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Archive for Saturday, October 21, 1989

SATURDAY COLUMN

October 21, 1989

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Land-use plans and policies can either be an asset or a liability for a community. The situation in Houston, where there is little if any meaningful zoning or land-use plans, is an example of a city where officials have done a disservice to the community and its residents.

There are bound to be other examples in which just the opposite is true, with city officials imposing such strict, limiting zoning and land-use policies that their cities have been strangled and held back in their normal growth and development.

If Las Vegas bookies were taking bets on what is likely to happen in Lawrence relative to zoning and land-use policies, there is no question which land-use philosophy would be favored.

Some Lawrence city commissioners and a few city officials are so obsessed with protecting the downtown or so-called "central business district" from any competition from major suburban shopping malls, that it is highly questionable whether there will be any relaxing of land use and zoning policies in Lawrence.

CURRENT LOCAL debate centers on the "Western Development Plan" and the utilization of a sizable acreage between West 23rd and Sixth streets and west of Wakarusa Drive.

Lawrence is growing in a west-southwest direction, and land encompassed in the Western Development Plan is prime for future development.

Many supposedly well-intentioned individuals have spent considerable time working on the Western plan, and hopefully they are motivated by a desire to do what they think is in the best interests of Lawrence. Unfortunately, however, they and others are tying the Western plan into Plan 95, which has been used far too long as the benchmark for Lawrence land development.

It is essential to have high standards and to dream of "the ideal" solution to any and all of our city's problems and challenges. At the same time, people must be practical and realistic and use common sense in their efforts to hammer out the best possible plan for the future use of this land.

Commissioners should always keep in mind they do not own the land; it is not theirs to do with however they wish. It is not the city's land, and commissioners and city officials must be careful not to act as if the landowners really have nothing to say about how their land can be used. It is a fine line, and commissioners, as well as city officials, need to be careful in this matter.

City commission actions the past few years on land-use matters, with the assistance of some city officials, have resulted in the loss of many jobs for Lawrence residents, new businesses and millions of tax dollars.

WHEN THE Western plan was presented, various city officials suggested the plan was just that, a "plan," and that land-use suggestions in the plan would not be "carved in stone." This may be easy to say, and it might be smart politics for these officials to say something like this in order to gain general support for the plan. But this isn't shooting straight with the public. Unfortunately, recent Lawrence history shows "plans" soon become policy and hard guidelines that are used to deny any land use which runs counter to the wishes of city officials. There hasn't been much flexibility displayed by city officials.

Shortly after the Western plan was presented to city officials, these same officials used the "plan" to justify their actions to deny what appeared to be reasonable uses for the land.

Also, it is obvious those who put together and designed the Western plan were anxious to do whatever they could to stop any major shopping mall from being developed on the western edge of Lawrence. They placed a 15- to 20-acre limit on commercial development and, by so doing, continued their heavy-handed efforts to force any and all major commercial development to the "central business district." As a matter of interest, will the "central business district" continue to be known as such even when the current "downtown" area ends up on the northern end of the city? There is nothing "central" about the so-called, current "central business district."

REGARDLESS, THE city's current master planning guide Plan 95 is out of date. There have been numerous developments in Lawrence and with the university, and competitive factors among cities and universities have changed in the intervening years, to such a degree that the plan should have been revised and or discarded for a new plan.

Unfortunately, some city officials are reluctant to speak up and say what needs to be said about the plan. These officials are wise enough to know it might not be the smartest thing to suggest the city may be following unwise policies if the policies are the creation of some city commissioners or close friends. This is true in land use, and it is true in street matters. This also applies to consultants. They know who is paying their consulting fees, and they also know what city officials want to hear. Any wonder why policies, plans and recommendations on land use and streets so often parallel the wishes of city commissioners?

AS NOTED at the beginning, sound planning is essential for sound growth. The only trouble is that planning also can be used to accomplish selfish, narrow interests of those in city government who may be blind to common sense and the competitive environment in which Lawrence and Kansas University find themselves.

Plan 95 has been a handicap for Lawrence in recent years, and now it appears the damage is to be compounded as the Western Development Plan has been designed to continue this narrow-minded, harmful policy for the future westward growth and development of the city.

How long can Lawrence sustain such damaging policies and actions, and how long can Lawrence citizens tolerate such actions and policies by city officials? How long will it be before there is a public demand for a referendum on the land-use policies of Lawrence?

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