Don't look for the Lawrence City Commission to abandon the city's policy of protecting downtown or to open up the western growth areas for widespread commercial development.
Four of five commissioners say they have no intention of changing the longstanding policy, which has been used by the commission to deny requests for commercial rezoning to allow the construction of suburban malls. The legality of the policy, although on appeal to a higher court, has been upheld by a federal district judge.
The commercial zoning question will come before the city commission tonight when it decides whether to accept the Western Development Plan, a document that sets out policies for land use and development in the growth areas in and around western Lawrence. The commission meets at 6:35 tonight at city hall, Sixth and Massachusetts.
ONE OF THE policies in the plan says that requests to zone for commercial development should be "analyzed closely in light of potential negative impact on the Central Business District of Lawrence which has been designated the primary regional commercial center by Plan '95 and the Douglas County Guide Plan."
Plan '95 and the Douglas County Guide Plan are the city's and county's comprehensive planning guides.
Commissioner David Penny disagrees with the commercial development policies that are set out in Plan '95 and reinforced in the Western Development Plan.
"My basic problem," Penny says, "is that I feel we're protecting the commercial interests of a few people downtown to the detriment of others."
Penny said he looks at the last two city elections as mandates against the policies of Plan '95.
"The taxpayers' commitment to fulfill Plan '95 . . . was killed by the voters in the 1987 downtown mall referendum," Penny said.
BUT PENNY is alone on the commission in his views of the downtown and commercial development.
"I hardly think Dave Penny carries a mandate to change . . . or do away with Plan '95," Mayor Bob Schumm said. "I don't see (a mandate) in the community. I didn't read it in the last election. I don't see us making any changes in the cornerstone of the plan the commercial part."
Commissioner Mike Rundle, who like Schumm supports the Western Development policies, said any proposed change in the comprehensive plan would need to be developed on a more communitywide basis.
"I think it's nothing the commission has a right to change at the commission meeting," Rundle said. "It would have to come out of the same type of process that has kept that policy in place for a number of years."
COMMISSIONER Shirley Martin-Smith expressed some concern about language in the Western Development Plan regarding commercial development, especially one section that said neighborhood and community shopping centers in the area should be limited to 15 acres in size. But she said she's satisfied with the plan and is not about to seek a change in the city's policy on the downtown.
"I don't see this commission making any move to change the focus. . . . I think the commitment to keeping this part of the community very, very viable is there. The public wants us to keep it viable. I don't see us parting from that," she said.
Commissioner Bob Walters harbored the same reservations about the Western Development Plan as did Martin-Smith. He said, however, that if the city is going to change its policy, it should be done in conjunction with the rewriting of Plan '95 and not as part of the Western Development Plan debate.
"We have Plan '95 coming up for review shortly on the horizon," Walters said. "If the people want to pick at things, that's the time to do it. It seems to me we ought to get on with the Western Development Plan for now."