not going to be met with a face full of gravel from the deteriorated sidewalks.

3) The East Ninth Project benefits people with disabilities. Right now, I don’t believe there are any ADA accessible sidewalks or paths along this stretch of 9th Street until you get all the way Downtown. Neighbors in wheelchairs have no safe way to get Downtown without a car. This project will provide a fully ADA accessible path.

4) The East Ninth Project benefits the environment and health. Reducing the carbon footprint of East Ninth Street by providing safe walking and biking routes improves the air quality in the neighborhood and encourages healthy lifestyles. With each connecting path and riding option in Lawrence, individuals are much more likely to choose to bike, and yes, walk, versus choosing the car default.

These are only a few of the numerous benefits this project has. . . I’d say those benefits impact far more than just “the Hipsters” in the neighborhood.

To speak to the comparison my friend brought up, transitional and affordable housing is important to me. One of our good friends found permanent housing with the support of the homeless shelter and other local organizations. Previous City Commissions approved tax breaks for developers, sacrificing revenue, which could have otherwise been contributed to a budget that would have provided greater resources for affordable housing. Reversing these type of decisions will help. We also need to support efforts as part of the budget process to make sure that careful planning and consideration is given to housing. But that is the thing, we have budgets, we have planning around priorities, and every issue can’t be all or nothing. Thankfully we seem to have a commission who has taken the housing issue seriously while understanding that there has to be a balance and process.

After attending 15 months of meetings revolving around the East Ninth project (which is literally in my front yard), it is my belief that this is the best plan for the area and will provide a benefit to the largest population of people, both inside East Lawrence and outside. When my husband and I moved to our house in East Lawrence nearly 10 years ago, I was disappointed with the minimal maintenance of city infrastructure in our neighborhood. East Lawrence streets have been left with pot holes far after those in other parts of the city have been fixed. New York Street in particular north of 9th is one of the roughest bike and car rides in city.

I have lived in Lawrence my entire life and for the first time in my memory, aside from re-bricking a street that is now also in poor shape, the City is investing a large sum of money in East Lawrence infrastructure improvements. This is long overdue.

Contributing to the East Lawrence I Love

 In light of some recent characterizations made about “new” people running for election to the East Lawrence Neighborhood Association Board and because there isn’t a forum to let my extended neighbors know who I am and what I want to contribute to the neighborhood, I thought it might be warranted to blog about my history, my love for East Lawrence, and what I hope to contribute.

 

First, a little bit about my history: 

 
Lawrence
 
I have lived in Lawrence my entire life. I went to elementary school at Schwegler, Jr. High at South (when it was still a circle) and graduated from Lawrence High School. My dad is a KU grad and worked in the airport consulting industry for most of his 40+ year career. My mom worked for Santa Fe Railroad in Topeka for 19 years before becoming a stay-at-home mom for my sisters and I, while handling a couple of health issues of her own. I love Lawrence and plan to live here for the rest of my life. 
 
I have been volunteering as a Planning Committee Member for the American Cancer Society’s Relay For Life of Douglas County for the past 6 years. 2016 will be my 3rd year serving as the Event Co-Chair. In the time I have been Co-Chairing the event, we have raised over half a million dollars for the American Cancer Society’s programs and services in Douglas County. 
 
East Lawrence
 
I have been running meetings, volunteering with numerous charity organizations, planning large events, and public speaking since I was 11 years old. When my husband, Josh, and I moved to East Lawrence, about a decade ago, we began attending ELNA meetings, helping with the Block Party, baking for the Kickball concession stand, buying and wrapping items for the adopted family, etc. I was also involved in running the ELNA website for a while. We stopped attending ELNA meetings after some time because of the way we felt when we left those meetings. There seemed to be an overlying negative tone and the meetings ran later than I was willing to stay because of my job in Overland Park and the early commute. 
 
We became involved again when East Ninth began to gain some speed. Josh and I have both attended hours of meetings, studied notes from meetings we were unable to attend, researched topics and asked questions as they came up. This time has been valuable in terms of really understanding the project as well as getting to know more of my neighbors in the community. 
 
ELNA
 
But, being a part of the ELNA Board is about much more than just East Ninth Street. Josh and I have lived directly on 9th Street for a long time. We are in the heart of one of the very best neighborhoods Lawrence has to offer. Now that I’m working at KU and don’t have an hour and a half commute every day, I’d like to dedicate some more time to the neighborhood association and be sure that my voice helps to shape the decisions that are made where the neighborhood is involved. 
 

Below are a few examples of things I would try to bring to the table:

  • Working cooperatively with the City to establish protections for residents who have concerns about being priced out of their homes
  • Reaching out to all our neighbors to make sure that they feel comfortable sharing their opinions about neighborhood issues
  • Treating everyone (city officials, neighbors, visitors, etc.) with respect
  • Mobilizing volunteers to find ways to help neighbors who are struggling or need some sort of help that we’re able to provide
  • Encouraging young people in the neighborhood to get involved by providing additional volunteer opportunities (possibly an “Adopt a grandparent” style program)
  • Making meetings manageable for all who are interested in attending and having their voices heard
  • Making all agendas and meeting minutes available electronically
  • Focusing on and shaping positive change as we encounter it
  • Continuing to build on the great print and email newsletters we currently have
  • Encouraging continued active participation in City Advisory Boards, Committees and Task Forces
  • Possible expansion of the use of our website, Facebook page and Twitter accounts (not placing this duty solely on the neighborhood coordinator, but spreading the responsibility among multiple board members)

East Lawrence is great community and ELNA has been a significant part of making it what it is. I hope to work as part of the board to continue that tradition and build on it.


Amanda Davis
amanda.woodward@gmail.com